Home > Uncategorized > Fun Fridays and the Nobel Prize in Physics

Fun Fridays and the Nobel Prize in Physics

While on an epic procrastination streak, I literally “Sumbleuponed” an article about the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics winners, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov. They are credited with discovering graphene; an entirely new form of carbon which is the world’s first 2 dimensional material. When I first saw the headline, I admit there was a dramatic sigh and eye roll; yet another “science thing” sure to reach far beyond my comprehensive capabilities. What I did not expect was the inspiring story that accompanied this discovery. 

Believe it or not, these scientists greatest achievement did not originate with high-tech equipment and multi-million dollar grants, but with the plain old no. 2 pencil; the very same one I use doodle in the margins of my UW notes. Geim and Novoselov apparently had a tradition of “Friday night experiments” to break up the monotony of the week’s “serious” research. It was during one of these playful, no-pressure, creative experiments that they got the crazy idea to use scotch tape to “exfoliate” a piece of graphite. They were able to isolate graphene; a monolayer of atomic thickness that is transparent under almost all conditions. By sheer coincidence they chose exactly the right substrate to place the graphene flakes on, and were able to view them through an ordinary microscope. 

The potentials of graphene are very significant, due to its remarkable strength and conductivity. In the next few years we can expect to see it in numerous possible applications, including miniaturizing computer chips. I thought this story was absolutely fascinating, less because of graphene and it’s wonderful potential and more because of the way in which it was discovered! We always here about how the best inventions began as accidents, yet somehow, I’ve always found that hard to believe. I am now humbled, and admit that I did not give the role of creativity in science enough credit. I am so deeply reassured by this development; there is something so comforting in knowing that all the high-tech equipment and money in the world are still unmatched by pure curiosity. This really speaks to an important aspect of working in any field: finding joy in what you do just might affect the final outcome. As students, I’m fairly certain we can all relate to this, the idea that putting pressure on an individual might inhibit them more than anything. Who knew science could be so much fun? I know I didn’t, and I think it’s really important to consider that doing what we love keeps us motivated, and it is that motivation that is the greatest force for discovery. 

Here’s the link! http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2010/speedread.html

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. anthonypribadi
    March 12, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    Hey this is a terrific news, both from the scientific discovery perspective and from your perspective as a student seeing it. I am agree with your conclusion. Motivation is one of the most important aspects in life, I think. Have you ever seen someone who does not have the motivation to live? I don’t think if I have seen any, but I have heard of them, they committed suicide. Okay, I am starting to go way off topic.

    Coming back to the research thing. It reminds me of my engineering final year project which I will need to do in my senior year. The way it is being done right now is that they have a pool of research topics. Then the students will have to rank them down according to each own preference. It is very possible that one project will grab the interest of a few students and normally some of them are more favoured by most of the students. So the university will give each project to the applying student with the highest GPA. Well, my point is, instead of doing interviews to see if the students are really interested in any particular topic, they just allocate the topics according to students’ current grades. This may be an efficient way from the university perspective, logistically speaking, but this may not be the best way to really match a student with a research topic. I don’t know what I can do about it as a student, this is only my two cents.

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