Interview With Nobel Prize Laureate, Dan Shechtman
Interview With Nobel Prize Laureate, Dan Shechtman
  • Reporter Kim San
  • 승인 2022.09.14 20:09
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▲Professor Dan Shechtman (right) and the Ambassador of the Israeli Embassy in Korea
▲Professor Dan Shechtman (right) and the Ambassador of the Israeli Embassy in Korea

Dan Schectman is an Israeli scientist and a Nobel Prize laureate in Chemistry for his discovery of quasicrystals. The Postech Times had the great privilege to interview Professor Schectman, and the following is the transcript of the interview.

Walk us through the way you were brought up, and the influences you had during childhood.
A novel by Jules Verne called “The Mysterious Island” influenced me very much. I read it many times over in my youth. The story is about five Americans who are stranded on an island. The island has everything but no people. The leader of the group is an engineer, and he could do and make anything. He was my idol; I wanted to be like him. And I decided that, when I grew up, I wanted to study engineering, specifically mechanical engineering. So, after my military service, this is exactly what I did. Although I was always interested in how nature works, I did not think of myself as a scientist. However, when I graduated, the year 1966, there was a big recession in Israel, and I could not find a job. By that time, I was already married and had financial responsibilities. So, I thought to myself: ‘I will do my master’s degree, get some salary as a TA, and after two years of my master’s, I will find a job.’ And this is exactly what happened. When I finished my master’s degree, I did find a wonderful job. But during the two years of my master’s degree, I fell in love with science. I discovered the joy of experimenting and becoming an expert at something. This is when I decided not to go to work and pursue my career in academia. During my Ph.D., I specialized in Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), and that expertise has carried me to where I am now.

How and where did you find the joy and motivation to carry out research projects for a long period of time?
I am a very curious person. At the time, TEM was a tool that worked in a dark room. I could sit there for a whole day, forgetting about lunch because everything I saw was so interesting. And every discovery is a joy. So, I can tell you that I have two places which I enjoy very much: one is my family and the other one in front of TEM. Since my youth, I have always been curious about how nature works. And in fact, one gift that I was given affected me. When I was about seven years old, my grandfather bought me a magnifying glass. And I was walking through the fields of my city and was looking at everything small: insects and flowers, and I fell in love with the world of small things. Another ability that I have is understanding the three-dimensional world. When you study crystals in the TEM, you have to put yourself in the middle of the crystal and navigate which way you should turn the specimen to observe a specific position of the crystal. And I was very good at that. I have a good three-dimensional vision of the world around me. 

The Korean education system has been criticized for discouraging students’ critical thinking skills. Could you comment on the ways in which we should fix the problems in our education system?
We come from different cultures. Korea is a very successful country because you obey. Israel is a very successful county because we do not obey. Here, when the boss says “I need a report”, you say “yes sir”. In Israel, when the boss says “let’s do it this way”, you say “why? I have a better idea.” I know quite a few CEOs of large companies in Israel, and what they tell me is the following: “We encourage people to come and talk to me directly with ideas or things that they think should be corrected”. South Korea may be the best in the world in having large, successful companies, but in Israel, we are successful in a different way. So, how to change the education system? Try to encourage children to ask questions. 

What virtues do you live your life by?
There are rules that guide me through life. And the rules that define what is important and what is not. In my behavior towards people, I try to understand the other person. I try to see where he or she is coming from and relate to that. So, when I talk to somebody, I always honor the other person regardless of one’s status. And I will tell you why. Life is a very rare magnificent gift. The chances to be born are very rare. And once you are given this fantastic gift of life, you should appreciate other peoples’ lives just as much as yours.