Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Daniel Kahneman, Avram Hershko, Aaron Ciechanover, Robert J. Aumann, Ada Yonath and now – Dan Shechtman. The chemistry professor, Israel’s 10th Nobel laureate, received the prize for his discovery of patterns in atoms from Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf during a ceremony which began in Stockholm at 5:30 pm today.
Shechtman, a professor at Haifa’s Technion Institute, was introduced by Professor Sven Lidin, a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry. Addressing Shechtman, Lidin said, “Your discovery of quasicrystals has created a new branch of science. This is in itself of great importance. It has also given us a reminder of how little we know and perhaps given us some humility. That is a truly great achievement.”
The winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which is valued at around $1.5 million, is in Sweden with his wife Tzipi, four children, four of his nine grandchildren, his brother and niece. He is also being escorted by Technion President Peretz Lavie and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz.
Technion Spokesperson Amos Levav, who has been escorting Shechtman in Sweden, told Ynet that the Israeli researcher was getting the royal treatment.
“It’s simply a celebration. He’s been receiving the royal treatment like all Nobel laureates,” said Levav. “Shechtman is a very restrained person, you don’t see him jumping up with excitement, but he did do a little dance when he heard the song written in honor of his award.”
Shechtman was honored for the discovery of “quasicrystals” – patterns in atoms which were thought impossible. According to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Shechtman’s discovery in 1982 had fundamentally changed the way chemists look at solid matter.
“Contrary to the previous belief that atoms were packed inside crystals in symmetrical patterns, Shechtman showed that the atoms in a crystal could be packed in a pattern that could not be repeated,” the Academy explained its decision to award him the Nobel Prize.
“His discovery was extremely controversial. In the course of defending his findings, he was asked to leave his research group. However, his battle eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter,” the Academy said.
Hundreds of Technion students gathered at the campus’ movie theater to watch the ceremony live. “This is a great honor for Professor Shechtman, the State of Israel and this institution,” said Adi Tal, who took one of Shechtman’s courses. The student noted “the determination with which he claimed that his scientific work was accurate, even when big names in the field of chemistry (criticized) him,” adding “he never quit, and deserves the Nobel just for that.”
The institute’s vice president, Boaz Golany, said Shechtman’s achievement was “part of the Technion’s DNA. Professor Shechtman is 100 percent a product of the Technion. He received all his degrees here, and worked here throughout his entire career – unlike other institutions which ‘buy’ their star professors.”
Later, at formal dinner banquet in honor of the Nobel laureates, Shechtman said “Today I am joined by many hundreds of enthusiastic scientists worldwide. I stand here as the vanguard of the science of quasicrystals, but without these dedicated scientists the field would not be where it is today. This supreme recognition of the science we have unveiled over the last quarter century is celebrated by us all.
“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,” the Israeli professor told those on hand.
“It is therefore our duty as scientists to promote education, rational thinking and tolerance. We should also encourage our educated youth to become technological entrepreneurs. Those countries that nurture this knowhow will survive future financial and social crises. Let us advance science to create a better world for all.”
Also today, three women who fought injustice, dictatorship and sexual violence in Liberia and Yemen accepted the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, calling on repressed women worldwide to rise up against male supremacy.
“My sisters, my daughters, my friends – find your voice,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said after collecting her Nobel diploma and medal at a ceremony in Oslo.
Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first democratically elected female president, shared the award with women’s rights campaigner Leymah Gbowee, also from Liberia, and Tawakkul Karman, a female icon of the protest movement in Yemen.