On Wednesday, the Nobel Committee honored Israeli Scientist Daniel Shechtman with the 2011 Nobel prize in chemistry for his 1982 discovery of quasichrystals, the Associated Press reported. Quasichrystals, we're informed by the outlet, are "a mosaic-like chemical structure that researchers previously thought was impossible." So impossible, that Shechtman was once "kicked out of his research group," the AP described. The Nobel Committee's press release highlighted the application of the finding, touted as having "eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter."
Following Shechtman's discovery, scientists have produced other kinds of quasicrystals in the lab and discovered naturally occurring quasicrystals in mineral samples from a Russian river. A Swedish company has also found quasicrystals in a certain form of steel, where the crystals reinforce the material like armor. Scientists are currently experimenting with using quasicrystals in different products such as frying pans and diesel engines.
The Guardian's live blog directed us to this video of Shechtman describing quasichrystals in an interview last year, beginning with the existential question: "what is matter?"
Earlier in science's awards week, we saw the Nobel prize in medicine awarded to three researchers into the immune system (including to a Canadian-born researcher who died three days prior) and the prize in physics go to U.S. scientists for their constantly expanding view of the universe.
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