October 6, 2011 — The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Dan Shechtman, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel, for the discovery of quasicrystals.
Quasicrystals reveal an atomic structure of regular patterns that never repeat. The quasicrystal formation has therefore been likened to aperiodic mosaics found in the medieval Islamic Alhambra Palace in Spain (detail pictured above) and the Darb-i Imam Shrine in Iran.
Shechtman discovered the solid-matter arrangement in April 1982, using an electron microscope. Until his research, all solid-matter atoms were believed to be packed inside crystals in symmetrical patterns that were repeated periodically. Scientists considered this repetition required in order to obtain a crystal.
Shechtman showed that the atoms in his crystal were packed in a pattern that followed mathematical rules but could not be repeated. The controversial findings led to Shechtman being asked to leave his research group. However, his battle eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter.
Shechtman’s quasicrystals are now described by "the golden ratio;" the ratio of various distances between quasicrystal atoms is related to the golden mean.
Following Shechtman’s discovery, scientists have produced other kinds of quasicrystals in the lab and discovered naturally occurring quasicrystals in mineral samples from a Russian river. A Swedish company has also found quasicrystals in a certain form of steel, where the crystals reinforce the material like armor.
Scientists are currently experimenting with using quasicrystals in different products such as frying pans and diesel engines.
Dan Shechtman is an Israeli citizen born 1941 in Tel Aviv, Israel. He received a Ph.D. in 1972 from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel. He is a Distinguished Professor, The Philip Tobias Chair, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel. Learn more at http://materials.technion.ac.il/shechtman.html
The Prize amount is SEK 10 million.
Visit http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2011/announcement.html for more information.
See information on the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics, for graphene research and blogger Linda Rae’s post on the winners.