Quasicrystals are materials that do not have a periodic lattice structure but still display subtle long-range order, such as "five-fold" symmetry, that is not possible in regular crystals. They appear to be built from two different structures assembled in a non-repeating array.

Five-fold symmetry was considered impossible in real materials until it was discovered by Shechtman at Johns Hopkins University in the US in the early 1980s. The discovery led to the exploration of an entirely new area of condensed matter physics.

Shechtman discovered quasicrystal structure in aluminum transition metal alloys. However, it was not until 1984 that separate teams working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland, and at the University of Pennsylvania, were able to confirm Shechtman's results. Potential applications of quasicrystalline materials include superconducting and ultrahard materials.

Shechtman will be presented with the prize, which is worth $100, 000, by the president of Israel in May.