David J. Thouless, F. Duncan Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz split the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.

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David J. Thouless, F. Duncan Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz split the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.

“The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics with one half to David J. Thouless and the other half to F. Duncan Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.”

Göran Hansson, secretary general of the academy, this morning. All three new Laureates were born in the U.K. and went on to U.S. institutions. Thouless is emeritus professor at the University of Washington. Haldane is at Princeton. And Kosterlitz is at Brown University.

“Professor Nils Mårtensson, the acting chairman of the Nobel Committee, will provide some introductory remarks on the Nobel Prize in Physics:”

“This year’s Nobel Prize recognizes important discoveries in the field of condensed matter physics. And today’s advanced technology, take for instance our computers, rely on our ability to understand and control the properties of the materials involved. And this year’s Nobel Laureates have in their theoretical work discovered a set of totally unexpected regularities in the behavior 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.”

Following the announcement, Haldane joined in by phone to talk about the discovery.

“And at the time I felt it was of scientific interest and mathematical interest and very fascinating, as a consequence of quantum mechanics that we hadn’t guessed at. But I didn’t think it would ever find a practical realization. But if something is actually possible it’ll eventually, with material science, any kind of unexpected possibilities will lead to some concrete realization.

“And these materials would have a possibility that information, either electronic or in other versions, could travel in one way around the edge of the system without the possibility of the information in the signal being disrupted by impurities or bends in the path. And so this aspect of things at least has a theoretical possibility of having great practical implications in subjects like the dream of building quantum computers. So it’s taught us that quantum mechanics can behave far more strangely than we would have guessed. And we really haven’t understood all the possibilities yet.”

—Steve Mirsky

[*The above text is a transcript of this podcast.*]

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