Once-Ridiculed Discovery Redefined the Term Crystal

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Science  14 Oct 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6053, pp. 165
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6053.165

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In 1982, Daniel Shechtman of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa discovered an alloy of aluminum and manganese that appeared to have fivefold symmetry: that is, the atoms in it formed a pattern that appeared essentially the same when rotated by a fifth of a turn, or 72˚. Other researchers scoffed, as such an arrangement was thought to be mathematically impossible. Yet scientists eventually realized that atoms in a solid can achieve such symmetry by arranging themselves in a pattern that almost but never quite repeats—a "quasicrystal." Shechtman's discovery has now gone from ridicule to ultimate accolade: It has netted this year's Nobel Prize in chemistry.