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Israeli Daniel Schechtman Wins 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Israeli scientist Daniel Schechtman has been awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his discovery of quasicrystals. Schechtman is a distinguished professor at the Institute of Technology in Haifa. 

“This is a great day for me personally …  and it’s definitely a grea day for science,” said Schechtman at a news conference held Wednesday. He added that the day was one of celebration for all scientists. “I’m sure the prize is also your accomplishment. It is because of you this field is successful.”

A number of Israelis have earned the honor in past years, including Professor Ada Yonath, who with two other researchers received the 2009 Nobel Prize in chemistry for her discovery of ribosomes. 

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement that Schechtman’s research “eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter.”

In 1982, Schechtman showed in Washington, D.C. that atoms in a crystal can be packed in a pattern that may not be repeated, in a discovery ran contrary to previous belief in the field. He was finally asked to leave the research group – whereupon he returned to Israel. In November 1984, he published his research together with a colleague in Israel, instead.

The 10-point pentagonal symmetry of the crystals was rejected at the time by crystallographers, who said that all crystals must have rotational symmetry. He was studying a mix of aluminum and manganese at the time when he saw a pattern, which he said was similar to Islamic mosaics, that never repeated itself. It appeared contrary to all the laws of nature, but the discovery has since been replicated in other laboratories around the world.

Quasicrystals were first seen in nature in 2009, according to the Academy. A Swedish firm found them in one of the most durable kinds of steel, the citation said, used in thin needles specifically intended for eye surgery, and razor blades.

The Nobel Prize for medicine, awarded earlier this week, was shared by a group of three researchers, two of whom were Jews. Tragically, one of the two Jewish researchers passed away just three days before his achievement was announced; however, the Nobel committee nevertheless made an exception and has agreed to award the prize to Dr. Ralph Steinman posthumously.

The $1.5 million Nobel Prize is handed out every year on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of the founder of the award, Alfred Nobel.

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