For he’s a jolly good Fellow

Materials World magazine
1 Dec 2010

I was delighted to see the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics awarded to two material scientists, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, both at The University of Manchester, UK, for their research on graphene, a honeycombed sheet of carbon just one-atom thick. The study and research into materials and applications has been at the forefront of mankind’s technical advancement, and, I have no doubt, will provide the answers to many of today’s challenges, including arguably the most pressing one – cleaner, greener energy. So it was a particularly timely award.

One of the spin-offs from the Nobel Prize is a greater public awareness of science and engineering. In fact, science in general, and physics in particular, is having a renaissance thanks to recent publicity about the Large Hadron Collider and programmes on mainstream television such as ‘Wonders of the Solar System’ by Professor Brian Cox on BBC 2 and Stephen Hawking’s ‘Universe’, which aired on Channel 4.

Geim and Novoselov follow a long line of exceptional physicists who have been awarded the Nobel Prize, which dates back to 1901. Among them are Marie Curie and Albert Einstein, who even your average pub quiz team will have heard of, as well as names such as Bragg, Planck, Hertz, Schrodinger and Feyman, familiar names to those of us who studied Physics at school.

I must confess that I had never heard of graphene until I read about the Nobel award – ironic given that it is something all of us have come into contact with – a one-atom thick layer of graphite is more commonly known as the ‘lead’ in pencils.

In this age of the Large Hadron Collider and Hubble telescope, the most charming thing about graphene was how it was prepared by something as simple as sticky tape to strip the atoms from graphite. Apparently this almost completely transparent, but extremely strong material, is as good a conductor of electricity as copper, and as a conductor of heat it outperforms all other known materials. Once it can be manufactured into films greater than a few centimetres across, it could be used in any number of pliable, thin, transparent electronic applications, such as crystal-clear, flexible displays or solar cells on windows.

It might not be in quite the same league as the Nobel Prize, but IOM3 also has an annual awards programme spanning the Institute’s activities and member achievements (the deadline for which is approaching, so nominations need to be made soon). Unfortunately Geim and Novoselov are not members of the Institute so do not qualify; however, there is another way that we could acknowledge their achievement.

As a body incorporated by Royal Charter, the Institute has the remit to award Honorary Fellowship, a ‘prestigious grade for those with an established and enhanced reputation in materials, minerals and mining technology and who have demonstrated a contribution to the communities served by the Institute’. I cannot think of a better way for the Institute to honour Geim and Novoselov, while stimulating those of us with more modest professional achievements to finally get around to that upgrade to Fellow.

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