Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Nobel laureate Dan Shechtman - Clear as crystal

Dan Shechtman (1941)
Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa 

Jesus says in the Gospel of John "Salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22)

Wisely it has been said that God of Israel has given to His people an extra amount of brain-power in order that they can serve humanity in the role of mediators between Him and the entire mankind. (depends how you evaluate the work of such persons as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud or Albert Einstein)

The Nobel price record in general and also for year 2011 is a nice commentary to this idea, so far five Jews among the seven winners: Daniel Shechtman Chemisty, Ralph Steinman and Bruce Beutler (with French biologist Jules Hoffmann) Medicine, Saul Pelmutter and Adam G. Ross Physics - five out of seven so far! gives a nice commentary on this idea extended - besides the eternal gift of salvation God has blessed humanity, and occasionally cursed, through this remarkable people.

Truth and nothing but the truth
Asaf Shtull-Trauring has written a particularly interesting and pointing article in Haaretz about the rare life achievement of Professor Dan Shechtman from Haifa Technion, who has won the 2011 Nobel prize for Chemistry. (see the entire article)

Shecthman observed a phenomenon that went totally against the accepted truth among scientific circles, textbooks of crystallography and was impossible according to the laws of nature as understood by the scientific community around the world. In fact, some other scientists had observed the same phenomenon but dismissed them for one reason or other, because "they cannot be".

Haaretz article tells in touching and thought-provoking way the heavy personal price Shechtman paid and how he lost many positions and jobs and became an outcast among the community of scientists because he was stubbornly by holding to the truth of what he had seen with his own eyes.


X-ray image of crystal with ten points 
Courtesy of Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

The instrument used by Shechman for the astounding observation was initially an electronic microscope which is less often used in crystallography than X-rays as in the picture above.

I quote from the article so clearly written by Shtull-Trauring on a highly technical and difficult subject:

On a cool, clear Thursday morning in April 1982, Prof. Dan Shechtman was alone in the laboratory of the National Bureau of Standards in Gaithersburg, a handsome suburb of Washington D.C., where he was spending a sabbatical. At about 10 o'clock, he examined through an electron microscope a new crystal he had produced in his laboratory. The electron beam passed through the crystal and left a diffraction pattern of points of light on the screen of the microscope.
Shechtman counted the points: 10 points, arranged in a circle around a central point. He counted again and got the same result: 10 points. He had never before seen a pattern like this. Moreover, he realized immediately that the pattern he was looking at was impossible under the laws of crystallography, the science of crystals. He went out into the long corridor outside the lab, looking for someone with whom to share this strange finding. The corridor was empty. Returning to the lab, he looked again at the peculiar pattern of dots of light.
The problem was that such a diffraction pattern of points of light was deemed impossible according to the ruling world view of Science and Shechtman was ridiculed and persecuted even for making such nonsensical claims.

Professor Shechtman was, of course, well aware about the textbooks and the unshakable facts of science:

"Since the birth of modern crystallography in 1912, when x-rays were diffracted from a crystal for the first time, until that moment 70 years later, this branch of science had relied on an unchallengeable basic tenet: the atoms in crystalline solids - such as metals, rocks or ceramic materials - are arranged in periodic order. The periodic pattern repeats itself throughout the crystal, as in a chessboard or a honeycomb hexagon. The regularity of the pattern dictates another important quality: crystals are composed of "tiles" possessing rotational symmetry. In other words, if the basic form that makes up the crystal is rotated, it will look exactly the same. A chessboard can be rotated four times, a quarter of a rotation each time, and it will look the same; the hexagon of a honeycomb can be rotated six times."

Scientific and religious truth 
The article compares the stubborn insistence of leading scientists against the observation that could be repeated to people holding on to religious truth despite of the facts.

The situation really brings to mind the discovery of Galileo while looking at a projected image of sun on a white surface - he was able to see black dots with his simple instrument, camera obscura, that nobody had seen before. You cannot just look at the sun and see the spots so it had not been done.

Yet, the religious leaders did not look at the image Galileo was creating nor did they try to understand what he was talking about. They had a "religious truth" that because the sun is a symbol for God it must be perfect and there can be no dark spots on it. Galileo is not only wrong, he is a heretic by claiming such a thing, the same fellow that claimed that earth is rotating the sun and not the opposite.

By force, the truth police, inquisition, forced Galileo to retract his godless claims and sent to exile to the eternal shame of the church of Christ.

Phos to alethinon
The light of truth!

Those ten spots seen under the electronic microscope have led to the discovery of a new world in the nature created by God. They were true and the entire scientific community, the inquisition of Academic Cannibals, was wrong.

Publication of the article provoked a brouhaha in the scientific community. The discovery of a crystalline structure possessing pentagonal rotational symmetry and overall icosahedral symmetry - a concept that until then had been confined largely to the realm of mathematical amusements - demanded a fundamental change in all the textbooks on the subject. To get researchers to believe him, Shechtman described exactly how to prepare the alloy.

This was the difference.

Instead of jealously guarding the secrets he had found to get all the glory, professor Shechtman let the truth out and wanted everybody to see what he had seen and help to unravel the mystery of this extraordinary finding.

The truth was out.

Religious truth
In my opinion holders of "religious truth" should bow their heads in shame when hearing the story of the brilliant but ah so lonely scientist holding to what he had seen with his own eyes.

The challenge is that there is no "religious truth".

If something is not true, it does not help if that untrue is venerated as holy by the scientific community or some religious group.

There is a life long quest for truth, there is walking with the personal Truth, Veritas, that is Jesus Christ.

We are disciples.

Let us listen to teachers that tell us the truth, even if it shakes our belief systems to the ground.

If our faith does not stand testing by the criteria of truth, it needs reformation!

(A ten-minute video in English in which Prof. Shechtman explains his discovery can be viewed at: youTube)

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