Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Whole Pie

The year's Nobel Prize for Physics is divided like a pie among three males who will receive 50, 25 and 25 percent of the loot. However the Chemistry Prize has rightly been awarded to one person, Dr. Daniel Schechtman. He discovered quasicrystals, a new form of crystalline matter in 1982. Dr. Schechtman, 70, has waited 29 years for his prize.

At one time scientists thought that crystals only formed in repeating patterns. The quasicrystals found by Schechtman formed mathematical patterns that never repeated. Their electrons would form in patterns of 10, a symnetry never seen before. Viewed from other directions, the crystals would exhibit fivefold symnetry. Such formations were counter to everything known to science.

Dr. Schechtman's results faced great challenges in being accepted. At first Schechtman was handed a crystallography textbook and told to reread it. Later Schechtman was asked to leave his research group. After being rejected by one journal, Schechtman's paper was published two years later by Physical Review Letters. No less a figure than Linus Pauling, who already had a Nobel Prize, denounced Schechtman. Finally 3 other scientists were convinced enough to confirm Schechtman's discovery.

Dr. Daniel Schechtman discovered a new form of crystal that had been completely overlooked by other scientists. Quasicrystals formed in patterns that were thought to be impossible. At first Schechtman was not believed, and had difficulty even being published. Few scientists believed him at first. Finally, nearly 30 years later, Schechtman has received his prize.