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CONGRATULATIONS, DAN SHECHTMAN!
Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry, 2011
John Knapp II, PhD
On April 8, 1982, God’s book of nature began a new chapter, one that specialists at first strongly resisted, and that most of the rest of us since then haven’t even tip-toed through. The title? “Quasicrystals,” a new form of matter that science textbooks say doesn’t exist. The practical consequences? They run past us, just under our noses, as we shave each morning.
Quasicrystal science goes far past what we do here, but the curious can Google “Dan Shechtman” to locate reputable sources that let you run as far as you can follow. (And yes, there’s drawings and pictures.)
Shechtman the man, however, is a hero we can understand and admire.
After his discovery and confirming work, quasicrystals coasted under the radar for several years as Dr. Shechtman was laughed at, vilified, removed from his research group as an embarrassment, with his research ignored by scholarly journals because they “would not interest the community of physicists,” said one critic. (Note: physics and chemistry are bedfellows in basic research on the atom.)
Until his dying day, double Nobel winner Linus Pauling declared that Dan Shechtman was talking nonsense. “There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasiscientists,” he said.
But slowly—over years—attitudes towards his work began to change. Because of Shechtman’s quiet persistence scientists privately began to consider the evidence (about ways crystals could form) and one-by-one changed their minds.
The tide turned.
The textbook definition of “crystal” had to be, and was, rewritten.
According to colleague Patricia A. Thiel at
Shechtman, born, raised, and educated in
According to Shechtman, a shy and patient man: “A good scientist is a humble and listening scientist and not one that is sure 100 percent in what he reads in the textbooks.”
After his initial discovery was shared, “I was thrown out of my research group. They said I brought shame on them with what I was saying…I never took it personally. I knew I was right and they were wrong.” He just needed more confirming work to better explain what he’d found.
God has given us two books of Truth: the special God-inspired revelations of the Bible, and the God-created “book” of nature.
We believe they fit together and complement each other both displaying the holy and immutable character of the Living God.
Science does the same with facts and theories about the natural world. It does not easily accept new ideas or theories from “heretics” who challenge what is considered foundational and axiomatic, but in reality is regularly only a consensus of academic opinion. But science, as every other discipline, can jump ahead of the “facts” it knows and get things wrong and create their own doctrines.
Thanks to the
(Dr. Shechtman’s picture is one of the few that hangs on the third floor of my Tower Office.)