Quasicrystals

Atomic model of fivefold icosahedral-Al-Pd-Mn quasicrystal surface.

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Prof. Dan Shechtman for the discovery of quasicrystals. Quasicrystals are fascinating structures that motivated a paradigm shift: their discovery prompted the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr) to redefine crystal. In 1992, the definition changed from a “a substance in which the constituent atoms, molecules, or ions are packed in a regularly ordered, repeating three-dimensional pattern” to any solid that has a discrete diffraction diagram.

My materials science course in grad school did not cover quasicrystals, so when I first heard about this year’s award I only had a vague notion of what they were — quite embarrassing for a chemist, isn’t it? So let’s learn about quasicrystals together!

The seminal contributions. The seminal article “Metallic Phase with Long-Range Orientational Order and No Translational Symmetry” was published in Physical Review Letters in 1984 (Shechtman, D.; Blech, I.; Gratias, D.; Cahn, J. W. Phys. Rev. Lett. 1984, 53, 1951) and as of today it has been cited 3,283 times according to Web of Science. This article was shortly followed by “Microstructure of rapidly solidified Al6Mn” (Shechtman, D.; Blech, I. A. Metall. Mater. Trans. A 1985, 16, 1005).

Review articles. A good starting point that will give you an overview on the topic is “Fascinating quasicrystals” by Steurer and Deloudi (Steurer, W.; Deloudi, S. Acta Crystallogr., Sect. A: Found. Crystallogr. 2008, A64, 1). There are many other reviews that focus on different aspects of quasicrystals. Some examples are: Thiel, P. “Quasicrystal surfacesAnn. Rev. Phys. Chem. 2008, 59, 129; Tsai, A.-P. “Back to the Future – an account discovery of stable quasicrystalsAcc. Chem. Res. 2003, 36, 31; and Abe, E.; Yan, Y.; Pennycook, S. J. “Quasicrystals as cluster aggregatesNature Mat. 2004, 3, 759.

Books. There are many electronic and print books at IU Bloomington that deal with different aspects of quasicrystals. These are a few selected examples (you may find more searching IUCAT):

The lab notebook page. One does not usually get to see the actual lab notebook that contains a discovery worth a Nobel Prize. This picture is a courtesy of the Quasicrystal Research at Iowa State Universy and at Ames Laboratory.

 

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