As you can tell, I am very pleased about the 2011 Chemistry Nobel Prize announcement. I’d love to tell you a bit more about why, but I’m supposed to be working on something urgently right mow, and so will try to do so later. The key thing is that I think the discovery of quasicrystals is fantastic and very visual example of how we can dream up a mathematical structure just because it is interesting and beautiful (Penrose tilings, independently discovered by Roger Penrose as the answer to a mathematical puzzle, (see two dimensional version on left) but also showing up in Islamic tiling patterns from much earlier) and then find later that Nature has exploited that same pattern to make something- a new form of matter (the quasicrystals themselves… The subject of today’s prize to Dan Shechtman – image below on right is of a silver and aluminium quasicrystal compound. Both images here are from wikimedia commons.).
I was in love with these things when I was an undergraduate, not long after their discovery, and spent hours, days, weeks, and yes, months, thinking about them and doing research on them. (Don’t get me started on talking about my “favourite number” at the time, the golden mean, and how it features in them marvellously, and Fibonacci rabbits and sequences and so forth…! See something I said about it in the comments of this 2006 post.) The first paper of my career should have been about features of 3D Penrose tilings and relevance to quasicrystals and condensed matter physics, and arguably I had (with my undergraduate project partner Sarah Lockerbie and our advisor Nick Rivier) some good material… But it did not come to pass…
Some Related Asymptotia Posts (not exhaustive):