Israeli among 5 Jewish scientists to win Nobels


(JTA) — An Israeli scientist won the 2011 Nobel Prize for chemistry, and Jewish scientists also took prizes in physics and medicine.

Daniel Shechtman, 70, a distinguished professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, was announced as a Nobel winner on Wednesday for his discovery of quasicrystals, mosaics of atoms that form regular patterns that never repeat themselves.

Shechtman, who receives $1.5 million for winning the prize, also is an associate at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and a professor at Iowa State University.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Shechtman’s 1982 discovery of quasicrystals changed the way chemists look at solid matter. His discovery had been rejected initially by the scientific community and caused him to be kicked out of his research group.

"I would like to congratulate you, on behalf of the citizens of Israel, for your award, which expresses the intellect of our people," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Shechtman in a congratulatory phone call. "Every Israeli is happy today and every Jew in the world is proud."

Saul Perlmutter, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, was among three U.S.-born scientists who won the Nobel Prize in physics announced Tuesday. Perlmutter received the prize for his study of exploding stars that showed that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. He will receive a "coveted" lifetime parking permit on campus in honor of his prize, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Sharing the physics prize with Perlmutter is Adam Riess, also Jewish, an astronomy professor at Johns Hopkins University and Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. Riess will share half the prize money with his team partner, Brian Schmidt of Australia.

Ralph Steinman and Bruce Beutler were named as Nobel Prize winners for medicine on Monday for discoveries on the immune system. Half of the prize money was awarded to Steinman, with the other half to be split between Beutler and biologist Jules Hoffmann. Israel National News reported that Steinman and Beutler are Jewish.

Steinman will receive the prize posthumously; he died three days before the Nobel committee made the announcement. Though he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four years ago, Steinman was able to prolong his life by using new dendritic cell-based immunotherapy — the same discovery for which he was awarded the prize.

Only living scientists typically are considered by the Nobel committee, but because its members were unaware of Steinman’s death when the winning names were released, no substitution winner will be announced.

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