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From left to right: David J. Thouless, J. Michael Kosterlitz, F. Duncan M. Haldane

Illustration: Niklas Elmehed, © Nobel Media AB 2016.

Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded to 3 Scientists

For “revealing the secrets of exotic matter.”

| 1 min read

For “revealing the secrets of exotic matter.”

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to a British trio, all currently based in the US — David J. Thouless at the University of Washington, F. Duncan M. Haldane at Princeton University, and J. Michael Kosterlitz of Brown University — for “revealing the secrets of exotic matter.”

Using advanced mathematics, the three Laureates made several key discoveries explaining what occurs when matter changes phases under unusual conditions, such as in very thin layers, in cold temperatures, or in extreme magnetic fields.

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“The three Laureates’ use of topological concepts in physics was decisive for their discoveries,” according to a Nobel Prize press release. Topology deals with the properties of objects that remain constant even when the objects are distorted.

In the early 1970s, Kosterlitz and Thouless challenged the previous theory that superconductivity and superfluidity could not occur in thin layers, demonstrated that superconductivity could occur at low temperatures, and uncovered the mechanism by which superconductivity disappears at higher temperatures.

A decade later, Thouless used topological concepts to theoretically describe a mysterious phenomenon, known as the quantum Hall effect, whereby the conductance in very thin electrically conducting layers can only assume particular, very precise values.

At around the same time, Haldane discovered how topological concepts could be applied to understand the properties of atomic magnetic chains.

Understanding topological phases has led to advances in condensed matter physics in recent years, with the idea that “topological materials could be used in new generations of electronics and superconductors, or in future quantum computers,” according to the press release.

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