Indiana Steinhardt and the Quest for Quasicrystals: A Conversation with Paul Steinhardt

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Open Agenda Publishing, Oct 1, 2020 - Science

This book is based on an in-depth filmed conversation between Howard Burton and Paul Steinhardt, the Albert Einstein Professor of Science and Director of the Center for Theoretical Science at Princeton University. This extensive conversation provides a comprehensive account of a marvellous scientific adventure story in the quest for a natural quasicrystal. You will be taken on a fascinating ride through the physics of materials, from theory, to the laboratory, to the discovery of a new state of matter, that culminated in Paul Steinhardt’s dramatic Siberian expedition. 

Paul Steinhardt talks about his encounters with mineral smugglers, secret diaries and quasi-mythical characters during his “Indiana Jones” expedition from Florence to Israel, Amsterdam to California, Princeton to Kamchatka which led him to find quasicrystals that are quite literally out of this world...

This carefully-edited book includes an introduction, Informed Authority, and questions for discussion at the end of each chapter:

I. Introducing Quasicrystals - Innovative symmetries through visual disharmonies

II. Building Models - Forcing forbidden symmetries

III. Out of the Blue - The real world intervenes

IV. Competing Explanations - A three-horse race

V. Looking to Nature - Developing a separation algorithm

VI. New Year’s Delight - Persistence pays off

VII. Confronting the Impossible - Encountering rock-hard scepticism 

VIII. Tracking Khatyrkite -  Smoke, mirrors, and the holotype sample

IX. Kamchatka - Closure, and perhaps another beginning 

X. Passing It On - How to keep the flame of science burning brightly

About Ideas Roadshow Conversations Series: 

This book is part of an expanding series of 100+ Ideas Roadshow conversations, each one presenting a wealth of candid insights from a leading expert through a focused yet informal setting to give non-specialists a uniquely accessible window into frontline research and scholarship that wouldn't otherwise be encountered through standard lectures and textbooks. For other books in this series visit our website (


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A Note on the Text
The Conversation
Introducing Quasicrystals
Building Models
Out of the Blue
Competing Explanations
Looking to Nature
New Years Delight
Confronting the Impossible
Tracking Khatyrkite
Passing It

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About the author (2020)

Howard Burton, the founder and creator of Ideas Roadshow and Ideas on Film, holds a PhD in theoretical physics and an MA in philosophy. He was the Founding Executive Director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI) from 1999-2007. During his time at PI, he also developed an extensive outreach programme for teachers, students and the general public. His experiences at developing the research and outreach mandates of the institute were described in the book, First Principles: Building Perimeter Institute, featuring a foreword by Nobel Laureate Roger Penrose.

Ideas Roadshow is an award-winning initiative, recipient of the London Book Fair International Excellence Award in 2018. Howard has hosted and filmed in-depth conversations with more than 100 of the world’s brightest thinkers, including 3 Nobel Laureates, across the arts, sciences, sports and games. 

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