Nobel laureate Shechtman eyes presidency

World-renowned chemist says post would enable him to help nurture generation of Israelis who care about each other

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Dan Shechtman (photo credit: Flash90)
Dan Shechtman (photo credit: Flash90)

After receiving the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2011, world-renowned Israeli scientist Dan Shechtman is now eyeing the presidency.

In an interview with Channel 1 Friday, Shechtman said he sees himself as a candidate for the position.

“I think I can change things for the better in this country,” he said. “I’m doing it now as well, in many areas, mostly in education, higher education and technological entrepreneurship. But I think I could do a lot more from a presidential position.”

Shechtman, known for his work in chemistry and material sciences, said becoming president would enable him to carry out his vision for improving the country’s future.

“I want to do good for the citizens of Israel. There is much to be done in that regard,” he said.

“I’m a Zionist. I want to nurture a generation of social individuals who see the needs of others,” he continued. “If you’re president, and especially if you are well-liked by the public, people listen to you.”

Shechtman added that if he were chosen to fill the position, he would remain politically unaffiliated, focusing mostly on domestic issues and less on politics and policy.

“A president should look for what binds the people together rather than what drives them apart. As soon as you are identified with one side of the political map, you are no longer everybody’s president,” he said.

The Nobel laureate also praised incumbent President Shimon Peres for his work.

“I appreciate him very much,” Shechtman said. “He has earned great standing around the world, and I think he’s a smart man,” he said.

He added, however, that as president, he wouldn’t need to be Peres’s “double.”

“I am who I am,” he said.

Peres’s successor — Israel’s tenth president — will be chosen by the Knesset at the end of April. Peres’s seven-year term expires in July. The president is chosen by the 120 Knesset members, who tend to elect one of their own for the symbolic but resonant position. Candidates include Likud MKs Reuven Rivlin and Negev Minister Silvan Shalom, Labor’s veteran Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and former MK and Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky, but the race is thought to be hard to call at this stage.

Shechtman’s discovery of quasicrystals, made in 1982, “fundamentally altered how chemists conceive of solid matter,” according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awarded him a Nobel Prize for the discovery in 2011. He was the tenth Israeli to receive the prize.

But the discovery faced ridicule and disbelief among scientists. “For a long time it was me against the world,” Shechtman once said.

“I was a subject of ridicule and lectures about the basics of crystallography. The leader of the opposition to my findings was the two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, the idol of the American Chemical Society and one of the most famous scientists in the world.”

Shechtman was eventually vindicated, with his discovery playing a key role in the development of important industrial and commercial materials.

Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.

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