The next time you take a test with a number two pencil, you’re one step closer to a Nobel Prize. Well, maybe not — but this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics recently went to two Russian-born researchers who work with that magical No. 2 substance, graphite. The winners, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, isolated graphene, the world’s thinnest material. Their research has opened up a world of insights into materials science, computer applications and condensed matter physics. But the prizewinners also have some quirks.
The discovery of graphene came from simply sticking graphite to some adhesive tape, and peeling it off. What they made, however, is far removed from the humble yellow pencil — a sheet of graphene, just one atom thick and arranged in a lattice like chicken wire, is actually considered two-dimensional.
As amazing as graphene is, a lot of people are talking about the researchers themselves. At 36 years old, Novoselov is the youngest Nobel laureate in physics since 1973. His partner Geim is the first person to ever win both a Nobel and an Ig Nobel — a parody award for amusing research. And their paper itself is a bit unusual. Unlike last year’s prize, awarded for work done in the 1950s, graphene was only isolated six years ago. Yet in just a few years the article from Science describing their discovery has been cited 3,149 times. So what’s the moral of this year’s Nobel Physics story? Maybe it’s that we should all be a little more quirky.