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 surfaces” Ann. Rev. Phys. Chem. 2008, 59, 129; Tsai, A.-P. “Back to the Future – an account discovery of stable quasicrystals” Acc. Chem. Res. 2003, 36, 31; and Abe, E.; Yan, Y.; Pennycook, S. J. “Quasicrystals as cluster aggregates” Nature 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):
- Quasicrystals: Structure and Physical Properties. Trebin, H.-R. Ed. Wiley-VCH: Weinheim, 2003.
- Janot, C. Quasicrystals – A Primer. Oxford University Press: New York, 1994. Print copy available at Swain Hall Library (see IUCAT record here)
- Dubois, J.-M. Useful Quasicrystals World Scientific: Singapore 2005. Electronic version available for IUB users via eBrary e-book collections (follow the links from this IUCAT record)
- Steurer, W. A.; Deloudi, S. Crystallography of Quasicrystals. Concepts, Methods, and Structures. Springer Series of Materials Science 126. Springer, 2009.
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.