Israeli children must start learning about science in kindergarten if the country’s disproportionate success in the field is to be maintained, says the recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Professor Dan Shechtman.
People around the world now know that Professor Shechtman teaches at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, but he also expresses his commitment to education through the donation of his time and expertise to organisations such as World ORT.
Professor Shechtman is one of eight distinguished professors sitting on World ORT’s Academic Advisory Council in Israel (AACI). They meet twice a year to review World ORT’s projects and plans and advise on how World ORT can best pursue its mission in the Jewish State.
“He is very committed to science education; he really cares about it,”? said Dr Osnat Dagan, Pedagogical Manager for World ORT’s operations in Israel.
“He has said that you have to teach science from kindergarten right through to Year 12 otherwise in another 20 years we won’t have people who will be able to pursue advanced scientific careers. And that’s why he wants to work with us, because he wants to enhance science education at every level.”?
Professor Shechtman is the 10 th Israeli to receive a Nobel Prize and the fourth to receive one for chemistry but there are fears that the country’s strong scientific performance may not last much longer. In 2009, Ha’aretz reported that less than 10 per cent of Israeli schoolchildren studied physics and even fewer went on to study it at university.
At the time that report was published Professor Shechtman, who had already received a series of prestigious awards including the Wolf Foundation Prize in Physics, the Israel Prize in Physics, and the Weizmann Prize in Science, was taking a central role in making World ORT’s Mada-Na project a reality. Mada-Na is a ring of five interactive exhibitions, each of which cover a field of science “ﾓ electricity and magnetism, mechanics, waves, optics, and liquids and gases “ﾓ and which travel between the host towns of Kiryat Yam, Nesher, Tirat HaCarmel, Misgav and Ma’ale Yosef.
“He effectively became the project’s steering committee, checked the displays for accuracy and accessibility, and attended each of the openings,”? Dr Dagan said.
When Mada-Na launched in 2009, Professor Shechtman said: “I think that the educational concept is good and that the build-up of the displays is very nice and neat. Hopefully this project will motivate students into becoming young scientists instead of lawyers and dentists.”?
However, it is not only Professor Shechtman’s scientific achievements which impress those who come into contact with him.
“He’s very friendly, informal and always pleasant,”? Dr Dagan said, adding that she also thought of him as like Galileo for the way he endured isolation and attack for his discovery of what became known as quasicrystals.
It was in 1982 that Professor Shechtman discovered that atoms in rigid crystals could be packed together in ways which did not confirm to the two states previously recognised for solid matter “ﾓ crystalline, where atoms are arranged in rigid rows, and amorphous, with no particular order.
But the scientific community, led by two-time Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, rejected his findings and he was even ejected from a research group. It was not until 1987 that the pattern which had previously been considered contrary to the laws of nature was observed with the help of the electron microscope. Proof of his discovery led to the International Society of Crystallographers changing its basic definition of a crystal.
Quasicrystals are very hard and are poor conductors of heat and electricity, offering uses as thermoelectric materials, which convert heat into electricity. They also have non-stick surfaces, handy for frying pans, and appear in energy-saving light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and heat insulation in engines. They have also led to the development of extremely strong materials for use as surgical tools, razor blades and metal alloys.
World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer said that the whole organisation joined in congratulating Professor Shechtman.
“It has always been our privilege to count Professor Shechtman as a friend and a colleague in our work to raise the standard of science education in Israel. I hope that we will continue to collaborate for many years to come and that his receiving the Nobel Prize will inspire more of our pupils to study science subjects.”?