British trio win physics Nobel for unusual states of matter

The trio’s work on unusual states of matter is expected to open up new applications in material science and electronics.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

The three British researchers join the ranks of some of the greatest names in science, including Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Marie Curie, J. J. Thomson.

Three British scientists - David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz - won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Physics on Tuesday for their work on unusual states of matter.

The trio’s study revealed a set of unexpected regularities in the behaviour of matter.

According to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, it has boosted research in condensed matter physics and raised hopes for uses in new generations of electronics and superconductors or future quantum computers.

Thouless won half of the eight million Swedish kronor ($937,000) prize. The other half was divided between Haldane and Kosterlitz.

Michael Kosterlitz is a professor of physics at Brown University.

Duncan Haldane is a physics professor at Princeton University.

The three scientists used Topology, a branch of mathematics that investigates the physical properties of matter and space, to explain the unexpected electrical properties of matter, such as superconductors, superfluids and thin magnetic films.

For topologists, materials are mathematical objects with set numbers of holes. 

Imagine a rubber coffee cup being bent, twisted and reshaped into a donut. For topologists the two shapes are indistinguishable. But for the rest of us, they are completely different.

In practical terms, these properties of matter may one day lead to the reshaping of common materials into topological states that can transport energy and information in very small spaces without overheating.

Last year, Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald were awarded the prize for their work on neutrinos.

TRTWorld and agencies