British trio wins Nobel Physics Prize for exotic matter research
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Kosterlitz is the son of German Jewish immigrants to UK

British trio wins Nobel Physics Prize for exotic matter research

Pioneering work by Thouless, Haldane and Kosterlitz could help develop ‘new generations of electronics and superconductors, quantum computers’

Winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics (L-R) David J Thouless, F Duncan M Haldane and J Michael Kosterlitz are displayed on a screen during a press conference to announce the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on October 4, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/JONATHAN NACKSTRAND)
Winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics (L-R) David J Thouless, F Duncan M Haldane and J Michael Kosterlitz are displayed on a screen during a press conference to announce the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on October 4, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/JONATHAN NACKSTRAND)

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — British scientists David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz won the Nobel Physics Prize on Tuesday for revealing the secrets of exotic matter, the Nobel jury said.

“This year’s laureates opened the door on an unknown world where matter can assume strange states. They have used advanced mathematical methods to study unusual phases, or states, of matter, such as superconductors, superfluids or thin magnetic films.

“Thanks to their pioneering work, the hunt is now on for new and exotic phases of matter,” it said.

The laureates will share the eight million Swedish kronor (around $931,000 or 834,000 euros) prize sum.

J. Michael Kosterlitz (Courtesy)
J. Michael Kosterlitz (Courtesy)

Thouless won one-half of the prize, while Haldane and Hosterlitz share the other half.

The jury said their pioneering work “has boosted frontline research in condensed matter physics, not least because of the hope that topological materials could be used in new generations of electronics and superconductors, or in future quantum computers.”

Kosterlitz is the son of German Jewish immigrants. His father, Hans Walter Kosterlitz, was a pioneer in biochemistry. Hans Walter Kosterlitz fled to Scotland in 1934, after he was barred from his work at a Berlin hospital following the rise of the Nazis. He later arranged for his mother, brother and future wife Hannah to join him in Britain.

Thors Hans Hansson (R) of the Nobel Committee for Physics, speaks at a press conference to announce the winners of the 2016 physics prize at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on October 4, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/JONATHAN NACKSTRAND)
Thors Hans Hansson (R) of the Nobel Committee for Physics, speaks at a press conference to announce the winners of the 2016 physics prize at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on October 4, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/JONATHAN NACKSTRAND)

Topology, in which the three laureates specialize, is a branch of mathematics that investigates physical properties of matter and space that remain unchanged under deforming forces, including stretching.

It holds exceptional promise for quantum computing and tiny quantum devices as topological states can transport energy and information without overheating, unlike traditional quantum mechanics.

“They demonstrated that superconductivity could occur at low temperatures and also explained the mechanism, phase transition, that makes superconductivity disappear at higher temperatures,” the jury noted.

In the 1980s, Thouless was able to explain a previous experiment with very thin electrically conducting layers in which conductance was precisely measured as integer steps.

“He showed that these integers were topological in their nature. At around the same time, Duncan Haldane discovered how topological concepts can be used to understand the properties of chains of small magnets found in some materials.”

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