In the early 80s, he was working at John Hopkins University when he discovered something cool. An aluminum and manganese alloy formed ordered structures, but did not have a repeating pattern. A crystal is defined as having a repeating pattern of the same structural unit, so these weren’t really crystals.
However, they did have ordered structures, so they really didn’t fit into other forms of solids. He dubbed this a quasicrystal.
Well, this was met with… shall we say… skepticism by the scientific establishment of the time. No less a figure than the great Linus Pauling claimed Dan to be “talking nonsense”. Dan was expelled from his lab because of his claims.
This quote from the Nobel Prize Award press release.
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.
This quote is from the Nobel committee’s explanation.
After the discovery, Shechtman spent a long time convincing colleagues about the veracity of his interpretation (local icosahedral symmetry rather than twinning), and the two original papers on the discovery were published more than two years later. The achievement of Daniel Shechtman is clearly not only the discovery of quasicrystals, but the realization of the importance of this result and the determination to communicate it to a skeptical scientific community.
However, he persevered. Today (Oct 5, 2011) he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
But look carefully at what happened and the real take-home lesson here. Dan didn’t sue his bosses, he didn’t file court claims, he didn’t try to get politicians to name quasicrystals as a legitimate field of research.
No, he published his data. He got more data and published that. Some believed him and they gathered more data. They found natural quasicrystals. They found multiple kinds of quasicrystals.
They found evidence to support their claims.
Finally, after almost 30 years, Dr. Dan Shechtman was given the reward he so richly deserved not only for the discovery, but for reminding us what it takes to be a scientist and what it takes to deal with controversial claims.
It requires evidence and a lot of it.
As a friend of mine put it
For any creationists reading, this is how you do it. You go out, work hard, and GET THE FUCKING DATA. I cannot emphasise that last bit enough. Stop whining and lying and do some work…
Hat tip to Louis for the info and blog idea.