Materials in the Flatland: A scientific lecture by Nobel Laureate Konstantin Novoselov

Professor Novoselov remains at the forefront of an entirely new area of multidisciplinary research which was formed after his discovery of graphene, the world’s first two-dimensional material

Researchers, students and other members of Singapore’s scientific community attended a lecture on 26 Nov by Professor Sir Konstantin Novoselov, Tan Chin Tuan Centennial Professor at NUS Materials Science and Engineering

Entitled ‘Materials in the Flatland’ — as a nod to the 1884 novella ‘Flatland’ told from the point of view of a square living in a two-dimensional (2D) world — Prof Novoselov spoke about the enticing opportunities now available since his breakthrough discovery of the world’s first 2D material in 2004.

Prof Novoselov, along with his colleague and collaborator Professor Sir Andre Geim, won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for their isolation of an atomically thin sheet of carbon atoms known as graphene. Their work opened the floodgates to experiments on many other 2D atomic crystals. 

In theory we could design any new material, layer by layer, for any new application.

In his lecture Prof Novoselov said that “The resulting pool of 2D crystals is now huge, and they cover a massive range of properties: from the most insulating to the most conductive, from the strongest to the softest.” 

With this range of materials to explore, it is now possible to mix the properties of one 2D material with another, to create new smart materials ‘on demand’ for bespoke applications. 

Prof Novoselov explained, “In theory we could design any new material, layer by layer, for any new application. We call these layered materials heterostructures or composite materials.”

“Since these 2D-based heterostructures can be tailored with atomic precision, and individual layers of very different character can be combined together, the properties of these structures can be tuned to study novel physical phenomena, or to fit an enormous range of possible uses,” he said.

In this way, by building from the atomic level up, Prof Novoselov’s current research focusses on synthesising new intelligent functional materials that can meet the demands of tomorrow’s technologies.

Question and Answer Session

After the lecture the audience members were given the chance to ask Prof Novoselov questions about his work and the future of materials research. Among the attendees was NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye who asked how soon all possible 2D materials could be classified.

Professor Novoselov responded that there are huge efforts currently underway to discover the so-called ‘material genome’, which would be a library of all 2D materials and others. Such a database could spark a new paradigm for materials discovery and design, and by combining theory, computation, and experiments, would dramatically accelerate innovation and applications.

But Prof Novoselov also added that quantifying the materials is not the end. He said that it is also important to know the properties of the materials in the real world to truly understand how they can interact with other materials and how they can be used in applications.