APS News

January 2010 (Volume 19, Number 1)

Letters to the Editor

Many Pioneers in Graphene Discovery

It was a surprise to see your article “October 22, 2004: Discovery of Graphene” in the history column in the October APS News. Thank you very much but I am not dead yet and not even old enough (51), and your glorifying comments made me feel rather uncomfortable. While many research papers and several international awards indeed attribute the discovery of graphene to our group, the use of the word discovery is perhaps not entirely accurate: One needs to be aware of many earlier papers that poked in the same direction. Researchers previously tried to make increasingly thinner sheets of graphite and grew thin graphitic layers on top of other crystals. Their papers were mostly–if not entirely–observational, and there was no convincing case put forward to spark the graphene gold rush. The literature search is complicated because until recently relevant papers remained unnoticed and often do not cite each other. Nevertheless, our papers (for example, “The rise of graphene”) provide a decent overview of the earlier literature citing tens of pre-2004 papers on both mechanical cleavage and epitaxial growth.

As of today, the earliest paper on graphitic epitaxial growth which I am aware of dates back to 1975 [1], and the earliest microscopy observation of atomically thin graphitic fragments (possibly even monolayers of graphite oxide) can be found in a German-language journal from 1962 [2]. I am certain that even earlier papers will eventually be found, and I would most welcome further historical insights.

Over the years I have received 3 vociferous requests from other researchers to acknowledge their pioneering roles in the experimental discovery of graphene. Let me use this opportunity to do so. In 1999, Rod Ruoff from Austin reported “thin sections of HOPG plates” and promised that “future work will include trying to obtain graphene” [3]. Reginald Little “predicted and conceived graphene” in his 2003 review [4]. And, in 2004, Walt de Heer from Georgia Tech was the first to pioneer thin graphitic layers grown on SiC as a base material for future integrated circuits [5], the vision that I hope will prove right. I whole-heartedly recommend reading all these papers.

[1] A. J. van Bommel, J. E.  Crombeen, A. van Tooren. Surf. Sci. 48, 463 (1975).
[2] H. P. Boehm et al. Z. Naturforschung 17b, 150 (1962).
[3] X. Lu, M. Yu, H. Huang, R. S. Ruoff. Nanotechnology, 10, 269 (1999).
[4] R. B. Little. J. Cluster Sci. 14, 135 (2003).
[5] C. Berger et al, J. Phys. Chem. B 108, 19912 (2004).
Andre Geim
Manchester, UK

Heavy, round philosopher invents black holes

I was interested to read, in the November APS News, about how John Michell in the 18th century proposed earthquake waves, a precursor to Cavendish’s experiment, and black holes. But why, in a physics newspaper, was it relevant to quote (more than once) that Michell was short and fat?  Why was it “nonetheless” that he was an “excellent Philosopher?” Is the anonymous author of this American Physical Society monthly column proposing a correlation between attractiveness and physics ability?

Jay M. Pasachoff
Williamstown, MA

The Sun is a Wild Card

As reported in the December APS News, at its recent meeting Council returned the APS climate-change statement to POPA “to address issues of clarity and tone”.

The key question to be decided remains whether recent global warming results mainly from anthropogenic causes. Only if evidence proves this to be the case can there be any hope that humankind can influence the Earth’s temperature.

Forecasting the state of the planet’s climate remains an extremely complex problem. As one example, the sun’s role in determining the Earth’s climate appears to have been seriously underestimated in many IPCC studies.

In fact, the temperature history of the planet during the last century relates very well to the observed solar activity during that period. This has been discussed by the renowned solar physicist C. de Jager of the Netherlands [www.cdejager.com], in a brief radio talk delivered in April, 2009. Here is a partial quote (translated from the original Dutch):

The sun is dead; as dead as a doornail. That is, since quite recently. Only a few years ago, about Hallowe’en in 2003, there were gigantic explosions on the sun. These so-called solar flares were more intense than what had ever been observed previously. They had energies of the order of a couple billion Hiroshima-size atomic bombs, and we know what one single Hiroshima bomb meant.

A short time after that, at the beginning of 2005, the sun emitted the largest gas clouds ever observed. These gas clouds passed the Earth with velocities of more then a thousand miles per second. And they had energies that were even many times larger than the most potent ones of the Hallowe’en explosions of 2003.

The explosions of 2003 and 2005 formed the…conclusion of a period of a half century, during which the sun has been more active than it had ever been during the previous thousands of years. During these fifty years the sun emitted per day, on average, two to four solar flares and two to four gas clouds –with a total energy equivalent to the energy of tens of Hiroshima bombs per day. This fifty year period is called the Great Maximum of the 20th century. After that the sun collapsed into a deadly rest.

In addition to great maxima the sun has also experienced great minima. The most impressive of these was from 1650 til 1720. During that period the sun was dead, just as dead as it is today. This is called the
Maunder Minimum. This episode was characterized by a period of low temperatures on the Earth. During the winters the canals in Holland were frozen over for long periods. The tow boats (important modes of transportation in 17th-century Holland) could not sail during those times. This period is called the Little Ice Age. Also, during the Dalton Minimum around 1820, it was colder than average.

The crucial question is whether there is a relation between the temperature on the Earth and the activity of the sun. It is striking to note that after the
Maunder Minimum till the end of the 20th century, the solar activity gradually increased, while at the same time the average temperature on the Earth also increased. In my research, which I am carrying out in collaboration with my colleague Silvia Duhau, we have found that this fact could have been caused by the increasing intensity of the ejected gas clouds–the solar wind. We found that it appears that a new Great Minimum is approaching; maybe it has already started. We further expect that this period will last during the remainder of the present century. Will we have another cool period? It is too early to tell. In about 20 years we will know more.

This story contains two profound messages for climate scientists: first, that global warming of the second half of the 20th century may be partly due to the sun’s behavior; and second, that the sun remains an unavoidable wildcard in long-time climate prediction.

Frits de Wette
Austin, TX

Climate Change Supporters Resort to Intemperate Calumny

I was disappointed to see the evident bias in letter selection that characterized the APS News discussion of the global warming issue. From the flood of e-mail that descended on the Council members before the meeting, I would judge that the membership is split more or less down the middle on the substance of the current APS official position. You published one letter, occupying 3 column-inches supporting the position that the Statement should be rescinded, and two letters, totaling 14½ column inches on the other side. Further, the letter supporting revision of the statement had in it only comments about the science, with no denigration of the motives or characters of those who hold the other view, while the other two were largely devoted to character assassination and obloquy. I give you for examples: “a blatant and political statement, that obscures the issues,” “politically based myths,” “political extreme”, “conflict with state-of-the-art climate models,” [I included that one because I hadn’t thought that conflict with models is a defect–I thought it was conflict with the facts that was], “it beggars the imagination that serious scientists can ignore this overwhelming evidence”, “obfuscating and confused deniers,” etc.

These are serious issues. When I joined APS 65 years ago reasoned argument was the order of the day, and such intemperate calumny would never have been published.  

Hal Lewis
Santa Barbara, CA

Ed. Note: As best we can tell, the “flood of e-mail that descended on the Council members” was two to one in favor of the APS position (see the story “Members Bombard Councilors with Messages on Climate Change” in the December APS News.) We did not calibrate the letters by column inches–we simply printed the letters we received. 


It is unfortunate that the two letters that objected to our attempt to reconsider the 2007 Climate Change statement stooped to name calling. I quote from Eric Swanson’s letter:

“It beggars the imagination that serious scientists can ignore this overwhelming evidence. The possible dangers of a warmer world are serious issues, not to be negated by obfuscating and confused deniers.”

This recalls in my mind the quote from a former Vice President of the United States, who referred to opponents of the disastrous policy of the Nixon administration in Viet Nam as “Nattering nabobs of negativism.” Such sarcasm-laden sentences may make for good journalism copy, but science they are not. It is an inconvenient truth that many very serious scientists do not agree with the present consensus. I am afraid that, inconveniently, that number seems to be growing. I don’t recall that science was done by majority vote. Can we please have a serious analysis of the physics of climate change by the APS, rather then a series of letters which hurl insults at those who happen not to agree, based upon their independent analysis?
Robert H. Austin
Princeton, NJ



I believe that the letter by Charles Jackson [APS News, November 2009] which accuses Robert Austin of “...blatant political statement that obscures and removes focus on what to do ... prevents scientific discussion...” has no place in APS News. Professor Austin of Princeton University is a respected member of our community. He may be right, he may be wrong, but there is no doubt in my mind that he is calling the science as he sees it. His views deserve as much respect as do Charles Jackson’s.

I disagree with the APS statement, but believe the statement supported by Robert Austin goes too far in the other direction. My views, as well as my own proposed statement have been documented in the letters to the editor section of the July, 2009 newsletter of the Forum on Physics and Society.  
Wallace Manheimer
Chevy Chase, MD

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Editor: Alan Chodos

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