Nobel Prize in Physics

FOR their work on “theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”, one half of the Nobel prize in the Physics category was awarded to David J. Thouless (University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA) and the other half to F. Duncan M. Haldane (Princeton University, NJ, USA) and J. Michael Kosterlitz (Brown University, Providence, RI, USA). The trio revealed the secrets of exotic matter, using advanced mathematical methods to study unusual phases, or states, of matter, such as superconductors, superfluids or thin magnetic films. Their work has opened doors to the discovery of new and exotic phases of matter, which could lead to future applications in both materials science and electronics. In their research they used Topology, a branch of mathematics that focuses on the fundamental shape of things. In the 1970s, Kosterlitz and Thouless overturned the then current theory that superconductivity or suprafluidity could not occur in thin layers, demonstrating that superconductivity could occur at low temperatures and also explained the mechanism, phase transition, that makes superconductivity disappear at higher temperatures. Then, 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, showing that these integers were topological in their nature. Meanwhile, Haldane discovered how topological concepts can be used to understand the properties of chains of small magnets found in some materials. Thanks to this, many topological phases have been revealed, not only in thin layers and threads, but also in ordinary three-dimensional materials. In the past 10 years, this area 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.


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