2016 Nobel Prize in Physics for their research into the bizarre properties of matter in extreme states, the winners: David J. Thouless, F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz
Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN
3 Who Studied Unusual States of Matter Win 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics
David J. Thouless, F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz shared the Nobel Prize in Physics last Tuesday for their research into the bizarre properties of matter in extreme states.
Who are the winners?
Dr. Thouless, 82, was born in Bearsden, Scotland, was an undergraduate at Cambridge University and received a Ph.D. in 1958 from Cornell. From 1965 to 1978, he taught mathematical physics at the University of Birmingham in England, where he collaborated with Dr. Kosterlitz. In 1980, he joined the University of Washington in Seattle, where he is now an emeritus professor.
Dr. Haldane, 65, was born in London. He received his Ph.D. from Cambridge, where he was also an undergraduate, in 1978. He worked at the Institut Laue-Langevin in Grenoble, France; the University of Southern California; Bell Laboratories; and the University of California, San Diego, before joining the Princeton faculty in 1990.
Dr. Kosterlitz, 73, was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, and received his doctorate in high-energy physics from Oxford University in 1969. He has worked at the University of Birmingham; the Institute of Theoretical Physics in Turin, Italy; and Cornell, Princeton, Bell Laboratories and Harvard.
Three physicists born in Britain but now working in the United States were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for research into the bizarre properties of matter in extreme states, including superconductors, superfluids and thin magnetic films.
David J. Thouless of the University of Washington was awarded half of the prize of 8 million Swedish kronor, or about $930,000, while F. Duncan M. Haldane of Princeton University and J. Michael Kosterlitz of Brown University shared the other half.
The scientists relied on advanced mathematical models to study “theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter,” in the words of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.
Their studies may have major applications in electronics, materials science and computing. In an email, Michael S. Turner, a physicist at the University of Chicago, described the work as “truly transformational, with long-term consequences both practical and fundamental.”
Why did they win?
The three laureates sought to understand matter that is so cold or so thin that weird quantum effects overpower the random atomic jostling that dominates ordinary existence. Superconductivity, in which all electrical resistance vanishes in matter, is one example of such an effect.
Dr. Thouless and Dr. Kosterlitz worked together at the University of Birmingham in the 1970s to investigate what happens when two-dimensional films of matter shift from one exotic phase, like superconductivity, to another.