Two scientists won the Nobel prize for their work with graphene, the strongest, thinnest material in the known universe. Just as plastic was one of the most important developments in the 20th century, graphene is likely to affect the 21st.

Graphene is carbon atoms in a layer only one atom thick. Nobel Prize winners Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, from the University of Manchester, used scotch tape to peel off the first such layer. Graphene is almost completely transparent, yet so dense that not even helium, the smallest gas atom, can pass through it.

Two blocks from where we live, Jiaxing Huang at Northwestern University and his team are hard at work at the graphene frontier.   Their research could result in flexible displays– computers that roll up into a wristband and unroll like a newspaper. Other applications include solar cells and drug delivery. Joy nominated one of Huang’s team members, Laura Cote, for a $15,000 grant from P.E.O., the Philanthropic Educational Organization.

When we asked Laura to give us an example of how strong graphene is, she said: “If graphene were as thick as Saran Wrap,  it would take the weight of an elephant to break it.  A way to use this strength in bulk materials is to mix the sheets with plastics to make the plastics stronger.”

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