Israeli scientist Daniel Shechtman is the winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in chemistry, the award panel for the prestigious prize announced Wednesday. He was awarded the prize for his discovery of patterns in atoms called quasicrystals, a chemical structure that researchers previously thought was impossible.
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Tel Aviv-born Shechtman, 70, is a professor at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, as well as an Associate of the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, and a professor at Iowa State University.
The Nobel Committee for Chemistry at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Shechtman had discovered quasicrystals, which it said were like "fascinating mosaics of
the Arabic world reproduced at the level of atoms" and which never repeated themselves.
Up until then, scientists had thought the atom patterns inside crystals had to repeat themselves. The Academy said Shechtman's discovery in 1982 fundamentally changed the way chemists look at solid matter.
Shechtman's discovery opened the door for experiments in the use of the quasicrystals in everything from diesel engines to frying pans.
"His discovery was extremely controversial. In the course of defending his findings, he was asked to leave his research group," said the committee. "However, his battle eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter."
The prize of 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.45 million) was the third of this year's Nobel prizes, following awards for medicine on Monday and for physics on Tuesday.
Israel has an impressive showing when it comes to Nobel winners, with 10 laureates in its 63-year history. Most recently, Israeli scientist Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute won the same Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2009, for her work on the ribosomes. Three Israeli politicians have also won the Nobel Prize for peace - Menachem Begin in 1978, and Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin in 1994.
Shechtman also won the Israel Prize in physics in 1998.