Speaking with Andrea Young feels like watching a racehorse holding itself back at the starting gate. We met on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he’s a condensed matter physicist, to chat about his work on 2-D materials. His mind seems to be working faster than the conversation can flow. My sense is, once the reins are loosened — and he’s back in the lab — he’ll take off.
Young’s colleagues confirm that’s the case. “He’s a whirlwind,” says physicist Raymond Ashoori of MIT. When Young was a postdoc in his lab, Ashoori says, it felt like “an idea a minute.”
Young, 35, has a way with substances shaved to the thickness of a single atom, such as the sheets of carbon known as graphene. His research has revealed new states of matter, and advanced scientists’ understanding of the strange physics that arises when materials are sliced thin.
“Things change a lot when you change the number of dimensions,” Young says.
As a graduate student at Columbia University, Young helped create a new type of material that transformed how scientists study graphene. Along with physicists Cory Dean, Philip Kim and colleagues, Young devised a technique for layering graphene with other materials, in particular another compound that forms 2-D sheets called hexagonal boron nitride. The combination makes the sometimes-finicky graphene easier to work with. And the material’s electrons can be coaxed to behave in unusual ways, interacting strongly with one another, for example. Reported in Nature Nanotechnology in 2010, the technique was quickly adopted by scientists around the world. “Everybody uses it now,” Ashoori says.