Tuesday, October 05, 2010

2010 Physics Nobel for graphene

The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for graphene.  Congratulations to them!  Graphene, the single-atomic-layer limit of graphite, has been a very hot topic in consensed matter physics since late 2004, and I've posted about it here and here.  There is no question that graphene is a very interesting material, and the possibility of serious technological applications looms large, but as Joerg Haber points out, overhype is a real danger.  The prize is somewhat unusual in that it was very fast on the scale of these things.  I also find it interesting that only the Manchester group was given the prize, given the impact of the work going on in this area at other places at around the same time (for example, take a look at the first few talks in this session I put together at the 2005 APS March Meeting).  I do hope that those in the British scientific funding establishment take note that future prizes and innovations like this are at severe risk if research and educational funding cuts continue.

29 comments:

Luiz Felipe said...

Doug,

I am more puzzled by the absence of Ijima from the list of laureates. Would you like to share any comments on that?

Doug Natelson said...

LP - From the list of laureates in general, or laureates this year? I agree that it's odd, given how much impact nanotubes have had. Perhaps part of the issue is that there is evidence of nanotubes that predates his big '91 paper. At least he did share the Kavli Prize, which is quite prestigious (and financially large).

Anonymous said...

I think the Nobel committee wanted to credit Geim for giving so many physicists and materials scientists a fun and simple new material to play with, rather than for any practical applications that monolayer C may or may not have.

Also, let's face it, the competition from other discoveries in condensed matter/materials science is pretty scarce, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

This announcement must indeed be pretty tough on another famous group that gets co-cited regularly on the first graphene results.

But isn't it also true that one of the key ideas that helped the field take off came from Manchester, namely, the 300nm-thick oxide that makes single-layer graphene visible under the scope?

Steve said...

I more or less agree with Doug's opinion on this matter...

http://complexmatters.blogspot.com/2010/10/graphene.html

Steve said...

Sorry, the link should end with "html" not "htm"

Doug Natelson said...

Anons. @ 2:55 and 3:05, I don't mean this as a knock on Geim and Novoselov. The scotch tape method is great, and it certainly brings the material to the masses, as it were. The visibility of graphene on the right thickness of oxide is a wonderful example of serendipity, not (as far as I know) an idea that pre-dated the experiments. Well, it's probably not going to CM for a few years now, so there's plenty of time for more new discoveries, right? I think there are some natural candidates out there (including Iijima), and on the more applied side, the LED/solid state laser based suggestions (Holonyak, Hall, Nakamura) are completely reasonable.

Luiz Felipe Pereira said...

Doug, Thanks. I, for one, expected the prize for nanotubes to be awarded along with the one for graphene. So, yes, I meant Ijima's absence from this year's list. Cheers.d

David Cobden said...

Anonymous:

Geim and Novoselov invented the sticky tape method, which opened up the field. That is agreed by all. The other groups, especially Columbia, copied them, very quickly - after Geim and Novoselov kindly told them how to do it!

I can't see a good alternative combination of three or fewer people who could share the prize.

I know all those involved, and I think this is a fair choice.

I also agree that discoveries have not been coming thick and fast recently, and I dare say there will be plenty of Nobel room in the future for the likes of Ijima (though why do people think that noticing occasional rather obvious tubular structures in soot deserves the highest prize in scinece?!) ...

Anonymous said...

Is Geim the only scientist to win both the Nobel Prize and the Ig Nobel Prize?

Anonymous said...

Why again has the nobel prize been awarded for a material that has been discovered in the 60s, 70s and 80s called monolayer graphite back then? Thoroughly characterized by all sorts of experimental techniques (STM, SEM, LEED, RHEED, EELS and what not), e.g.
http://thurly.net/04t9
http://thurly.net/04ta and of course
http://graphenetimes.com/wp-content/uploads/1961/11/Dunnste-Kohlenstoff-Folien.pdf
Where is the groundbreaking new physics? Anomalous integer QHE?

David Cobden said...

It's true that nothing happens in a vacuum, but I hope one of the thousands of people who now work on graphene as a direct result of these guys' particular work will chime in.

BTW, this was not pure luck. Andrei has a record of doing original things.

Can anyone point to a better example of 'groundbreaking physics' than that of graphene, outside of atom traps, in the last decade? I wish I could.

Rolando said...

I would like to point out that the prize was given for "groundbreaking experiments regarding..." graphene. Not for their discovery of it, and not for "inventing" the sticky tape method (which they didn't invent btw). It is disappointing that the committee again ignores much more fundamental things like Berry's phases / Aharonov-Bohm effect, and other in AMO/Quantum information research. It seems like each year the Nobel committee is making the prize more irrelevant.

David Cobden said...

Rolando, who did invent it then? Andrei deserves an advertising prize, at least. The Manchester group did do a number of pretty experiments, but yes so did others.

I agree and Doug has said in the past that Berry/Aharonov would be deserving. But really, another one in AMO, already? And where's the new physics in "quantum information"? The Physics committee has an increasingly hard job to do nowadays.

Rolando said...

I don't know who invented that method, but I know that people have used it at least since the late 90's to peel BSCCO single crystals, not to atomic thin layers, but to around 100 nm thickness. Regarding the AMO/Quantum Information, I think of people like Peter Zoller, Ignacio Cirac. Maybe this could also be too premature however. I do agree that the committee has a hard job to do, but I think they should definitively not base their decision in the potential and hype made about a field.

jonah said...

I think we should all remember that the discovery of graphene is groundbreaking also because it challenged the Mermin-Wagner theorem forbidding the formation of crystals below 3D. That is, merely discovering graphene is a profound conceptual physical advance, for physics and materials science more broadly.

I write this to remind those who feel that this prize is too far from 'fundamental'...

Doug Natelson said...

Hi Jonah - You've got a point about the Mermin-Wagner theorem, but it's a slippery theorist's point, in my view. The answer to the problem is that graphene buckles or ripples infinitesmally out of plane and voila - it's still approximately 2d for electronic purposes, but 3d enough to say that the truly 2d structure was unstable in the Mermin-Wagner sense. It's not like anyone really expected the single sheets to completely disintegrate or something....

This particular issue reminds me of Bloch waves and band structure. Bloch waves are only an exact solution to the single-particle periodic potential problem if the crystal is infinitely large or has periodic boundary conditions. Real crystals are finite, and yet Bloch states are a useful way to think about electronic states for many many systems. The deviations from the exact single-particle states and the idealized Bloch states are just very small in large crystals.

Anonymous said...

I can foresee plenty of condensed matter (very broadly speaking) Nobel Laureates for the future:

* Ijima, for the discovery and/or popularization of Carbon Nanotubes.

* Thouless, Aharonov, Bohm, Berry. Topological phases in quantum mechanics. Thouless could get it for the KT transition also, and for his work on quantum transport.

* Topological insulators. For me this case is stronger than graphene. Sou Chen Zhang should definitely get it.


* John Sloncesky for the prediction of spin transfer torque (both fundammentally important and with applications)

JL said...

I think the groundbreaking part of the duo's experiment is the transport measurement and demonstration of bipolar transistor effect. Sure graphene has been seen or grown on SiC or metal surfaces before, but no transport measurement was performed (correct me if I am wrong). Since 2004 graphene has become poor man's (and woman's) 2DEG, with the additional advantage of being a surface system that allows mechanical, scanned probe and optical measurements.

This being said, I was surprised that graphene got the prize this year. I thought it needs to wait another decade or so. In fat, I lost a dollar betting with my graduate students!

About other Nobel-worthy candidates -- How about Thouless?

Anonymous said...

@Anon. For topological insulators, I personally think Kane is a far better candidate than Zhang. There is going to be a lot of debate on this matter, but when the dust settles, Kane is the one who put the crucial pieces together.

Doug Natelson said...

Anon. and Anon., I agree that Kane and Mele were in on the ground floor of the top. insulators. Souchen Zhang has pushed things very well, too. Still, as cool as the physics is in topological insulators, they're far less mature than graphene in basic experiments (though they seem to be the poster case for ARPES these days).

Tahir said...

What about all the other types of unconventional superconductors that have been discovered besides the cuprates?

Examples: Iron-Pnictide, Heavy Fermion (there's a whole host of other fascinating properties there as well), Organic.

All these materials have exceedingly rich and fascinating phase diagrams, a lot of them not being very well understood from a basic physics point of view.

Why is it that the cuprates get a Nobel Prize a year after their initial discovery, yet all these other examples of perplexing superconductivity are not likewise awarded? Prof. Natelson, care to chime in?

Anonymous said...

Tahir wrote:
>Why is it that the cuprates get a
>Nobel Prize a year after their
>initial discovery, yet all these
>other examples of perplexing
>superconductivity are not likewise
>awarded?

A lot of people think Frank Steglich deserves a Nobel prize for heavy-fermion superconductors. Denis Jerome thinks that Denis Jerom deserves a Novel prize for organic superconductors. But where do you draw the line? A15s? Buckyballs?

The cuprates were a singular discovery, but it was only clear they were a singular discovery after a Tc above LN2 temperatures were discovered in Y123. And when you look at this famous plot of Tc vs. time, it is clear that something special happened in 86-87.

Rolando said...

@Doug, although it is true that the amount of experiments in topological insulators (TI) is far less than in graphene, it seems to me that the "discovery"/prediction of TI's is far more important, from the fundamental physics perspective, than graphene. The physics of TI's have shown us that we didn't fully understand even the simple non-interacting band theory of solids! (I'm not saying that we do now). In my opinion it really was C. Kane and E. Mele (and perhaps also L. Fu) that opened up this field. People like SC. Zhang, R. Roy and J. Moore have made very important contributions, but they were not the first.

Anonymous said...

Who actually discovered carbon nanotube? Iijima, Ajayan, Avoris, Ebbeson, Endo? There are many who believe Iijima's nature paper is not solely his observation through TEM. There were atleast one present in actually seeing it from the above mentioned group of researchers.

jonah said...

Hey Doug,
You are certainly correct about the explanation for how graphene circumvents Mermin-Wagner, but the fact is, it must still do so (at least, I will assert this until someone finds a perfectly flat sheet of graphene...). I would bet money that any theorist prior to its discovery would have predicted a 2D material to evaporate upon isolation. That's the rather transparent statement that Mermin-Wagner makes. Of course, I wouldn't doubt that they would all deny this now...

Downer said...

Physics departments are full of groups studying these semi-exotic compounds that at some point in history used to promise the greatest breakthroughs, but are now destined for oblivion.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there is a case for topological insulators (well, where are basic transport experiments? and the field is as old as graphene!) -- also, the fact that you can have Dirac surface states when there is band inversion has been known since 80's -- see, e.g, this paper:
Supersymmetry in heterojunctions: Band-inverting contact on the basis of Pb1---xSnxTe and Hg1---xCdxTe
O. A. Pankratov, S. V. Pakhomov and B. A. Volkov
Solid State Communications
Volume 61, Issue 2, January 1987, Pages 93-96

There were even experiments on such structures.
Besides, the basic theoretical fact that underlies topological insulators has been well-known in high-energy physics -- in 2D, it is related to the parity anomaly....

I also agree with Doug -- in terms of basic experiments, top insulators are nowhere near graphene.

Anonymous said...

There was a lot of theoretical work on graphene before it was discovered in the lab and a lot of it turned out to be bang-on in terms of predictions. Even though it seems to be lost in the noise, the ideas about analogs of quantum electrodynamics and to even a greater extent the parity anomaly in topological insulators seem to me a more important paradigm shift than identifying flakes of graphene, which is something like astronomy with a microscope.