Sumio Iijima, Cees Dekker, Thomas Ebbesen and Paul McEuen received the 2001 Agilent Technologies Europhysics prize for outstanding achievement in condensed-matter physics. The scientists were recognized for their discovery of multi- and single-walled carbon nanotubes and their studies of the tubes' properties. They received the award at a meeting of the European Physical Society earlier this month.

"These researchers have created an entirely new field in condensed-matter physics - a field at the intersection of nanoscience, nanotechnology and molecular electronics," said Roberto Favaretto, Agilent vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Iijima discovered carbon nanotubes back in 1991, successfully synthesizing single-wall nanotubes two years later in conjunction with T. Ichihashi. In 1996, Ebbesen and colleagues made larger quantities of purified nanotubes and showed that they are the stiffest known material, with great potential for reinforced composites and nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS).

A year later, groups led by Dekker and McEuen reported on nanotubes' electrical properties. They discovered that nanotubes are one-dimensional conductors that have either conducting or semiconducting characteristics, depending on the nanotubes' atomic structure. Both groups later created novel devices, including the first single-molecule nanotube transistors and molecular diodes.

Over in the US, meanwhile, the American Chemical Society presented its 2002 award for pure chemistry to Hongjie Dai of Stanford University. Dai won the prize for his work on controlled-growth methods for ordered nanotubes. He developed a metal-catalysed chemical-vapour-deposition technique for the patterned growth of carbon nanotubes and has also made a number of nanotube-based devices, including chemical and biological sensors.

Last year, Dai founded carbon nanotube start-up Molecular Nanosystems. The company, which is currently raising its second round of funding, shipped its first commercial product - atomic force microscope (AFM) probes with carbon nanotube tips - last month.