Daniel Shechtman wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The Technion professor is being awarded the prize for the discovery of quasicrystals.

Israeli chemist Prof. Daniel Shechtman (70), of The Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, was declared the winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry today. The prize was awarded for Shechtman's discovery of the existence of quasicrystals, which opened up a whole field of research, in which thousands of scientists currently work. Shechtman becomes the tenth Israeli to win the prestigious prize, and the fourth to win it in chemistry.

Shechtman's findings "fundamentally changed the way in which we think about the structure of the materials that surround us," the Nobel Prize committee explained today. The discovery was so revolutionary that, because of Shechtman's perseverance with it, he was dismissed form the research group in which he worked at the time, at the US National Bureau of Standards and Technology in Washington, DC.

Today, 30 years after he first spotted under the microscope the crystalline structure that he regarded as revolutionary and that others regarded as impossible, the academic community has given him the ultimate recognition. There are advantages to academic isolation: the prize is Shechtman's alone.

"Today, I feel as though I represent not just myself personally, but a whole field of research," said Shechtman at a press conference held at the Technion this afternoon to mark the award. "Thousands of scientists now carry out research in quasicrystals, and I am sure that they see in the prize their own achievement too, and rightly so. They are all doing worthwhile work in advancing the field."

Shechtman thanked his wife Tzipi who sat beside him, and his children and grandchildren (one of whom sat on his grandfather's lap). He also thanked Prof. Ilan Blech, who co-signed with him the first paper published in the field. Associates of Shechtman relate that Blech was one of the first researchers to support him and encourage him to publish his findings. Shechtman also thanked John Cahn, who worked with him at the time of the discovery at the US National Bureau of Standards and Technology the institution that denied the validity of the findings and tried to dissuade him from publishing them.

Full Nobel committee citation and account of Shechtman's discovery

Shechtman was born in Tel Aviv in 1941. He studied at the Technion, taking a first degree in mechanical engineering and higher degrees in materials engineering. He then did research at the Aerospace Research Laboratories at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio. In 1975 he became a lecturer in the department of materials engineering at the Technion, and in 1986 he was appointed Philip Tobias Professor of Materials Science there. For many years he has also served as a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University and UMBC, Baltimore.

There was an atmosphere of great enthusiasm at the press conference, not generally characteristic of scientific gatherings. Shechtman himself however preserved a calm air. "Seeing the excitement around me, it seems I am taking it the most casually," the prizewinner said, and asked the journalists to calm down.

"I lecture at the Technion, and in my class, people speak one at a time," he said firmly. Asked why the general public had not heard his name or about his candidacy for the prize, Shechtman responded, "I have to explain why you haven't heard of me?"

Quasicrystals have become a major subject of research for physicists, materials scientists, mathematicians, and crystallographers.

President Shimon Peres sent a message of congratulation to Shechtman, saying, "This is a great day for Haifa, a great day for the Technion and for the State of Israel. The State of Israel needs your Nobel Prize, you are the tenth person to achieve this.

"You are the jewel in the crown. You provide hope and serve as an example to the younger generation. You demonstrate that a thinking person who is hardworking and brave can make groundbreaking scientific discoveries. On behalf of the State of Israel I would like to salute you and tell you how proud we are of you and what a wonderful gift you have given the State of Israel."

President Peres pointed out that three of the ten Israeli Nobel Prize laureates were graduates of the Technion, and said this was a badge of honor for the Technion and for higher education in Israel.

Shechtman's awards include the Israel Prize in Physics in 1998 and the Wolf Prize in Physics a year later.

Shechtman is the tenth Israeli to win the Nobel Prize. Prof. Ada Yonath won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work on the ribosome. Prof. Professors Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko jointly won the prize in 2004. Robert Yisrael Aumann won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Economics, and Daniel Kahneman won the 2002 prize. Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1994 for the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, and Menachem Begin won the 1978 Peace Prize for the Peace Treaty with Egypt, and Shai Agnon won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 5, 2011

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011

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