The Arty Semite

Is Dan Shechtman Artistic as Dylan or Philip Roth?

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
wiki commons
Quasicrystal: It’s a real crystal, Mr. Pauling.

So rumored honorees Bob Dylan and Philip Roth were shut out of the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. “Zol zein mit mazel,” as the Yiddish equivalent of “Don’t worry, be happy” goes. The newly-announced crop of recipients by the Nobel Committee includes an indisputably worthy and artistically inspiring awardee in the field of Chemistry, the Tel Aviv-born Israeli scientist Dan Shechtman.

Shechtman wasted no time in complaining on Israeli radio about nationwide cuts in science education. As a longtime mainstay of Haifa’s Technion, The Israel Institute of Technology, who spends four months out of every year at Iowa State University, Ames, Shechtman knows whereof he speaks. In 1982, while at U.S. National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., he discovered a field of quasiperiodic crystals, which quickly became known as quasicrystals, a term which Shechtman dislikes because it implies that the crystals in question are not really crystals. On the contrary, they are crystals which exist in forms previously thought impossible, since their patterns are regular and obey the rules of mathematics, but never recur. As the Nobel Committee put it:

In quasicrystals, we find the fascinating mosaics of the Arabic world reproduced at the level of atoms: regular patterns that never repeat themselves.

Art historians as well as mathematicians have long been dazzled by the variety of such patterns found in mosaic designs at The Alhambra’s Moorish palaces in Granada, Spain. Shechtman’s advance was to locate in nature itself such images and patterns, possessing the exuberance of fractal art as inspired by research from the French Jewish mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot.

crystal

Like Mandelbrot, Shechtman encountered some strident naysayers when he first presented his findings in 1984. Famed scientist Linus Pauling crabbed that “there are no quasi-crystals, only quasi-scientists.” Gradually, Shechtman’s innovation inspired scientists to find practical applications ranging from steel used for surgical instruments to non-stick insulation for electric wiring.

But the path to acceptance was tough, Shechtman recalled to an Iowa State reporter:

For a long time it was me against the world. I was a subject of ridicule and lectures about the basics of crystallography. The leader of the opposition to my findings was the two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, the idol of the American Chemical Society and one of the most famous scientists in the world. For years, till his last day, he fought against quasi-periodicity in crystals. He was wrong, and after a while, I enjoyed every moment of this scientific battle, knowing that he was wrong.

Watch Dan Shechtman describe his precedent-shattering discovery.

And watch Smith College mathematics professor Marjorie Senechal, author of “Quasicrystals and Geometry,” (Cambridge University Press) paying tribute to Shechtman’s achievements at a March symposium commemorating his 70th birthday.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Nobel Prize, Dan Shechtman

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.