An element of Nobel-ity: Michigan Tech's carbon connection

Dec 13, 2010 By Marcia Goodrich
Growth spirals on graphite crystals. Colors are generated by the optical microscope to reveal the features. Patrick Jaszczak image.

Who ever would have guessed that the business end of Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils would someday be the next big thing? John Jaszczak, perhaps.

He was not all that surprised that the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics was presented to two Russian-born scientists who created atom-thin sheets of carbon, called , made from graphite. Jaszczak, a professor of physics and adjunct curator of the Seaman Mineral Museum, is a longtime fan of the mineral and was familiar with their prize-winning work.

In fact, he supplied the researchers, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of the University of Manchester, with graphite to use in their experiments. And, he appears as a coauthor on one of their papers, “Giant Intrinsic Carrier Mobilities in Graphene and Its Bilayer,” published in Physical Review Letters.

Jaszczak’s graphite is not your garden-variety pencil lead. For about ten years, he has been supplying scientists with rare forms of the mineral, especially high-quality single crystals, isolated from rocks from select localities ranging from New York and California to Tanzania.

Because of its potentially more-perfect crystalline structure compared to synthetic graphite, Geim and Novoselov likely thought that Jaszczak’s natural graphite might help them produce even better quality graphene. Just one atom thick, it is the world's thinnest and strongest nanomaterial, almost transparent and able to conduct electricity and heat. “When they make graphene from most graphite, the resulting graphene flakes are very small, typically only a few microns across,” said Jaszczak. “Using our graphite crystals, which are well-ordered on a scale from 500 microns to several millimeters across, scientists hope to be able to obtain graphene that is not only of larger dimensions but of a higher degree of order. Dr. Geim was hopeful that the higher degree of order would lead to even more remarkable electronic properties for resulting graphene.”

Jaszczak gave up the graphite sales business in 2008, handing it over to the student-run Nanotech Innovations Enterprise for one of their projects. Since then, the team has established Naturally Graphite, “supplying high-quality, natural graphite crystals for research and education” from their website, Among their customers are NIST, the Sandia and Brookhaven national labs, Georgia Tech and MIT, who use the crystals for graphene research as well as substrates for scanning tunneling microscopy. With their profits, the students support the work of the Enterprise, including educational programs for high school students and teachers.

No Michigan Tech graphite was used in the making of the Nobel Prize-winning graphene, Jaszczak sighs. Nevertheless, students in the Nanotechnology Enterprise are more than satisfied with their business outcomes. “We are supplying scientists with materials that otherwise would be unavailable,” said Jaszczak. “We also enjoy demonstrating our scanning tunneling microscope during numerous outreach events. We use it to show the atomic-scale network of carbon on a crystal and measure the carbon-carbon bond distance. The kids think it’s amazing. So do I!”

Explore further: Tiny wires could provide a big energy boost

Related Stories

Professor scoops top prize for 2D atomic crystals discovery

Oct 19, 2006

Professor Andre Geim of the School of Physics and Astronomy has been awarded the 2007 Mott Medal and Prize by the Institute of Physics for his ground-breaking work. The research of Professor Geim, Dr Kostya Novoselov and ...

Liquid method: pure graphene production

May 30, 2010

In a development that could lead to novel carbon composites and touch-screen displays, researchers from Rice University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology today unveiled a new method for producing ...

The flattest material in the world

Oct 06, 2010

The Nobel Prize for physics goes to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, both Russian-born physicists now working at the University of Manchester in the U.K., for their discovery of graphene. ...

Toward a better understanding of bilayer graphene

Oct 26, 2010

( -- "Graphene is a very exciting material with a number of interesting possibilities, including for use in electronic devices," Pablo Jarillo-Herrero tells "However, all graphene system ...

Recommended for you

Tiny wires could provide a big energy boost

9 minutes ago

Wearable electronic devices for health and fitness monitoring are a rapidly growing area of consumer electronics; one of their biggest limitations is the capacity of their tiny batteries to deliver enough ...

Graphene sheets enable ultrasound transmitters

52 minutes ago

University of California, Berkeley, physicists have used graphene to build lightweight ultrasonic loudspeakers and microphones, enabling people to mimic bats or dolphins' ability to use sound to communicate ...

Project uses crowd computing to improve water filtration

18 hours ago

Nearly 800 million people worldwide don't have access to safe drinking water, and some 2.5 billion people live in precariously unsanitary conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ...

Engineering the world's smallest nanocrystal

22 hours ago

In the natural world, proteins use the process of biomineralization to incorporate metallic elements into tissues, using it to create diverse materials such as seashells, teeth, and bones. However, the way ...

A stretchy mesh heater for sore muscles

Jul 03, 2015

If you suffer from chronic muscle pain a doctor will likely recommend for you to apply heat to the injury. But how do you effectively wrap that heat around a joint? Korean Scientists at the Center for Nanoparticle ...

Polymer mold makes perfect silicon nanostructures

Jul 03, 2015

Using molds to shape things is as old as humanity. In the Bronze Age, the copper-tin alloy was melted and cast into weapons in ceramic molds. Today, injection and extrusion molding shape hot liquids into ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.