The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics went to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, a team of researchers from the University of Manchester. Using ordinary tape, Geim and Novoselov managed to extract a flake of graphene from a piece of graphite like that found in a regular pencil. Graphene is a form of carbon, which makes it sound fairly ordinary. But graphene has proven to be a wonder-material. At only one atom thick, graphene is the thinnest known material and also the strongest. It's harder than diamond, another form of carbon, and has impressive properties as a conductor of electricity and heat. It's almost see-through, and yet it's incredibly dense. It seems, in this case, that a #2 pencil may have been hiding unknown answers all along!
What state is it?
At the core, Geim and Novoselov's work with graphene highlights the fact that when you change the shape or state of molecules in a substance, you also potentially change its properties. The state of water, for example, has everything to do with its properties—How hard is it? How fluid is it? How dense is it? The answers depend on the state of the H20. Even though liquid water, solid water (ice), and gaseous water (steam) are all comprised of the same molecules, their properties differ.
To extend and sweeten this study, you can explore the physical properties of chocolate in Temper, Temper, Temper! The Science of Tempering Chocolate (Difficulty 6). Or, with hammer in hand, pound out the details and observe how the properties of metal are directly related to its shape in the It's Hard Work to Work Harden! Learn How to Make Metals Stronger project (Difficulty 5-6).
The Full Story
To read more about the history of Geim and Novoselov's work with graphene, see this ScienceDaily article.
Read our other posts about the 2010 Nobel Prizes: http://www.sciencebuddies.org/blog/2010/10/nobel-news-and-student-projects-to-explore-part-1.php