NED Talk 9.0: Icosahedrite OR! The Quest for the Ancient Forbidden Crystal from Outer Space!

11.26.2013 § Leave a comment

One day while reading about the Penrose tiling, I came across the fact that the only naturally occurring quasicrystal—a physical manifestation of this type of aperiodic pattern—was recently discovered in Siberia, and furthermore, it is likely from outer space. Its five-fold symmetry was crystallographically forbidden until very recently, and not until 2011 was the man who first created such material in a lab granted a Nobel Prize. Icosahedrite is a tangible, extraterrestrial fractal whose hyper-dimensional structure might only be explained by quantum entanglement! 

It also boasts an absolutely insane story. Even if scientists studying it don’t unlock secrets about the formation of our solar system in the impossible geometry of this 4.5 billion year old rock, someone has to make the movie of this unlikely team of an obsessed American physicist, the lone Italian geologist who answered his pleas, and an aging Russian prospector, together hunting for the remains of a meteorite which happens to be buried deep in militarized and grizzly bear teeming Russian mountains… a story which spans 5 decades, involves Romanian smugglers, eccentric Dutch collectors, English mathematicians, Israeli chemists, Japanese mineralogists, and the KGB. I freely admit that I approach this topic less as a scientist and more as a dramatist, so please take my tendencies to favor narrative and style over accuracy or completeness.

This was my second presentation as part of the San Francisco cultural center The SUB’s monthly speaker series called Ned Night. A video version of my first talk, on Xenharmonics, can be found on my blog as well, here: If there’s a connection between the two topics I presented about, I would say it would be crazy maths lurking in sensual realms, of music and minerals, respectively. The day after I originally gave this talk, Penrose’s twistor theory got a lot more attention when the amplituhedron went viral: So perhaps his quantum entanglement angle is not totally whack…


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