Ridiculed Work Led to Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Mahatma Gandhi said "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

My old professor said that something similar happens all the time in science (which you wouldn't expect to happen because scientists are supposed to objectively evaluate data, right?). He said that first they say your data is not right. Then they say your data is right, but it is not significant. Then after you spend years working on it, they say that of course you're right, it's been known for years and so it's not novel ;)

This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to Daniel Schechtman, who discovered the seemingly impossible crystal structure in metals, has a similar experience:

On the morning of 8 April 1982, Shechtman saw something quite different while gazing at electron microscope images of a rapidly cooled metal alloy. The atoms were packed in a pattern that could not be repeated. Shechtman said to himself in Hebrew, "Eyn chaya kazo," which means "There can be no such creature."

The bizarre structures are now known as "quasicrystals" and have been seen in a wide variety of materials. Their uneven structure means they do not have obvious cleavage planes, making them particularly hard.

"His discovery was extremely controversial. In the course of defending his findings, he was asked to leave his research group," the Nobel committee at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement. "However, his battle eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter … Scientists are currently experimenting with using quasicrystals in different products such as frying pans and diesel engines."

In an interview this year with the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, Shechtman said: "People just laughed at me." He recalled how Linus Pauling, a colossus of science and a double Nobel laureate, mounted a frightening "crusade" against him. After telling Shechtman to go back and read a crystallography textbook, the head of his research group asked him to leave for "bringing disgrace" on the team. "I felt rejected," Shachtman said.

Link (Photo: Technion - Israel Institute of Technology)


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When and if you invent something new, you will find that no one gives a damn or will even discuss your invention with you. They will quickly throw stones though, because your just odd. The quickest way to kill your enthusiasm for this new marvel is to discuss your idea with an engineer. They love to tell you twelve ways to Sunday why your idea won't work.
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What's the mystery. This is the way the world works.
Not just in science.
People in power protect the status quo. Outsiders with new ideas are devalued. It's one thing to look at somebody's work and not agree with it. It's another to demean and ridicule the person. Daniel Schechtman stayed the course and prevailed.
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