So far, Nobel week 2011 has been Good For The Jews, with Jewish scientists among the winners in 3 out of 3 prizes. Following Beutler and Steinman on Monday in Medicine, and Perlmutter and Riess yesterday in Physics, today’s winner in Chemistry is the Israeli materials scientist Dan Shechtman of the Technion. This is Israel’s second chemistry prize in 3 years; Shechtman follows Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute, who won in 2009 for her work on the structure of the ribosome.
What did Shechtman win for? He revolutionized the field of crystallography by discovering quasicrystals, crystals whose atoms form a pattern that never repeats. The story of the discovery is pretty amazing; I recommend reading the whole thing from the Nobel website.
When Shechtman told scientists about his discovery, he was faced with complete opposition, and some colleagues even resorted to ridicule. … The head of the laboratory gave him a textbook of crystallography and suggested he should read it. Shechtman, of course, already knew what it said but trusted his experiments more than the textbook. All the commotion finally led his boss to ask him to leave the research group, as Schechtman himself recalled later. The situation had become too embarrassing.
In the coming days, we’ll see whether the sweep holds up for Literature, Peace, and Economics.