Chemist Sven Hovmöller of Stockholm University had been trying for nearly a decade to determine the structures of materials known as quasicrystals and their nearly identical approximants. Since their discovery in the lab, physicists had been working tirelessly to better understand the structure of quasicrystals. But because the existence of such materials was doubted for so long, computer programs currently used to interpret imaging data aren’t equipped to analyze the aperiodic structures.
Then, last summer, he had a seemingly off-the-wall idea. He’d enlist the aid of his 10-year-old son, Linus. “I thought, He’s a smart guy; maybe he could help me,” Hovmöller says.
The father-and-son team sat at the kitchen table for 2 days, poring over the dozens of electron microscopy images Döblinger had generated, as well as some X-ray diffraction data, which provides more precise information on the materials’ atomic positions.
Hovmöller would explain to Linus what he was thinking about how the images all fit together, and when Linus didn’t understand something, he’d interrupt his father to ask. This made Hovmöller realize that he was rushing to conclusions. When he slowed down to clear up Linus’s confusion, he’d get new ideas. “In 2 days, we solved four new structures.” Read more.