An Israeli scientist won the 2011 Nobel Prize for chemistry Wednesday for his discovery of crystals that packed in a pattern that never was repeated, research that colleagues ridiculed for years.
Daniel Shechtman, 70, a researcher at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology was awarded the prize for the way he fundamentally altered how chemists conceive of solid matter, according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
The quasicrystals that Shechtman first found in 1982 have since been discovered in everything from diesel engines to frying pans. The unexpected crystals caused the chemist to fight against established science, where crystals were assumed to contain patterns that repeated themselves.
Instead, the quasicrystals that Shechtman found were closer to the nonrepeating Medieval Islamic mosaics of the Alhambra Palace in Spain and the Darb-i Imam Shrine in Iran, according to a statement from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
In the course of defending his findings, he was asked to leave his research group the Nobel panel said in a statement. However, his battle eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter.
Shechtman, reached by Israel Radio, said he was excited to be honoured but declined to go into more detail about his work, promising a statement later in the day.
One of his fiercest critics was the famously argumentative Linus Pauling, himself twice a Nobel laureate. But in 1992, the International Union of Crystallography altered its definition of what constitutes a crystal in the light of his work.
Over the past three decades, hundreds of quasicrystals have been synthesised in laboratories and, two years ago, scientists reported the first naturally occurring quasicrystals in a mineral sample from Russia containing aluminum, copper and iron.
Reuters contributed to this report.