“Graphene has always been before our eyes, but no one ever tried to look,” says Andre Geim, a physicist at the University of Manchester in England. A single-atom-thick, chicken wire web of carbon atoms, graphene forms the layers that stack up to make the graphite found in pencil lead and carbon soot.
However mundane the stuff may be, physicists have long predicted that if it were possible to isolate single graphene sheets, they would be sturdier than diamond and would have almost preternatural abilities to manipulate electrons. That could make graphene a better material than silicon for making computer chips. Until recently, though, no one had been able to isolate graphene sheets, let alone do anything useful with them.
In 2004, Geim and his collaborators startled the physics community by announcing that they had peeled graphene layers off graphite using common adhesive tape. The discovery raised a buzz in physics circles reminiscent of the excitement that greeted carbon nanotubes a decade ago.