“I Shall Simply Continue On. I am Very Proud of the Nobel Prize.” Andre Geim, a German Russian, Receives the Nobel Prize for Physics

The Editors. "'I Shall Simply Continue On. I am Very Proud of the Nobel Prize.' Andre Geim, a German Russian, Receives the Nobel Prize for Physics." Volk auf dem Weg, November 2010, 6-7.

Translation from the Original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

This year’s Nobel Prize for Physics is shared equally by two scientists who were born in Russia and who teach and do research in Manchester, Great Britain. They are Prof. Dr. Andre Geim (52) and Prof. Konstantin Novoselov (36), researchers who were honored for their pioneering work on the modified two-dimensional carbon material graphene. The Nobel Committee of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences stated that this material could revolutionize the world of electronics. Andre Geim is the very first German Russian to receive a Nobel Prize. In 2009 Andre Geim had also been awarded the richly endowed Körber Prize for European Science, also known as “Hamburg’s Nobel Prize,” for his (2004) discovery of graphene.

 “Some recipients of the Nobel Prize have actually stopped working after receiving the award. Others believe they received it only by happenstance. I am not part of either category – I shall simply continue on. I am very proud of the Nobel prize,” commented Geim to the Nobel Prize Committee shortly after the announcement. The monetary portion of each Nobel Prize consists of ten million Swedish kroner (ca. 1.09 million Euros, or roughly 775,000 dollars). The actual award ceremony takes place annually on December 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of Alfred Nobel, who originated and endowed the award. 

“I consider myself a globetrotter. I travel Europe from country to country …”   

Meanwhile, Geim, who was born in Russia, has become a naturalized citizen of the Netherlands, although he considers himself more of a globetrotter. “When I first came to England, I was called a Russian. My parents are German, my name is German, I have German ancestors, and before the age of six or seven my mother tongue was German, although I am no longer fluent in it. I consider myself a globetrotter, and I travel Europe from country to country …,” said Geim during an interview with “Deutschlandfunk” [national German radio].

Together with his wife Galina Grigorieva he teaches and performs research in Manchester. He is the father of an eight-year-old daughter in Manchester, and since 2001 he has been a professor of physics and director of the Center for Mesophysics and Nanotechnology at the British University in Manchester.

To encourage research the British government made available support grants totaling three million pounds [ca. 1.85 million dollars] and appointed Andre Geim to a professorship in physics. He put together his team by choosing scientists he had worked with in the past. Most of them came from Russia and had studied at the same Institute.    

Failed admissions exam twice – simply because of his national origin

Andre Geim was born in 1958 in Sochi (North Caucasus), the son of German parents. In 1965 the family resettled in Nalchik (Kabardino-Balkaria), where Andre attended school at the so-called “School # 3,” where he received intensive instruction in English and graduated with excellent marks in 1975.  His serious attitude toward everything he does, and his diligence, may well have come from his father, who actively lived the German proverb: “Morgen, morgen, nur nicht heute, sagen alle faule Leute.” [Tomorrow, tomorrow, just not today – that’s what all lazy people say.]

His father, Konstantin Geim (born in 1910 in Saratov) was chief engineer of the electro-vacuum firm in Nalchik; and Geim’s mother, (born in 1927) and his brother Vladislav (born in 1951) worked at the same firm as chief technologist and engineer, respectively. In the mid-1990s these members of the family emigrated to Germany, where Geim’s father died in 1998.

It was his German origin that made it impossible for Geim to realize his dream of studying at the Moscow Institute for Physics Research. Following two failed admission exams – only later would he discover that the actual roadblock had been his German ethnicity – he enrolled at the Moscow Institute for Physics and Technology, where he completed his studies in 1982.

In 1987 Geim received his doctorate at the Institute for Solid State Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Chernogolovka and subsequently did three years of research in the area of micro-electronics technology at the same Institute.
In 1994 Geim became an Associate Professor at the Netherlands University in Nijmegen. Despite his Dutch citizenship he turned his back on the higher education system in the Netherlands because he deemed it too hierarchical, and in 2001 he moved to the University of Manchester, where he has been a physics professor ever since.

Graphene could have been discovered in Russia, too, but the odds for that were about one in a thousand” 

In the field of physics Geim is considered a man who can do anything, and he covers a multiplicity of topics in his chosen specialty. With his research he repeatedly made even the public take notice. He has published a plethora of path-breaking articles and books and is considered an eminent authority in his field. He has already been honored multiple times for his work in research. In 2007 he was admitted to membership in the Royal Society (an honor rarely given) and received the Hughes Medal of the Royal Society.  

Geim’s enthusiasm for research is also legendary. For example, he is the first researcher in the world to have been awarded both the Nobel Prize and the Ig-Nobel Prize. The latter, awarded by Harvard University, is granted for a “curious” kind of research that first may make people laugh, but then makes them think. Geim received the Ig-Nobel Prize in 2000 for a piece of work in which he caused a frog and other objects to levitate by using an extremely strong magnet.

“In England I realized that here one can accomplish in six months what, given the 1990s-era kinds of attitudes in Russia, might have taken twenty years … To remain there would for me have meant the same as wasting time tilting windmills. Working conditions there were so fundamentally different that the choice between staying and leaving ceased to be a consideration for me …  Graphene could have been discovered in Russia, too, but the odds for that were one in a thousand, in comparison to what can be done abroad,” said Geim in comments to the Russian news service.

In Russia, too, the news of the Nobel Prize award going to two scientists who had begun their careers in Russia was received with great enthusiasm and pride, but also with disappointment that both were doing their research abroad. “We must make an effort to make sure that our talented people do not go abroad. We must become more attractive to people,“ stressed Russian President Medvedev, clearly with the Nobel Prize winners in mind.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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