Honour for scientist who found 'impossible' crystals


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The Independent Online

An Israeli scientist has been won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry – for a breakthrough that was initially so ridiculed he was forced to quit his post.

Daniel Shechtman, 70, pictured, found a class of material called "quasicrystals" whose structure broke then-established rules of science by forming unrepeating patterns – much like irregular Arab mosaics.

The 1982 discovery, while he was working in the United States, was mocked by colleagues and he was asked to leave his research group.

The opprobrium was typified by the US chemist and double-Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, who said: "There is no thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists." However, Dr Shechtman, of the Technion Institute in Haifa, Israel, eventually forced scientists to reconsider how they viewed the nature of matter.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the £940,000 chemistry Nobel prize, said: "Aperiodic mosaics, such as those found in the medieval Islamic mosaics...have helped scientists understand what quasicrystals look like at atomic level."

Oxford University's Dr Andrew Goodwin said: "If there is one particular lesson we are taking from his research, it is not to underestimate the imagination of nature herself."

The Nobel prize for literature is due to be announced today, with the American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan the favourite, with odds at Ladbrokes shortening from 100/1 to 5/1 in two days.