For three decades, chemists and physicists have struggled to understand the structure of quasicrystals, particular crystals with a patterned but non-periodic structure formed by its elements. Stockholm University professor Sven Hovmöller worked for ten years on the problem without satisfying results. While others on his team moved on to other projects, Hovmöller continued his frustrating research until one day it came upon him to recruit his ten-year-old son, Linus, to help him with his work.
The father and son sat at their kitchen table and studied electron microscopy images, all while Hovmöller would explain his theories to his curious son. Hovmöller found that Linus’ questioning was key: when Linus didn’t understand an idea, he’d make his father explain it in simpler terms, which lead to Hovmöller to break down assumptions he’d made. In just two days of conversation, they’d solved the structure of the quasicrystal!
Hovmöller’s work with his son goes to show that anyone and everyone can be a scientist, and that nothing should stop us from asking questions and pursuing scientific inquiry in our everyday lives! While Hovmöller is still working on piecing together more information on quasicrystals, he says Linus is ready for a vacation from structure solving – possibly to go find some scientific questions of his own to explore.
Image: Andrzej Krauze, The Scientist
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