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10/5/2010
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Thinnest Material Ever Captures Nobel Physics Prize

The invention, just one atom thick, paves way for ultrafast transistors, lighter airplanes, and more fuel-efficient cars.

The Nobel Foundation has awarded one of its famed prizes to a pair of researchers who developed a carbon substrate that's so flat it's considered a brand new material. The breakthrough could lead to ultrafast microchip transistors and other advances.

The Nobel Prize for Physics went to Andre Geim, and Konstantin Novoselov, whose work in quantum physics yielded a new material called grapheme. The Foundation said graphene, as thin as one atom, is a two-dimensional precursor material that will make it possible for scientists to develop a range of new consumer and industrial products.

"Since it is practically transparent and a good conductor, graphene is suitable for producing transparent touch screens, light panels, and maybe even solar cells," said the Nobel Foundation, in a statement.

Geim and Novaselov derived graphene from ordinary graphite, which is found in everyday household objects like pencils. The researchers extracted flakes of the carbon-based material using nothing more extraordinary than a piece of Scotch tape. That breakthrough, simple on its surface, could lead to all sorts of new offerings.

"When mixed into plastics, graphene can turn them into conductors of electricity while making them more heat resistant and mechanically robust. This resilience can be utilized in new super strong materials, which are also thin, elastic, and lightweight. In the future, satellites, airplanes, and cars could be manufactured out of the new materials," said the Nobel Foundation.

The Foundation also predicted that graphene could replace silicon as the primary substrate for microchips.

Noveselov, 36, and Geim, 51, have been working together for a number of years. They first partnered when Noveselov, as a PhD student, partnered with Geim in the Netherlands. Both are now physics professors at the University of Manchester in England.

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