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Two Russian-born scientists shared the Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday for “groundbreaking experiments” with the thinnest, strongest material known to mankind – a carbon vital for the creation of faster computers and transparent touch screens.
Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, two professors at the University of Manchester in Britain, demonstrated the exceptional properties of graphene, a form of carbon that is only one atom thick, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.
Experiments with graphene could lead to the development of new superstrong materials and innovative electronics, the academy said in announcing the 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award.
“Graphene transistors are predicted to be substantially faster than today’s silicon transistors and result in more efficient computers,” the academy said in the citation. “Since it is practically transparent and a good conductor, graphene is suitable for producing transparent touch screens, light panels and maybe even solar cells.”
Geim, 51, is a Dutch national while Novoselov, 36, holds British and Russian citizenship. Both are natives of Russia and started their careers in physics there.
Novoselov is among the youngest winners of a prize that normally goes to scientists with decades of experience. The youngest Nobel laureate to date is Lawrence Bragg, who was 25 when he shared the physics award with his father William Bragg in 1915.
In a telephone interview with reporters in Stockholm, Geim said he was shocked by the announcement but planned to go to work as usual on Tuesday. He said he wasn’t among the Nobel Prize winners who “stop doing anything for the rest of their life.”
Geim last year won the prestigious Korber European Science Award for his discovery of two-dimensional crystals made of carbon atoms, particularly graphene, which “has the potential to revolutionize the world of microelectronics,” the University of Manchester said.
“This was a well-deserved award,” said Phillip F. Schewe, spokesman for the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland.
“Graphene is the thinnest material in the world, it’s one of the strongest, maybe the strongest material in the world. It’s an excellent conductor. Electrons move through it very quickly, which is something you want to make circuits out of,” Schewe said.
He said graphene may be a good material for making integrated circuits, small chips with millions of transistors that are the backbone of all modern telecommunications. Its properties could also lead to potential uses in construction material, Schewe said, but added it would take a while “before this sort of technology moves into mainstream application.”
The 2010 Nobel Prize announcements started Monday with the medicine award going to British researcher Robert Edwards for work that led to the first test tube baby, an achievement that helped bring 4 million infants into the world and raised challenging new questions about human reproduction.
The chemistry prize will be announced on Wednesday, followed by literature on Thursday, the peace prize on Friday and economics on Monday Oct. 11.
The prestigious awards were created by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel and first given out in 1901. The prizes are always handed out on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.
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