05 October 2010
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences today awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2010 to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, both researchers at University of Manchester, UK. The prize was awarded for their work with graphene.
Graphene, which is a form of carbon, is an extremely thin and strong material that conducts electricity as well as copper. To say it has potential for solar cells is an understatement. Advantages of graphene include transparency and conductivity, making it suitable for a variety of applications. When mixed with plastics, graphene can turn plastic into a conductor of electricity that is also heat resistant and extremely strong.
Graphene research took many steps forward when the work of these Nobel prize winners was published in Science in 2004 (See “Electric Field Effect in Atomically Thin Carbon Films”.) The problem that they solved was how to remove thin layers of graphene.
Graphene consists of carbon atoms joined together in a flat lattice that’s just one atom thick. To understand how thin this structure is, imagine that one millimeter of graphite consists of three million layers of graphene stacked on top of each other. The challenge was to remove the layers and to find the graphene among the thicker layers of graphite and carbon.
Luckily for the advancement of solar research, Nobel prize winners Novoselov and Geim had a playful approach to their research. Inspired by the Gecko lizard’s ability to stick to the smoothest surfaces, the pair discovered a way of removing extremely thin flakes of graphene using regular adhesive tape, they obtained a flake of carbon with a thickness of just one atom. They repeated the tape trick repeatedly and found that the flakes got thinner and thinner. To find the tiny fragments of graphene among the thicker layers of graphite and carbon, they attached the flakes to a plat of oxidized silicon. When the plate is placed in a microscope, graphene came into view.
Nobel prize winner Konstantin Novoselov is 36 years old, and he first worked with Andre Geim, 51, as a PhD student in the Netherlands. He subsequently followed Geim to the United Kingdom, where they are both professors at the University of Manchester. The two Nobel Laureates will share the SEK 10 million prize money.
Other groups are working on graphene solar cells, such as researchers from Case Western Reserve University, which Solar Novus Today covered in “Graphene-Polymer Solar Cells via Solution Processing.” Another group from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore is studying the bending strength of graphene films for potential use in flexible organic photovoltaic solar cells. See “Is Graphene Flexible Enough for Organic Photovoltaics?”
Image: Professor Konstantin Novoselov and Professor Andre Geim - Winners of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics. Photo courtesy of University of Manchester.
Written by Anne Fischer, Solar Novus Today Managing Editor