Imagine waking up to find an extra eye on your face. An extra eye, mind you, when absolutely everybody knows all humans are genetically programmed for just two of those suckers. That, in essence, was what Professor Dan Shechtman, 70, a professor of materials science at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel discovered (no, not an eye, but equally as surprising). In fact, Dr. Dan’s discovery was so implausible that the late Nobel-winning god of chemistry himself, Linus Pauling, argued vehemently that Dr. Shechtman’s data was patently absurd.
So nu? What exactly did Dr. Dan discover? In a word, matter. In more words, matter that absolutely everybody knew couldn’t exist. They’re called quasicrystals because well, they’re crystals all right but they ain’t your father’s crystals. See, science had already accepted that atoms could only be packed one way – in regular but repeating patterns, defined by precise rules. Dr. Dan blew that idea to smithereens when he discovered that they could also be packed together in a well-defined pattern that never repeats.
Well, that put the scientific community into quite a snit. Finding new matter simply wasn’t done, don’t you know. What will the neighbors say? Hide the dog! Spare the children! Cancel our synagogue membership!
It took years for Dr. Dan to convince people who should’ve known better. He even got kicked out of his own chemistry group for bringing embarrassment to the other members (the ultimate geek dis?). Still, the good doctor persevered. After all, the stuff wasn’t going away, despite the fact that everybody knew it wasn’t supposed to be there. Today that matter that didn’t exist is used mainly in hardening steel to unheard of tensile strengths. But more important, Dr. Dan’s quasicrystal discovery has revolutionized our understanding of how atoms arrange themselves. In short, a scientific breakthrough that leaves the door open for previously unimagined material applications, the likes of which are only now being discovered.
So thank you, Dr. Dan. Your discovery may not have been accepted at first but the results of your tenacity and fortitude were finally made crystal clear.
Dr. Dan Schectman Talks About His Award-Winning Discovery