The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics will be awarded to two research pioneers working on graphene, a material that could have myriad high-tech applications, which they first produced by decidedly low-tech means. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, both of the University of Manchester in England, shared the prize for their work producing and characterizing the material, which is a one-atom-thick layer of carbon resembling a nanoscale chicken wire. The new physics laureates were announced October 5 at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.

Novoselov was a postdoctoral associate working with Geim in 2004 when the researchers discovered that they could make atomically thin slabs of carbon by repeatedly cleaving graphite—essentially pencil lead—with adhesive tape. Their 2004 Science paper describing the material and its electrical properties has already been cited more than 3,000 times, according to the Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

"I didn't expect the Nobel Prize this year," said Geim, 51, when the Nobel committee reached him at home by telephone. Geim said that winning the Nobel would not change his outlook, not even for a day—he said he was planning to head into work and finish some papers. "I'll just try to muddle on as before," Geim said. He will, however, muddle on with a bit more cash than before; the prize comes with an award of 10 million Swedish kronor, equal to about $1.5 million U.S. dollars.

The Nobel committee said that Novoselov, 36, is the youngest laureate in physics since 1973, when Brian D. Josephson, then 33, shared in the prize for his work on current flows between two superconductors separated by an insulator—a phenomenon now known as the Josephson effect.

Graphene is transparent, flexible and strong, and it conducts electricity, making it an attractive material for a number of electronics applications. Tantalizingly, electrons move through its two-dimensional structure much more easily than through ordinary conductors, zooming through as if massless. Graphene has already been used to make high-speed transistors, and flexible, durable conductive touchscreens are but one large-scale application that could be in the offing if an effective means of mass production can be developed.

At the Nobel announcement, physicist Per Delsing of the Chalmers University of Technology in Göteborg, Sweden, explained that a hypothetical one-square-meter hammock made out of graphene would be strong enough to support a four-kilogram cat. The hammock itself, just one atom thick, would weigh roughly one milligram—about the same as one of the cat's whiskers.

Thomson Reuters, which turns out annual predictions for the Nobel Prizes, flagged Geim and Novoselov as contenders for the award in 2008. But this year's Nobel Prize is not the first time Geim has been lauded for his work. He shared a 2000 Ig Nobel Prize—a sort of parody of the Nobel Prizes, awarded for amusing or unusual research—with fellow physicist Michael Berry of the University of Bristol in England for their research on levitating a number of objects, including a living frog, with magnets.