October 5, 2011

2011 Nobel Prize for Chemistry: Quasicrystals

Daniel Shechtman

COLLEGE PARK, MD –  Technion professor Daniel Shechtman’s revolutionary discovery of quasiperiodic crystals (quasicrystals) is the subject of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The research first appeared in the American Physical Society publication Physical Review Letters in 1984.
Gray Arrow Metallic Phase with Long-Range Orientational Order and No Translational Symmetry

In normal crystals, atoms lie on three-dimensional lattices of cells and each cell has an identical pattern of cells surrounding it. In a quasicrystal, the local arrangements of atoms are fixed, but each cell has a different configuration of cells nearby. Although the structures are strikingly similar to the quasiperiodic tilings invented by mathematician Roger Penrose (which Martin Gardner popularized in a 1977 Mathematical Games column in Scientific American), there was little in the crystallographic field to presage the experimental breakthrough. Shechtman himself did not immediately recognize the quasiperiodic structure in his sample, and was at first mystified by the diffraction pattern. "I knew the diffraction pattern was not from twins [which result from a common crystal defect]," recalled Shechtman in a 2003 interview with APS News, "but I did not come up with an explanation for what it was."

"The discovery of quasicrystals was so revolutionary,” said APS Editor in Chief Gene Sprouse, “that Shechtman initially had trouble getting a peer-reviewed science journal to publish his research. However, by the time he submitted it to Physical Review Letters, some experts had become aware of its importance and it was quickly accepted and published, and is now one of the ten most cited articles in the history of the journal."

"On behalf of the American Physical Society,” said Kate Kirby, Executive Officer of the APS, “I extend warmest congratulations to Professor Shechtman for his pioneering discovery of quasicrystals, which has given birth to a rich field of study at the intersection of physics, chemistry, and materials science."

Further Reading  

Gray Arrow Shechtman et al.’s groundbreaking Physical Review Letters article on Quasicrystals
Gray Arrow PRL Milestones
Gray Arrow APS News Most Cited PRL Stories

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