Archive for Thursday, October 6, 2011

Vindicated: Ridiculed Israeli scientist wins Nobel Prize in chemistry

October 6, 2011


— When Israeli scientist Dan Shechtman claimed to have stumbled upon a new crystalline chemical structure that seemed to violate the laws of nature, colleagues mocked him, insulted him and exiled him from his research group.

After years in the scientific wilderness, though, he was proved right. And on Wednesday, he received the ultimate vindication: the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

The lesson?

“A good scientist is a humble and listening scientist and not one that is sure 100 percent in what he read in the textbooks,” Shechtman said.

The shy, 70-year-old Shechtman said he never doubted his findings and considered himself merely the latest in a long line of scientists who advanced their fields by challenging the conventional wisdom and were shunned by the establishment because of it.

In 1982, Shechtman discovered what are now called “quasicrystals” — atoms arranged in patterns that seemed forbidden by nature.

“I was thrown out of my research group. They said I brought shame on them with what I was saying,” he recalled. “I never took it personally. I knew I was right and they were wrong.”

The discovery “fundamentally altered how chemists conceive of solid matter,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in awarding the $1.5 million prize.

Since his discovery, quasicrystals have been produced in laboratories, and a Swedish company found them in one of the most durable kinds of steel, which is now used in products such as razor blades and thin needles made specifically for eye surgery, the academy said. Quasicrystals are also being studied for use in new materials that convert heat to electricity.

Shechtman is a professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel. He is the 10th Israeli Nobel winner, a great source of pride in a nation of just 7.8 million people. Shechtman fielded congratulatory calls from Israeli President Shimon Peres, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Every citizen of Israel is happy today, and every Jew in the world is proud,” Netanyahu said.

Staffan Normark, permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy, said Shechtman’s discovery was one of the few Nobel Prize-winning achievements that can be dated to a single day.

On April 8, 1982, while on sabbatical at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington — now called the National Institute of Standards and Technology — Shechtman first observed crystals with a shape most scientists considered impossible.

The discovery had to do with the idea that a crystal shape can be rotated a certain amount and still look the same. A square contains four-fold symmetry, for example: If you turn it by 90 degrees, a quarter-turn, it still looks the same. For crystals, only certain degrees of such symmetry were thought possible. Shechtman had found a crystal that could be rotated one-fifth of a full turn and still look the same.

“I told everyone who was ready to listen that I had material with pentagonal symmetry. People just laughed at me,” he said in an account released by his university.

He was asked to leave his research group, and moved to another one within the National Bureau of Standards, Shechtman said. He eventually returned to Israel, where he found one colleague prepared to work with him on an article describing the phenomenon. The article was at first rejected but was finally published in November 1984 to an uproar in the scientific world.

In 1987, friends in France and Japan succeeded in growing crystals large enough for X-rays to verify what he had discovered with the electron microscope.

“The moment I presented that, the community said, ‘OK, Danny, now you are talking. Now we understand you. Now we accept what you have found,’” Shechtman told reporters.

Shechtman, who also teaches at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, said he never wavered even in the face of stiff criticism from double Nobel winner Linus Pauling, who never accepted Shechtman’s findings.


Bob Forer 6 years, 7 months ago

Just another example of why Bill Self is much more than a basketball coach.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

Why, yes, all those Nobel prizes must be proper justification for allowing Israel to continue to maintain a system of Apartheid and prison camps for Palestinians. Glad you brought up that Nobel-worthy argument.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 7 months ago

Yes, and it's so sweet that Jews are not allowed to ever visit Saudi Arabia. In fact, if you have "Israel" stamped on your passport, you cannot enter Saudi Arabia at all.

Of course Saudi Arabia is not Apartheid, because they kicked out all the Jews years ago.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

So what? Palestinians are not Saudis, and have absolutely no control over what the Saudi Royal Family (propped up by the US government for many decades) does with respect to Israel.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 7 months ago

The USA is at least as Apartheid as Israel. Blacks, as well as some other ethnic groups, are discriminated against in the USA in many ways. But they are allowed the same civil rights, including the right to vote, as the Arabs have that live in Israel.

Arabs comprise 20% of the population of Israel. And they have all the rights that Jews have except for one: Arabs are not subject to compulsory military service.

This is the easy way to get out of the draft in Israel: Claim you just now converted to Islam.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

More irrelevance. The treatment of blacks in the US has nothing to do with Israel/Palestine.

"Arabs are not subject to compulsory military service. "

That's because the primary purpose of the IDF is to kill and suppress Arabs-- most of them relatives of Israeli Arabs.

No Arab can emigrate to Israel, either. Not even if they were born there on land that used to belong to them (before Israel ethnically cleansed them) and if an Israeli Arab wants to marry a Palestinian that lives 5 miles away, that spouse will not be allowed to enter Israel.

Bob Forer 6 years, 7 months ago

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

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Brian Laird 6 years, 7 months ago

Why do we have to bring politics into everything? This is really cool science and we should be congratulating the man for his accomplishment and discussing the serious coolness of quasicrystals. Quasicrystals are seriously cool and his is a great story - it is also an example of how our national labs foster cutting edge science (the original work was done at NIST, while he was a visiting scientist). I'm sure he is a great source of pride for his country, as he should be. If you want an islamic connection, one could mention that some of the oldest examples of nonperiodic tilings have been found in early islamic mosaics. But that is an example of art presaging science not politics.

Getaroom 6 years, 7 months ago

If, by way of the Actual Word of GOD , the Tora had told the Jews that there was no such thing as Quasicrystals would there be quasicrystals today?

It has always been a big question: ?? How is it that Israel's leadership(past or present) can receive the peace price for the forceful take over and occupation of Palestinian lands and even now continuing to take land against the rules of the United Nations. I know it was awarded for the so called "peace process" so back off!

And all this land dispute based on the religious belief that GOD had promised and given those blessed lands to the Israelites. I mean really, who can argue with the Actual Word of GOD! One simply must question, did GOD sanction the murder of thousands of Palestinians and tell the Jews to enslave the starving survivors behind barbed wire fences and on what had been their homeland for hundreds of years? Now that is some GOD alright. It does suspiciously sound like a similar GOD who has told Rick Perry and Sam Brownbackward to run for office and bring hell on earth simultaneously in two states. So I guess this does prove the existence of GOD therefore - end of discussion. May birds fall dead from the sky because of Gays in the military if there is a GOD. Happened, according to Rick Perry supporter and so there is even more proof of GODS existence - you see, you see!

Bob Forer 6 years, 7 months ago

"And all this land dispute based on the religious belief that GOD had promised and given those blessed lands to the Israelites."

Learn a little history before you open your mouth and embarrass yourself. Israel is the resuilt of 2,000 years of Christian persecution, culminating in the Holocaust where seven million Jews were systematically murdered while the so-called good people like you who had answers to everything sat on your hands and did nothing. The State of Israel was a creation of the Allied powers, who understood that the Jewish refugees of the Holocaust needed a place to live.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

"The State of Israel was a creation of the Allied powers, who understood that the Jewish refugees of the Holocaust needed a place to live."

And their understanding was go great that everyone looked the other way while those poor persecuted Jews created a little Lebensraum of their own at the expense of the Palestinians who'd been living there for mere centuries.

Bob Forer 6 years, 7 months ago

Fact of the matter is that most of the land was uninhabited desert.

Bob Forer 6 years, 7 months ago

"poor persecuted Jews"

So you belittle the murder of seven million people. I have a question. Who is your favorite nazi?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

The crimes committed by the Nazis against the Jews can in no way justify the crimes that Jews have committed against Palestinians, who had absolutely nothing to do with the Holocaust.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 7 months ago

Palestinian political and religious leaders actively supported the Nazis. They even asked the Germans to implement a final solution in the Middle East as soon as they were done in Europe. Perhaps that explains why the Jewish refugees that did come to that area after WW II chose not to negotiate with those particular leaders. Additionally, it was those same political and religious leaders that called on the civilian population to evacuate their homes so as to not get caught in the crossfire of the advancing Arab armies. But they told the civilians that did leave their homes to hold on to their keys, so they could come back to their homes. Many still are holding onto their keys. So your statement that they had "absolutely" nothing to do with the Holocaust is not accurate. At a minimum, they (those particular leaders) gave aid and comfort, and they certainly supported the policies of the Nazis.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

Sigh. More one-sided history.

Yes, there were Palestinians who were resisting the Jews' intent to take over their homeland, and for some that might have included some collaboration with the Nazis.

But the larger fact is that the Palestinians were not allies of the Nazis, and with very minor individual exceptions had nothing to do with the Holocaust. Although I'm sure if there was a single Palestinian even remotely involved, you could spin that into justification for the terrorism and ethnic cleansing that Zionists inflicted on Palestinians in the founding of Israel.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 7 months ago

Born in 1941, in Tel Aviv. Hmmmm. That's prior to the creation of the state of Israel. Born in Palestine. Hmmmmm. He's a Palestinian, right? And Yasser Arafat was born in Egypt making him an Egyptian, right. So who's the usurper? Who's displacing whom? Who's land is it anyway? The answer is long and complicated. But for now the land belongs to Israel, at least the part of it that includes this man's birthplace. Maybe in 500 years it will belong to someone else. Maybe 500 years ago someone else controlled the land. Maybe in 2000 years someone else will control the land. Maybe 2000 years ago someone else controlled the land. For those who wish to pick a date in time that will bolster your argument, those who oppose you will simply pick another date. It's easy to do in a region that has seen it's share of turnover and turmoil. Go ahead, pick a date. As for myself, I'll choose today.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

"As for myself, I'll choose today."

And today there are millions of Palestinians living under Israeli imposed Apartheid and in Israeli enforced gulags and prison camps. What do you choose for them?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 7 months ago

Bozo, You have asked me a question and I will answer it. Before I do let me make a comment. I ask you questions also. Frequently, you don't answer. Sometimes you just disappear yourself from the thread, leaving me with the impression that you simply don't want to answer difficult questions. This isn't a home run derby where I lob easy questions only. A couple of days ago I asked you to compare your statements regarding the relatively small number of "Wall Street" protestors with your past statements about the relative number of protestors a decade ago after 9-11. You simply disappeared yourself from the thread rather than try to reconcile an apparent discrepancy.
My comment highlighted a problem that comes up all the time when discussing how we proceed with the Israeli/Palestinian problem. No one, not you, me or the millions of people over there have found a good way to go forward. If we can't find a good path, then find one that's is less bad than the others. But as has been discussed to death is the history of the region. I pick this year, this atrocity, you pick another year, another atrocity. That gets us where?
What would I choose for the Palestinians? First, a reconciliation between the many, many factions. Not just the P.A. and Hamas, but the many other groups in the region. I would have this reconciliation predicated on the premise that violence is not the way forward. I would put pressure on Israel to not just come to the negotiating table, but to bring people who are also dedicated to peace. There was a time when that was true for Israel It is not the case now, but I sincerely believe it could happen again.
I would then have the two sides negotiate a lasting peace. Neither side will get everything it wants. Concessions, difficult ones will be needed on both sides and both sides may come away unhappy. The Palestinians will not get 100% of the pre-1967 land. Israel won't get to keep all those settlements that are deep outposts into Palestinian territory. In the what would I choose world, Jews would get the their holy sites and Muslims would get theirs. A line would need to be drawn with a razor's edge. Both sides need to recognize that there are certain non-starters, issues the other side will never, never give in to. Deal with them. Israel needs to understand that the current situation is untenable in it's current form. If nothing else, they will lose the war of demographics. They will lose their Jewish soul. Palestinians need to stop suing for peace from the prospective of victors. They, along with their allies, lost multiple wars of aggression. There is a price to be paid. There will be a loss of territory. Previous treaty suggestions had them regaining 95-98% of the West Bank and Gaza. But it's the best you will get unless you want to wage a war of demographics that may last centuries. You will win that war. But those in the interim will suffer greatly if that's the chosen path.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

"Sometimes you just disappear yourself from the thread,"

Oh, get over yourself. There's life outside these discussions-- there is no "disappeared" involved.

But I will concede that when dealing with people who are so thoroughly partisan, having a discussion can be way too similar to banging one's head against a wall.

"They, along with their allies, lost multiple wars of aggression. There is a price to be paid."

And here's exactly where you lose the Arabs/Palestinians, and pretty much everyone except die-hard supporters of a belligerent Israel. Israel was founded through a war of aggression, and from well before its inception, there has been every intent to seize as much territory of "Greater Israel" as they could, whatever methods that took.

So have Arab/Palestinians also been violent and aggressive and unreasonable? Sure enough. But as long as diehard supporters of Israel such as you cling to the myth that Israel can claim any sort of moral superiority in this long sordid history, there will never be resolution. Sure, the Holocaust was one of the greatest tragedies of human history, but until Israelis can accept that it did NOT justify what was done to the Palestinians, there is no way forward.

That doesn't mean Israel isn't now a "fact on the ground." And the great majority of Palestinians have accepted that, even if they don't like it.

So, the way forward? It'll be found when Israel admits to itself that the Palestinians were royally screwed by the founding of Israel, and when Palestinians accept that despite the unfairness of Israel's founding, they aren't going anywhere. They're stuck with each other, and they need to make the best of it.

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