International experts pay homage to Technion’s Dan Shechtman who revealed a new form of matter
By Amanda Jaffe-Katz
(l-r) Dean of the Faculty of Materials
Eminent scientists from across the globe honored the man who discovered quasicrystals-Distinguished Prof. Dan Shechtman-at a special symposium to celebrate his 70th birthday in January 2011. Shechtman introduced the participants from France, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Japan, Poland, Slovenia, Switzerland and the USA, at the opening ceremony of a 2-day symposium held in the Faculty of Materials Engineering. The invited speakers represent a community of scientists who couldn’t communicate with each other before the discovery of quasicrystals and now speak the language of quasiperiodicity, he said.
Engineering, Prof. Wayne D. Kaplan,
Distinguished Prof. Dan Shechtman,
and Technion President, Prof. Peretz Lavie,
sport the quasicrystal neckties at the
special symposium honoring Shechtman
Shechtman discovered quasicrystals 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.
At the time, most of his colleagues ridiculed Shechtman’s discovery and his paper 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 from Israel, Denis Gratias from France and John Cahn from the USA. Wider acclaim followed, mainly from physicists and mathematicians. However, Linus Pauling, world-renowned chemist and Nobel laureate, continued until his death in 1994 to deny Shechtman’s discovery and publicly derided him, saying, “There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.”
At the symposium, Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie, said, “Danny has the essential ingredients to become a successful scientist and researcher: Patience, stubbornness and tenacity…It is not always enough to make the discovery, you have to fight and advocate on its behalf…without his tenacity it would have been much more challenging.”
Other prominent guests echoed these sentiments. Prof. An-Pang Tsai, of Tohuku University, Japan, said, “Dan spent two years convincing everybody about his discovery. This is a revolution in physics, in crystallography.” Prof. Knut Urban, 2011 laureate of the Wolf Prize in Physics who is from Research Centre Jülich and RWTH Aachen University, Germany, said, “Dan is a very careful experimentalist and what he did, he did right. He violated a dogma of crystallography-at that time some 200 years old-and nevertheless defended it.” Prof. Marjorie Senechal of Smith College, Massachusetts, said that, at a conference on mathematical crystallography in Paris which she had organized, and held shortly after the paper was published, “it became clear that an old paradigm had crashed and a new one was emerging.”
Shechtman, who holds the Philip Tobias Chair in Material Sciences, has been recognized with many honors including the Israel Prize, the Wolf Prize, the EMET Prize, the Aminoff Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and the European Materials Research Society 25th Anniversary award. He is a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and is an honorary member of the Japan Institute of Metals.