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Science. 2008 Jun 6;320(5881):1308. doi: 10.1126/science.1156965. Epub 2008 Apr 3.

Fine structure constant defines visual transparency of graphene.

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  • 1Manchester Centre for Mesoscience and Nanotechnology, University of Manchester, M13 9PL Manchester, UK.


There are few phenomena in condensed matter physics that are defined only by the fundamental constants and do not depend on material parameters. Examples are the resistivity quantum, h/e2 (h is Planck's constant and e the electron charge), that appears in a variety of transport experiments and the magnetic flux quantum, h/e, playing an important role in the physics of superconductivity. By and large, sophisticated facilities and special measurement conditions are required to observe any of these phenomena. We show that the opacity of suspended graphene is defined solely by the fine structure constant, a = e2/hc feminine 1/137 (where c is the speed of light), the parameter that describes coupling between light and relativistic electrons and that is traditionally associated with quantum electrodynamics rather than materials science. Despite being only one atom thick, graphene is found to absorb a significant (pa = 2.3%) fraction of incident white light, a consequence of graphene's unique electronic structure.

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