Strange Matter Wins Physics Nobel


The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to three British-born scientists for discoveries about strange forms of matter.

David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz, will share the £727,000 prize money.

They were named at a press conference in Sweden, and join a prestigious list of 200 other Physics laureates recognised since 1901.

The Nobel Committee said the work had “opened the door on an unknown world”.

When matter is in extreme conditions, such as when it’s very cold or flat, scientists start to see unusual behaviour from the atoms.

These phenomena complement the more familiar phases of matter, namely when things change from solid to liquid to gas.

The laureates’ discoveries had helped scientists in designing new materials.

Old work, new uses

Prof Haldane commented: “I was very surprised and very gratified.”

“The work was a long time ago but it’s only now that a lot of tremendous new discoveries are based on this original work, and have extended it.”

All three researchers used maths to explain strange physical effects in rare states of matter, such as superconductors, superfluids and thin magnetic films.

Kosterlitz and Thouless focused on phenomena that arise in flat forms of matter – on surfaces or inside extremely thin layers that can be considered two-dimensional.

This contrasts with the three dimensions (length, width and height) with which we usually describe reality.

Haldane also studied matter that forms threads so thin they can be considered one-dimensional.

Acting chairman of the Nobel committee, Nils Mårtensson, commented: “Today’s advanced technology – take for instance our computers – relies on our ability to understand and control the properties of the materials involved.

“And this year’s Nobel laureates in their theoretical work discovered a set of totally unexpected regularities in the behaviour of matter, which can be described in terms of an established mathematical concept – namely, that of topology.

“This has paved the way for designing new materials with novel properties and there is great hope that this will be important for many future technologies.”



    Although British in origin, the three individuals all now live and work in the US.

    David Thouless was born in 1934 in Bearsden. He is an emeritus professor at the University of Washington.

    Duncan Haldane was born in 1951 in London. He is a professor of physics at Princeton University.

    Michael Kosterlitz was born in 1942 in Aberdeen. He is currently affiliated to Brown University.

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