The Quasi Crystal Nobel

06 October 2011 - News

klik hier voor de afbeelding op ware grootteYou could easily mistake the image on the left for a collection of stars in the ever expanding universe but that was yesterdays physics Nobel. It is in fact the diffraction pattern of an icosahedral Zn-Mg-Ho quasicrystal.
Dan Shechtman was on nobody's shortlist for the 2011 edition of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry but at least Wikipedia was well prepared. The quasicrystal article was started already in 2002 with heavy involvement of mathematicians so it appears and not chemists or even physicists. The Shechtman bio page was started in 2006. Shechtman had a hard time convincing his science colleagues that crystals do not always repeat themselves when he made the discovery back in 1982. He was even expelled from one of his workgroups as a heretic.

Do read Derek (Paulings questionable involvement), do read chembark (a physicist stole the chemistry prize) or the very brief drfreddy. More background at physorg.com, CEN, nobel.org or NYT

The regular media should have no problem shipping the news to the general public. Even if the discovery seems esoteric, anyone can appreciate the similarity between a nanoscopic quasicrystal and a macroscopic Penrose tiling. However, just as last year the two main television news bulletins in the Netherlands choose to ignore it. The plight of the Japanese otter and children's eating habits (no vegetables!) were deemed more important.

And finally, anyone in for a conspiracy theory? In terms of practical applications we hear a lot of hardened cooking ware or extra sharp razor blades. However, a quick internet search leaves us empty handed. You cannot buy anything. But how about secret quasicrystal coatings for certain stealth bombers? Several UFO aware websites are full of it and a few patents make a mention. Was Shechtman discouraged from pursuing his research by the Americans, afraid their big secret got out? Investigate!