Championing Science Education, Shechtman Accepts Nobel Prize

Prof. Dan Shechtman of Haifa's Technion became the 10th Israeli to receive the prize.

The 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded in Stockholm last night to Prof. Dan Shechtman of Haifa's Technion - Israel Institute of Technology for his contribution to the study of crystals.

When he accepted the award from Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf, he became the 10th Israeli to receive it.


Receiving their awards at the same time were the laureates in the fields of medicine, physics and economics, as well as the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded to the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer.

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded on Friday in Oslo to three women who fought injustice, dictatorship and sexual violence in Liberia and Yemen.

Shechtman stood out at last night's ceremony not only because he did not have to share his prize with a colleague, but also because of the plethora of compliments he received for insisting on his findings in the face of criticism and even ridicule from other scientists.

The newly minted Israeli Nobel laureate was introduced at the ceremony by Prof. Sven Lidin, a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry and of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, who commended Shechtman for showing courage and persistence in the face of underserved ridicule.

Up until Shechtman's discovery, scientists had thought the atom patterns inside crystals had to repeat themselves. In announcing its decision in October, the academy said Shechtman's 1982 discovery fundamentally changed the way chemists look at solid matter. Shechtman determined that the behavior of aluminum alloys deviated from notions about the behavior of solid matter. He discovered a completely new class of solids called quasicrystals, chemical structures previously thought impossible.

In an emotional moment, Claudia Steinman accepted the Nobel diploma and medal on behalf of her husband, Canadian-born Ralph Steinman, who died of cancer just days before the medicine prize was announced in October. Before sitting down, she blew a kiss toward the ceiling of Stockholm's Concert Hall.

An exception was made to Nobel rules against posthumous awards because the jury wasn't aware of Steinman's death when it chose him to share the award with American Bruce Beutler and French scientist Jules Hoffman for discoveries about the immune system.

Delivering the address on behalf of this year's laureates at the royal ball following the award ceremony, Shechtman said: "It is our duty as scientists to promote education, rational thinking and tolerance. Science is the ultimate tool to reveal the laws of nature and the one word written on its banner is 'truth.' The laws of nature are neither good nor bad. It is the way in which we apply them to our world that makes the difference," Shechtman said.

Shechtman also stressed the importance of science education.

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Libyan President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Libyan women's rights campaigner Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, a female icon of the protest movement in Yemen.

In her acceptance speech, Karman paid tribute to Arab women "without whose hard struggles and quest to win their right in a society dominated by the supremacy of men I wouldn't be here," according to an English translation of her acceptance speech in Arabic.

She criticized the "repressive, militarized, corrupt" regime of outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but also lamented that the revolution in Yemen hasn't gained as much international attention as the revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria.