March 25th, 2011


Dan Shechtman

Pretty interesting piece in HaAretz about Danny Shechtman, who nearly thirty years ago discovered a form of crystal that was believed to be impossible at the time. For a while he was thought to be a crank and his career was in danger; Linus Pauling at a conference reportedly harshly attacked his research with “there are no quasi-crystals, only quasi-scientists”. There’s a funny understated anecdote there, though: the article claims that despite this attack, Pauling and Shechtman were on cordial terms and that this was the only thing they disagreed on. They were both strong supporters of vitamin C, which is something that gave Pauling himself and iffy aspect of reputation (though I don’t know that anyone said this to his face).

Perhaps the article is guilty of a little bit of hype (there are mentions of a deserved Nobel prize sprinkled here and there) but it has some worthwhile notions and reportage. Shechtman describes receiving a copy of Thomas Kuhn’s book and having strong feelings of personal recognition. This is refreshing for me because although Kuhn thought of himself as a sociologist of science his work has overwhelmingly been appropriated for more total relativist epistemological / cultural purposes, and this instance sort of brings it back to topic.

Anyway, good read for a Friday morning, too bad it wasn’t translated to the English edition.