by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) July 24, 2011
Physicists who won last year's Nobel Prize for isolating graphene, the world's thinnest material, said Sunday they had devised ways of studying the novel substance at the fundamental level of the electron.
In a study published in the journal Nature Physics, Russian-born physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov said they had detailed interactions between electrons on a sheet of graphene in a bid to understand why the material is so unique.
Graphene comprises just a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb-shaped, hexagonal lattice.
The substance is chemically very simple but extremely strong, conducts electricity, dissipates heat and is transparent. There is a surge of interest in it to replace semiconductors in next-generation computers, touch screens and other electronic gadgets.
The Geim-Novoselov team built a test bed in which extremely high-quality sheets of graphene were suspended in a vacuum in order to get a clear view of how electrons interacted, free from the distortion of electron "scattering."
They found that the electrons moved at very high velocities -- previous research has monitored speeds 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) per second, some 30 times faster than in silicon -- and in a way that mimicks photons, or particles of light.
"Although the exciting physics which we have found in this particular experiment may have an immediate implementation in practical electronic devices, the further understanding of the electronic properties of this material will bring us a step closer to the development of graphene electronics," said Novoselov in a press release.
Graphene was aired as a theoretical substance in 1947. But for decades, many physicists thought it would be impossible to isolate, suggesting that such thin crystalline sheets were bound to be unstable.
The problem was resolved in 2004 in extraordinary fashion by Geim and Novoselov, who used ordinary sticky tape to pick up a flake from a piece of graphite -- the carbon form found in pencils.
Carbon Worlds - where graphite, diamond, amorphous, fullerenes meet
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