2:58 pm - Sunday April 30, 2017

Crystal Clear – All The way to the Nobel

Prof. Dan Shechtman, 2011 Nobel Laurette in chemistry

Prof. Dan Shechtman, 2011 Nobel Laureate in chemistry

Dan Shechtman discovered quasiperiodic crystals in April 1982, while he was a visiting scholar at the National Bureau of Standards in Maryland, USA. He was the first to observe the icosahedral phase in rapidly solidified aluminum transition metal alloys, which opened up the field of quasiperiodic crystals as an area of study in materials science. This new form of matter—also known as quasicrystals, or Shechtmanite—possesses some unique and remarkable crystallographic and physical properties, embodying a novel kind of crystalline order.

His findings demonstrated a clear diffraction pattern with a fivefold symmetry. The pattern was recorded from an aluminum-manganese (Al-Mn) alloy which had been rapidly cooled after melting. Quasicrystals’ structure can be understood through the mathematical theory of tiling.

At the time, most of his colleagues ridiculed Shechtman’s discovery and his paper with Ilan Blech was rejected for publication. In November 1984, Physical Review Letters published Shechtman’s discovery in a scientific paper co-authored with three other scientists: Ilan Blech (Israel), Denis Gratias (France) and John Cahn (USA). Wider acclaim followed, mainly from physicists and mathematicians, and later from crystallographers.

In August 1986, David R. Nelson wrote in Scientific American, “Shechtmanite quasicrystals are no mere curiosity. The study of quasicrystals has tied together two existing branches of theory: the theory of metallic glasses and the mathematical theory of aperiodic tilings. In doing so it has brought new and powerful tools to bear on the study of metallic alloys. Questions about long- and short-range icosahedral order should occupy solid-state physicists and materials scientists for some time to come.”

Today, hundreds of materials are known to exist with the structure that Dan Shechtman discovered. Every year, a number of national and international conferences are held on this subject.

Over 40 scientific books have been dedicated to quasiperiodic crystals, and in many other books, the chapters dealing with crystallography have been updated. In wake of the discovery and its proof, the International Society of Crystallographers has changed its basic definition of a crystal, reducing it to the ability to produce a clear-cut diffraction pattern and acknowledging the possibility of the crystallographic order to be either periodic or aperiodic.



Dan Shechtman was born in Tel Aviv on January 24, 1941. He received his BSc, MSc, and PhD from Technion in 1966, 1968, and 1972, respectively. He joined the Technion Faculty of Materials Engineering in 1975, and was made Distinguished Professor in 1998. He holds the Philip Tobias Chair in Material Sciences, and heads the Louis Edelstein Centre for Quasicrystals.

Dan Shechtman discovered the Icosahedral Phase in 1982. It is the first structure in the field of quasi-periodic crystals, and was discovered in aluminum transition metal alloys.

He instigated the course Technological Entrepreneurship in 1986, referring to it as “my baby,” and has overseen it annually ever since. The course is offered in the winter semester each year and comprises 14 guest lectures, some of which are inspirational talks delivered by successful Israeli entrepreneurs. Shechtman is invited to lecture worldwide about the Technological Entrepreneurship course, arousing much interest. He considers himself a missionary, “I coordinate the course with pleasure. I do it for Israel.”

Between 2001 and 2004, Dan served as chairperson of the sciences division, Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Now as a member, he continues to oversee the translation of the Nobel Prize scientific posters into Hebrew, and their annual distributes to schools throughout the country.

Dan is married, lives in Haifa, and has four children.


04/1982: Dan Shechtman discovers quasicrystals, observing the icosahedral phase in rapidly solidified aluminum transition metal alloys

1982-1984: Shechtman ridiculed, and his paper rejected for publication.

11/1984: Shechtman’s discovery appears in Physical Review Letters.

1984-1987: Support follows from physicists and mathematicians. Chemist Linus Pauling continues until his death in 1994 to deny Shechtman’s discovery.

1987: Findings presented at Australian crystallography conference and Shechtman finally begins to reap wide recognition

1988: The International Award for New Materials of the American Physical Society

1990: Rothschild Prize in Engineering

1991: International Union of Crystallography amends its definition of crystal

1993: Weizmann Science Award

1996: Elected member of the Israel Academy of Sciences

1997: Elected Honorary Member of Materials Research Society of India (MRSI)

1998: Israel Prize in Physics; Honorary Member of ISIS-Symmetry (International Society for Interdisciplinary Sciences); Honorary Member of the Israel Society for Microscopy

1999: Wolf Prize in Physics, “for the experimental discovery of quasicrystals which inspired the exploration of a new fundamental state of matter”; Honorary Member of the Israel Crystallographic Association

2000: Gregori Aminoff Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; Member of the American National Academy of Engineering; Honorary Member of the French Physical Society

2002: EMET Prize for Science, Art and Culture, “for his pioneering contribution to the discovery of quasicrystals which revolutionized the understanding of solid state science”

2004: Member of the European Academy of Sciences

2006: Honorary Member of the Japan Institute of Metals “in recognition of his outstanding contributions in the field of metallurgy and materials science”

2007: International Symposium: Quasicrystals – The Silver Jubilee, Tel Aviv

2008: European Materials Research Society 25th Anniversary Award

01/2011: Symposium to Honor Distinguished Prof. Dan Shechtman on his 70th Birthday, Technion.

October 5, 2011: Nobel Prize in Chemistry

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