ISU professor named Nobel Prize laureate


Photo courtesy of Iowa State News Service

Dan Schectman of Iowa State was recently announced as the winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Schectman was announced as laureate for his work with quasicrystals.

Kaleb Warnock

ISU professor Daniel Shechtman was named the winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize for chemistry Wednesday for his work in quasicrystals.

“His story is really a wonderful story of perseverance,” said Richard LeSar, department chairman of materials science and engineering. “What Dan did changed how we think and how we see materials.”

Shechtman, professor of materials science and engineering, has been battling to gain validity for his claim since 1982 when he discovered that atoms in certain crystals are packed in a non-repeated pattern, an observation contrary to existing theories about the atomic structure of certain alloys.

Consequentially, Shechtman was asked to leave his research group because of his controversial finding, and his research was not able to gain respect within the scientific community until recently.

“The configuration found in quasicrystals was considered impossible, and Daniel Shechtman had to fight a fierce battle against established science. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2011 has fundamentally altered how chemists conceive of solid matter,” said the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences news release.

Quasicrystals are unique because they exhibit a unique atomic structure described using the golden ratio, showing that the distance between atoms is based on the golden mean.

“It’s obviously a very, very big deal for us. Nobel Prizes are rare and institutions that have Nobel laureates are equally rare,” LeSar said. “It’s a recognition of the quality of professors and the work we have going on here.”

LeSar was elated about the award and was not only happy for Shechtman, but for the implications it has for Iowa State and for science itself.

“He forced us to change about solids and structure,” he said.

ISU President Gregory Geoffroy released a statement saying, “The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is a terrific tribute to Dan for his groundbreaking accomplishments in quasicrystal research, and we are extremely proud of him.”

In the same release, Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Hoffman said, “We are honored and excited to congratulate Danny Shechtman for winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry — a first for Iowa State, the College of Engineering, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Ames Laboratory. We are so proud of Shechtman’s work and the revolution he started in making quasicrystals known in the scientific community. His contributions to the scientific body of knowledge are historic and lasting. He is tightly connected on campus and with the Ames Laboratory, even though he is here only part of the year.”

Shechtman is currently working in Israel and was unable to be reached for comment.