Dan Shechtman is the Philip Tobias Professor of Materials Science at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, an Associate of the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, and Professor of Materials Science at Iowa State University. On April 8, 1982, while on sabbatical at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., Shechtman discovered the icosahedral phase, which opened the new field of quasiperiodic crystals. He was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “the discovery of quasicrystals”. In 2011, Shechtman won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. On January 17, 2014 Prof. Dan Shechtman stated his intention to run for the Office of the President of the State of Israel.
Dan Shechtman was born in Tel Aviv, Mandatory Palestine in January 24, 1941. He is married to Prof. Tzipora Shechtman, Head of the Department of Counseling and Human Development at Haifa University, and author of two books on psychotherapy. They have a son Yoav Shechtman and three daughters: Tamar Finkelstein, Ella Shechtman-Cory, and Ruth Dougoud-Nevo.
After receiving his Ph.D. in Materials Engineering from the Technion in 1972, where he also obtained his B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering in 1966 and M.Sc. in Materials Engineering in 1968, Prof. Shechtman was an NRC fellow at the Aerospace Research Laboratories at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, where he studied for three years the microstructure and physical metallurgy of titaniumaluminides. In 1975 he joined the department of materials engineering at Technion. In 1981–1983 he was on Sabbatical at Johns Hopkins University, where he studied rapidly solidified aluminumtransition metal alloys, in a joint program with NBS. During this study he discovered the Icosahedral Phase which opened the new field of quasiperiodic crystals.
In 1992–1994 he was on sabbatical at National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where he studied the effect of the defect structure of CVD diamond on its growth and properties. Shechtman’s Technion research is conducted in the Louis Edelstein Center, and in the Wolfson Centre which is headed by him. He served on several Technion Senate Committees and headed one of them.
Shechtman joined the Iowa State faculty in 2004. He currently spends about five months a year in Ames on a part-time appointment.
From the day Shechtman published his findings on quasicrystals in 1984 to the day Linus Pauling died (1994), Shechtman experienced hostility from him toward the non-periodic interpretation. “For a long time it was me against the world,” he said. “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, ’til 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.”
Linus Pauling is noted saying “There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.”Pauling was apparently unaware of a paper in 1981 by H. Kleinert and K. Maki which had pointed out the possibility of a non-periodic Icosahedral Phase in quasicrystals (see the historical notes). The head of Shechtman’s research group told him to “go back and read the textbook” and a couple of days later “asked him to leave for ‘bringing disgrace’ on the team.” Shechtman felt rejected. On publication of his paper, other scientists began to confirm and accept empirical findings of the existence of quasicrystals.
The Nobel Committee at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said that “his discovery was extremely controversial,” but that his work “eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter.” Through Shechtman’s discovery, several other groups were able to form similar quasicrystals, finding these materials to have low thermal and electrical conductivity, while possessing high structural stability. Quasicrystals have also been found naturally.
Quasicrystalline materials could be used in a large number of applications, including the formation of durable steel used for fine instrumentation, and non-stick insulation for electrical wires and cooking equipment.
The prize is worth 10 million Swedish krona (US$1.5 million).