Forbidden symmetry is characterized in a quasicrystal by an electron beam, which visualizes the ten-fold symmetry found within this meteorite grain. (Credit: Nature.com)
Until recently, crystals with ‘forbidden symmetry’ were thought impossible to naturally occur. Yet, a 4.57 billion-year-old meteorite was found in the far northeastern region of Chukotka, Russia exhibiting crystals with naturally occurring ‘forbidden symmetry‘ for the first time. Dr. Paul Steinhardt from Princeton University led a research team to characterize the nature and occurrence of this enigmatic quasicrystal.
“A team from Princeton University and the University of Florence in Italy has discovered a quasicrystal—so named because of its unorthodox arrangement of atoms—in a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite from a remote region of northeastern Russia, bringing to two the number of natural quasicrystals ever discovered. Prior to the team finding the first natural quasicrystal in 2009, researchers thought that the structures were too fragile and energetically unstable to be formed by natural processes.” Second natural quasicrystal found in 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite…March 16, 2015.
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Daniel Shechtman, of the Technion Israel Institute of Technlogy in Haifa, won a Nobel Prize in chemistry for discovery of quasicrystals.
So counterintuitive was the idea of quasicrystals that when Shechtman first discovered them in 1984, he was ridiculed and ostracized by the scientific community as a loony scientist.
Speaking after his work was vindicated, Shechtman recalled how the Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling used to ridicule him. Pauling is quoted as having said,”There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.”
The hostility against Shechtman was such that the head of his research team told him to “go back and read his textbook,” and then later dismissed him from the research team for bringing disgrace to his colleagues.