“Failures sometimes failed to materialise” — Geim

Already in Nijmegen, I started using lateral ideas as under- and postgraduate projects, and students were always excited to buy a pig in a poke. Kostya Novoselov, who came to Nijmegen as a PhD student in 1999, took part in many of these projects. They never lasted for more than a few months, in order not to jeopardise a thesis or career progression. Although the enthusiasm inevitably vanished towards the end, when the predictable failures materialised, some students later confided that those exploratory detours were invaluable experiences.

Most surprisingly, failures sometimes failed to materialise. Gecko tape is one such example…

While preparing for my lecture in Stockholm, I compiled a list of my Friday night experiments. Only then did I realise a stunning fact. There were two dozen or so experiments over a period of approximately fifteen years and, as expected, most of them failed miserably. But there were three hits: levitation, gecko tape and graphene. This implies an extraordinary success rate: more than 10%. Moreover, there were probably near-misses, too….

The passage appears on pages 75 and 76 of Andre Geim’s autobiography. Andre Geim is the only person who has been awarded both the Ig Nobel Prize in physics (in 2000, for using magnets to levitate a frog) and the Nobel Prize in physics (in 2010, for discoveries about the substance graphene).