Interview with the 2011 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Dan Shechtman, 6 December 2011. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Editorial Director of Nobel Media.
Dan Shechtman talks about how applied research and the electron microscope led to his discovery of quasicrystals and how it is changing the way we look at matter. He discusses how he stumbled upon the discovery and explains why he didn’t give up studying quasicrystals after being kicked out of the research team by his group leader. Shechtman also reveals why he encourages students to pay attention to that “something odd” in their research.
The 2011 Nobel Laureates met at the Bernadotte Library in Stockholm on 9 December 2011 for the traditional round-table discussion and TV program ‘Nobel Minds’. The Laureates discuss issues of global concern, their own research, and their early influences.
Telephone interview with Dan Shechtman following the announcement of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 5 October 2011. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Editorial Director of Nobel Media.
[Dan Shechtman] Dan speaking.
[Adam Smith] Oh, hello. This is Adam Smith from Nobelprize.org. Am I speaking to Professor Shechtman?
[DS] Yes, speaking. What country are you calling from?
[AS] From Sweden. From …
[DS] Oh, yes, yes.
[AS] … The official website of the Nobel Prize. Many congratulations.
[DS] Thank you so much. This is really wonderful, wonderful news for me, and for my colleagues.
[AS] It’s marvellous news. And, although many scientists are used to meeting some healthy scepticism, you, when you made your discoveries, met an unbelievable degree of scepticism, didn’t you?
[DS] That is correct! You heard that Sven Lidin describing it?
[AS] Yes, indeed. And, you were even expelled from the lab you were working in?
[DS] Yeah, that is correct.
[AS] What do you think your experience of discovering quasicrystals taught you about science?
[DS] Oh, it taught me … This is a very good question! You know, it taught me that a good scientist is a humble scientist, somebody who is willing to listen to news in science which are not expected. Because discoveries today are really not expected – if they were expected they would have been discovered a long time ago. So something new, that is forbidden by some laws … people have to listen to this. In most cases, the news is not really news. But in some cases, discoveries are made and should be listened to. So, I think the main lesson that I have learned is that a good scientist is a humble scientist who is open-minded to listen to other scientists when they discover something.
[AS] That’s a lovely message. And also, I suppose, open-minded to listen to what nature is telling them because quasicrystals have changed our view of what matter can be.
[DS] That is correct. You know there was a paradigm shift in the community and like many discoveries it was difficult to convince many people, especially the old established generation of X-ray crystallographers, because the discovery of was made by electron microscopy, and electron microscopy was not a privileged tool among the crystallographers. Crystallographers believed in X-ray results, which are of course very accurate. But the x-rays are limited and electron microscopy filled the gap and so the discovery of quasicrystals could have been discovered only by electron microscopy, and the community of crystallographers, for several years, was not willing to listen. But then we had the results from X-rays on quasicrystals and then the community joined. And that process took a few years.
[AS] Just a last question, you are now at the Technion – you studied at the Technion – it must be very nice to be receiving the Nobel Prize there?
[DS] Yes. Absolutely. You know we have two other Nobel Laureates at the Technion?
[DS] Yes! Have you met them when they were in Stockholm?
[AS] Yes, I have indeed. And, I have even travelled to the States with Aaron. So, I imagine … will the three of you be getting together this afternoon for some joint celebration?
[DS] Yes, well, I don’t know if they have time to join, but I would, of course, love to see them. And, yes, there is a press conference today at two o’clock at the Technion.
[AS] Yes, marvellous news for the Technion. When you come to Stockholm in December, happily we’ll have a chance to speak more about your discoveries.
[DS] Oh, I’d love to do that. You know, I’ve visited Stockholm quite a few times and it will be wonderful to be there again for this occasion, of course.
[AS] Okay, well we very much look forward to receiving you here. Thank you very much for speaking to me.
[DS] Okay thank you. Bye, bye.
[AS] Bye, bye.
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Their work and discoveries range from the Earth’s climate and our sense of touch to efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.
See them all presented here.