" Mobility is important and it is necessary. It broadens your horizons and allows you to learn different techniques. "

GraphITA (L’Aquila, Italy, 15 to 18 May 2011) has been a major international conference on what promises to be the material of the future, bringing together scientists and engineers working on different technological uses of graphene in a multidisciplinary environment.

On 15 May 2011 COST interviewed Prof Konstantin Novoselov, 2010 Nobel Laureate in Physics, keynote speaker at GraphITA.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2010 was awarded jointly to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov“for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two dimensional material graphene”. Prof Novoselov received the Nobel Prize at the age of 36. At the time of the award he was affiliated with the University of Manchester, United Kingdom.

What got you on to the idea of Graphene?

Graphene is just one of the many ideas which we had in the lab. We tried to spread and diversify our research as much as possible. There are plenty of ideas you have never heard of – a few of those are more fruitful than Graphene and yet, you never hear of them. There are still quite a number of them which have not worked out, but I’m still thinking about coming back to those. Graphene was only one of many. We just thought why don’t we try to make a transistor out of an atom? Then, which metal to take? And it was graphite. We started to work with it and we quite liked it. The first samples worked. Usually we allow ourselves just a few days, probably a week, for such projects; and if it doesn’t work, we forget about it. Another idea before, or around the same time, as the Graphene one was gecko tape. This flew quite nicely and is probably more of a dream.

Graphene research is now a worldwide project. What is Europe’s role in this? Is Europe – in your opinion – the world leader in Graphene research?

At the moment it’s practically impossible to be a leader in Graphene research because there are so many aspects of the research which you can touch. Graphene is like the philosopher’s stone: any property you touch is either unique or is better than that in other materials. It is the electronic properties of Graphene which attract a lot of people, but there are mechanical properties too. It’s the thinnest possible material; it’s the strongest material; it’s the most stretchable material; and it is the stiffest one. There are also chemical and optical properties. All properties of Graphene are attracting a lot of interest. Because of its diversity, so many different groups work in this area and I don’t think any single group can cover all those directions. So we try to do some cross-collaboration projects. But I don’t think that any single group is dominating the field.

There are of course a few leaders, such as Columbia University, doing extremely active research; people in Singapore and in Korea who are quite good in applications; then there is Cambridge University as well who leads more towards optics and applications. So there are quite a few centres, but in fact research is quite spread – and that’s exactly because there are so many different aspects of this material which can be started.

Graphene is exciting because of its uniqueness. Firstly, it is so easy to obtain, and then immediately you get so many different properties, leading to so many different experiments. It is this low-cost characteristic which attracts a lot of people and labs across the world who love experimenting with it. But then it’s really the combination of all those unique properties which is exciting. Each individual researcher would have a top list of properties.

In terms of applications, I can speculate but, as they say, I cannot predict the future – I can only predict the past. So I certainly hope that there will be applications. You can see that probably the first ones will be coming from transparent conductive coating: liquid crystal display, solar cells, touch screens, tactile screens and so on. We probably have to wait another year, but it is encouraging that there are some applications already in use. There are already small companies, people working in biology and life sciences, who love using Graphene as a transparent conductive coating for studying objects using TEM – transmission electron microscopy – because it’s transparent, conductive and an ideal substrate on which to put objects like DNA for instance. There are several companies which sell Graphene on TEM grids for these purposes. They are not selling Graphene for the purpose of science – they sell Graphene as a device.

How does getting a Nobel Prize change your life? How does it feel to receive a Nobel Prize? Were you nervous in Stockholm at the award ceremony?

It changed in a way because I had to fight really hard over a few months not to change it at all. So now it’s pretty much back to normal, there are only some minor disruptions. Sure, it was quite a shock for a few days – it was a pleasant shock, but still a shock. Was I nervous in Stockholm – why should I be? No, I wasn’t, I was nervous and I was excited while I was doing the experiments.

COST brings scientists together across different countries and continents. You’ve moved a lot during your scientific career. Do you think mobility for researchers is important?

Absolutely – It is important and it is necessary. It broadens your horizons and allows you to learn different techniques. Actually I feel that I have stayed in the Graphene area for far too long. I would certainly love to see more mobility both in Europe and between other countries.

What would your advice be to young people who would like to learn and work in a field such as nanotechnology?

I don’t think you can start specialising in nanotechnology as early as school; school is there to give you as broad an education as possible, and you have to take it. I would certainly disagree with people who say that we have to push our kids to learn some specific subjects as early as possible. It is the other way around: I think you need to broaden your horizons and try to study a wide range of subjects in school – that is your last chance to study everything. You go to university and that’s it, you have chosen your path and if you’ve chosen incorrectly you still go down that path. You should give kids an opportunity to learn about nanotechnology but you should certainly not give it any priority in comparison to other subjects.

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