The wife of Israeli scientist Daniel Shechtman, who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work on quasi-crystals after fighting for nearly 30 years the scepticism about his findings, says she may now “finally understand” what her husband has discovered.
Prof. Shechtman’s win on Wednesday capped off a dramatic story of a scientist who was laughed at by colleagues within the scientific community over his observations, until he managed to convince them that all his findings were valid.
His wife Tzipi, a psychology professor at the University of Haifa, said that she always “had a bit of a problem” trying to explain exactly what his research was about.
She and other family members were on Wednesday listening avidly to media reports that were explaining the significance of his work.
“Maybe now I’ll finally understand what it is he discovered,” Ms. Tzipi said.
Prof. Shechtman first observed crystals with a pentagonal or five-sided shape, which most scientists considered “impossible”, on April 8, 1982.
“I told everyone who was ready to listen that I had material with pentagonal symmetry. People just laughed at me,” the scientist said.
At a press conference at the Technion Institute in Haifa, Prof. Schechtman thanked Professor Ilan Blech, who was one of the first researchers to support him and who co-signed the first paper he published on the subject.
He also thanked John Cahn, who had worked with him when he made the discovery at the US National Bureau of Standards and Technology and supported him, even though the institution refused to accept the validity of his findings.
Nancy B Jackson, President of the American Chemical Society, dubbed Prof. Shechtman’s discovery as “one of those great scientific discoveries that go against the rules”.
“People didn’t think that this kind of crystal existed. They thought it was against nature,” Ms. Jackson said.
Only later did some scientists go back to some of their own inexplicable findings and realised that they had seen quasi—crystals but had not understood what they were seeing, she told daily ‘Ha’aretz’
The discovery has since then impacted the human kind in many ways with quasi—crystals being 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.
Prof. Shechtman’s brother-in-law, Dr Yossi Rein, noted that the Technion, where the Nobel laureate taught, had not always been very supportive either.
“The Technion thought his work with the crystals was just a hobby,” Rein said. “They made him crazy there. They thought he was wasting time“.
“The Technion is a very conservative institution. Their reaction was that there is no such thing,” he said.