First rejected as impossible, discovery has changed basic notions
The discovery of a crystal whose atoms are packed in a pattern that never repeats has won Israeli scientist Daniel Shechtman the 2011 Nobel Prize in chemistry. The structures in quasicrystals, as they are known today, are similar but never exactly identical. This patterning is found in 800-year-old Islamic tiling and described in the mathematical sets of English mathematician Roger Penrose, but was thought to be forbidden in matter.
"He discovered something nobody thought possible," says chemical engineer Nancy Jackson. "But he stuck to his guns and with time researchers found that this unique crystal structure