By Avigayil Kadesh
Israel's 10th Nobel Prize goes to Dan Shechtman, for his discovery of patterns in atoms called quasicrystals - Israel's first sole recipient of a Nobel Prize. The award, which comes with $1.45 million in prize money, was announced October 5.
Shechtman is a professor at the century-old Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. He's also a professor at Iowa State University and is an associate of the US Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, housed at the university and dedicated to researching solutions to energy-related problems through chemical, engineering, materials, mathematical and physical sciences.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Shechtman to congratulate him following the announcement. "Every Israeli is happy today and every Jew in the world is proud," the premier reportedly told the scientist.
President Shimon Peres told Schechtman: "Your win is promising and gives hope. There are not many nations who have won so many Nobel Prizes. You have given the State of Israel a wonderful gift. This is a big day for Haifa, a big day for the Technion and for the State of Israel." Education Minister and Council of Higher Education Chairman Gideon Saar added his own kudos: "Your research achievements are a source of great pride to the higher education system and the entire State of Israel."
'Fight for the truth'
Shechtman, now 70 years old, has described quasicrystals as resembling "fascinating mosaics of the Arabic world reproduced at the level of atoms." This refers to the quasicrystalline-patterned tiling found in two medieval mosques. Found most often in aluminum alloys, quasicrystals are characterized by regular but non-repeating patterns. Until the Israeli professor discovered quasicrystals in 1982, it was believed that atomic patterns in crystals repeat themselves.
Shechtman, who also won the Wolf Prize in Physics in 1999 and the Israel Prize for physics in 1998, was initially widely ridiculed for his claims about quasicrystals by the world scientific community. He continued his research anyway.
His new understanding came to be well respected and has had broad scientific and also practical implications, according to the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, because the unique structure of these particles could help make better frying pans, LED lights and diesel engines.
It has only been two years since Israeli scientist Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in recognition of her work on the ribosome - the fourth woman ever to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry. In 2004, Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover of the Technion's Bruce and Ruth Rappaport Faculty of Medicine shared the prize.
Other Nobel prizewinners from Israel include Robert Aumann, who won the prize for economics in 2005; Daniel Kahneman, who won for economics in 2002; Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, who won the peace prize in 1994; Menachem Begin who also won the peace prize in 1978, and Shmuel Yosef Agnon, who won for literature in 1966.