Shechtman awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry in Stockholm

Technion professor is awarded for discovery of quasicrystals; presenter says the discovery "created a new branch of science," and "given us a reminder of how little we know... a truly great achievement."

By JPOST.COM STAFF
December 10, 2011 18:19
2 minute read.
Prof. Dan Shechtman receiving the Nobel Prize

Prof. Dan Shechtman receiving the Nobel Prize 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins)

Nobel Prize in Chemistry laureate Prof. Dan Shechtman was awarded the coveted prize at a ceremony in Stockholm Saturday evening. The gala ball was preceded by a weekend, in which Shechter delivered lectures and attended symposia and receptions surrounding the main event.

Shechtman was awarded the prize by Dr. Sven Ledin, of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. "Your discovery of quasicrystals," Ledin said addressing Shechtman, "has created a new branch of science. This is in itself of great importance. It has also given us a reminder of how little we know and perhaps given us some humility. That is a truly great achievement.

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Soon after Shechtman received the award in Sweden, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu congratulated him on becoming the tenth Israeli to win a Nobel Prize. "I am so proud of my country's only true natural resource: its people," Netanyahu said through a spokesman.

Shechtman – a 70-year-old expert in materials science at Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology – discovered in 1982 that atoms in rigid crystals can be packed together in unusual ways. This breakthrough led to the development of extremely strong materials from metal surgical tools and razor blades to diesel engines and as protective coatings and metal alloys. In addition, what have become known as quasiperiodic or quasicrystals, do not rust or become oxidized and have almost no surface friction.

The Tel Aviv-born scientist, who is also an associate of the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and professor at Iowa State University, found that atoms in crystals could be structured in an unrepeatable pattern that looked like the Arab-style floor mosaics. In fact, the structure was described as “the fascinating mosaics of the Arabic world reproduced at the level of atoms.”

Married and the father of four, Shechtman earned his three degrees at the Technion.

He was on sabbatical almost three decades ago at the US National Bureau of Standards in Washington, DC, when he discovered the icosahedral phase, which opened the new field of quasiperiodic crystals.

During his sabbatical in the early 1980s at Johns Hopkins University, he discovered the icosahedral phase. He was amazed to discover – in an electron microscope – that the new crystal he had uncovered was symmetrical and could be turned around five times without looking different; this was considered “impossible” according to existing theory.

During the several days following the award ceremony, Shechtman will tour universities around Sweden giving lectures.

Judy Siegel-Itzkovich contributed to this report.


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