Two British Nobel Prize-winning scientists have come up with a new way to use graphene – the thinnest material in the world – that could significantly increase internet speeds.

University of Manchester professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, who won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work with graphene, have pioneered a method of combining the carbon-based material with metallic nanostructures to use as photodetectors which could greatly increase the amount of light optical communications devices could handle.

This advance in graphene light harvesting and conversion into electrical power could lead to communications rates tens or even hundreds of times faster than today’s, the researchers say.

Prof Novoselov said: "The technology of graphene production matures day-by-day, which has an immediate impact both on the type of exciting physics which we find in this material, and on the feasibility and the range of possible applications. Many leading electronics companies consider graphene for the next generation of devices. This work certainly boosts graphene's chances even further."

University of Cambridge researchers teamed with the University of Manchester researchers on the graphene work.

Leading tech vendors including IBM have been investing heavily in graphene-based technologies. Earlier this summer Big Blue claimed to have built the first graphene-based integrated circuit, which some day could lead to improved wireless devices and less-expensive displays. Earlier in the year, IBM demonstrated a 155-GHz graphene transistor, its fastest yet.

Graphene could also play a role in extending battery life substantially. A company called Vorbeck is working with the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to integrate graphene into batteries that can store more energy and recharge more quickly.