The prestige that accompanies a Nobel in science, however, should not be a short-lived distraction from the circus of international politics. Instead, the message of inquisitiveness that science seeks to investigate ought to serve as a model – that sometimes we must reevaluate our foundations to gain advanced understanding of the world around us. The Nobel Prize recognizes individuals who not only challenge standing paradigms within their fields, but who can successfully implement those for a better future.
In brief, quasicrystals possess a unique symmetry – or asymmetry – thus challenging the manner in which science perceives solid objects. They have been used to strengthen steel and to convert heat gradients directly into electricity. The latter application even portends to have a profound effect in addressing the challenges of global climate change.
“Scientists had previously thought solid matter had only two states — crystalline, like diamonds, where atoms are arranged in rigid rows, and amorphous, like metals, with no particular order. Quasicrystaline matter offers a third possibility and opens the door to new kinds of materials for use in industry,” wrote Patrick Lannin for Reuters yesterday.
Five of the seven 2011 Nobel laureates are Jewish, with the prizes for literature, peace, and economics to be presented later this week. Other Jewish recipients for the 2011 Nobel class include Ralph Steinman (medicine), Bruce Beutler (medicine), Saul Perlmutter (physics), and Adam G. Ross (physics).
Ignoring the impressive number of Jewish Nobel laureates (one hundred eighty-one thus far), or the fact that he is the third Israeli to win the award for chemistry in the past ten years, the persistently inquisitive nature of Shechtman’s discovery is uniquely Jewish. We all know the joke about how Jews answer questions. When Shechtman initially observed the irregular crystal pattern in his sample of aluminum-manganese, he reportedly recorded “Tenfold???” (Yes, with three question-marks). In this instance, as it has been one hundred eighty times before, the punchline must be, With a Nobel prize-winning question.
The peculiar tenfold symmetry of quasicrystals is the same as can be seen in the growth of shellfish and flowers and the arrangement expressed by the mathematical constant represented by the Greek letter tau, also known as the ‘golden ratio.’ Its discovery in inorganic matter and the uses to which it can be applied ultimately led to Shechtman’s Nobel Prize-winning publication.
But this was not without great opposition from within the scientific community. The late two-time Nobel Prize recipient Linus Pauling doubted the existence of such structures and was reported as saying, “There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.” Shechtman was even asked to leave the team with which he was working at the time, accused by his superior as having brought disgrace upon the team for his insistence on the reality of quasicrystals.
With Galileo-like intransigence, Shechtman absorbed the doubt and criticism. He responded to his detractors not with defensiveness but with empirical evidence, and 10 million Swedish kronor later, his discipline has paid off. Interviewed about his Nobel an Israeli television station, Shechtman spoke of a photograph in his office that showed a small cat sipping water, surrounded by angry dogs; a biblical inscription read: “Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil”.
Continuing in the spirit of scientific progress and Judaism, we must ask ourselves yet another question – how is this Nobel Prize unlike all others before it? I would argue that the timing of this prize reveals an insight into the meaning of recent political events.
Just last week, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, opted to unilaterally shift the status of the Palestinian political entity from non-state observer status to (ideally) full member-state status or (realistically) enhanced observer status. The latter would allow the Palestinians to prosecute Israelis and others at the International Criminal Court. The implications of elevating the PA toward independent sovereignty weigh heavily in the scheme of Israel’s security. The questions of Israel’s security have yet to be completely answered. Consider the recent incident involving Israel’s embassy in Egypt, and now the threats coming from Syria’s dictator. And unless we want to have a separation barrier up forever, the Palestinians as well as the Israelis must develop long-term strategies for ensuring the safety of both their own people and their neighbors. This all starts with the posing of a few unmitigated, challenging, and conventionally unacceptable questions.
Perhaps the lesson we can learn from the nature of the Nobel is that independence should not be a goal in and of itself but a means for continued accomplishment. Israel’s rate of Nobel reception is uniquely disproportionate, with 10 prizes since the state’s founding. Shechtman has taught us that to question is essential, but to redefine is invaluable. The Nobel Prize is a means of evening the global playing field – to look at accomplishments objectively rather than subjectively. Numerous UN resolutions against Israel seek to fault the state for actions in the past, while the Nobel recognizes promise for the future. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu expresed his optimism in a conversation to Shechtman, saying, “Every Israeli is happy today, and every Jew in the world is proud.”
- Jewish Nobel Prize statistics http://www.jinfo.org/Nobel_Prizes.html
- Winner of Nobel Prize in Chemistry revolutionized study of crystals (VIDEO) (csmonitor.com)
- Ridiculed Quasicrystal work wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry (nextbigfuture.com)
- Nobel Awarded to Researcher Who Redefined Crystalline (wired.com)
“In the past decade, five Israeli scientists won the Nobel Prize. This is an incomprehensible achievement that can certainly be characterized as “Israel’s finest hour.” The global media are writing about us with enthusiasm and even the British Guardian, which is not an Israel fan usually, covered the granting of the prize to Professor Dan Shechtman in a special blog updated every few minutes.
“This is also an opportunity to openly say the following: Brain power is the secret of the State of Israel’s existence. If we fail to be at the top of global science, we won’t be a state that is permised on strong pillars. Many years ago, David Ben-Gurion was asked about the solution to us being few against many and replied: The people’s army. However, Ben-Gurion was wrong. The right answer is ‘the people’s science.’ ”
Response from the “Palestinian” lovers? Is this a Jewish conspiracy or is there something innate? Does the Nobel mean anything?
I guess the obvious Palestinian response would be that there is bound to be a difference in Nobel Prize statistics between a country that receives billions of dollars every year and unconditional support from the US and the territory that such a country occupies.
So the point should be made clear that the Nobel Prize is not the litmus test for the viability or success of a state; but that does not mean that other tangible, practical achievements are not. I’m sure that there are many who are waiting for the Palestinians to produce some achievements – judged within the context of occupation, of course – before the world grants comparable support to the Palestinian State.
And if such achievements have indeed been made, perhaps those should be the selling points for statehood rather than empty promises and threatening declarations. Perhaps Palestine will have to celebrate herself a little more before the rest of the world can join the party.
Every ridiculous anti-Zionist argument is based on the same (faulty) premise that Israel is only as smart/prosperous/accepting/powerful because of the United States. Of course, they could do a itzy bit more research and see that Israel had virtually no US support for decades, but alas.
I dunno, SJP says that Israel gets $8.2 million per day…Do you have any sources?
Israel has only been independent for a few decades – less than a blink of an eye from a historical perspective. No amount of international aid could have built up the infrastructure to produce the constant flow of brilliant minds and groundbreaking research that emerges from Israel. This infrastructure has been innate in the Jewish people; its development took place over the last few thousand years, not the last sixty. The United States is helping Israel monetarily and militarily, but it does not impart the work ethic, ingenuity, respect for learning, and resilience that have been the hallmarks of the Jewish people for many, many years.
Just a thought!
SJP also says that Israel harvests Palestinian organs, so.
Non-military (i.e. economic) aid over the last 10 years –
Egypt (example of non-Israeli “middle eastern” state with available data): 4,996,000,000
Country/GDP per Capita/National GDP ($US B)
Israel $28,400 $205.2
Lebanon $13,100 $46.03
Iran $12,900 $876
Egypt $6,000 $470.4
Jordan $5,300 $33.06
Syria $4,600 $102.5
Iraq $3,600 $96.6
West Bank $2,900 $N/A
Gaza Strip $2,494 $N/A