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