Graphene, one of the most promising new materials to be developed in decades, isn’t much to look at. And it's no wonder why. Researchers discovered graphene, or one-atom-thick sheets of carbon, by mechanically peeling progressively finer layers from raw flakes of graphite, the same stuff found in pencil lead (See: “Carbon Wonderland,” by Andre K. Geim and Philip Kim, in the April issue of Scientific American).

Despite extensive efforts to develop practical applications for graphene and explore the exotic physics at work in its two dimensions, obtaining a usable sample is still more art than science, as Scientific American learned one slushy winter afternoon in the Columbia University lab of Philip Kim, one of our co-authors and a leader in the field. Then postdoctoral fellow Pablo Jarillo-Herrero (now an assistant professor of physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology) took time out to show us how the researchers prepare graphene for study.

Click here to find out how.

Commercial Sources for Silicon Wafers and Graphite
If you are interested in trying out the procedure yourself, here’s where you can obtain the necessary materials:

Oxidized silicon wafers:
Many suppliers of semiconductor materials sell wafers of oxidized silicon, including Nova Electronic Materials of Carrollton, Tex. (

Bulk natural graphite:
Samples of natural graphite can be purchased from a variety of laboratory materials vendors such as NGS Naturgraphit GmbH in Leinburg, Germany (