Daniel Shechtman of Israel won the 2011 Nobel Chemistry Prize Wednesday for the discovery of quasicrystals, "a remarkable mosaic of atoms", the Nobel jury said.
His research "has fundamentally altered how chemists conceive of solid matter," the jury said.
"In quasicrystals, we find the fascinating mosaics of the Arabic world reproduced at the level of atoms: regular patterns that never repeat themselves," it added.
Quasicrystals have been found in certain forms of steel, which they reinforce like armour.
His discovery was "extremely controversial," the Nobel committee said, pointing out that he was asked to leave his research group.
"His battle eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter," it added.
Shechtman is a professor at Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, where he holds the Philip Tobias Chair.
He will receive the 10 million Swedish kronor ($1.48 million, 1.08 million euros) prize at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the death of prize creator Alfred Nobel.