Weird science: 3 win Nobel for unusual states of matter

Stockholm —Three British-born scientists won the Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday for discoveries about strange states of matter that could result in improved materials for electronics or quantum computers.
David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz, who are now affiliated with universities in the United States, were honored for breakthroughs they made in the 1970s and ’80s.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said their work opened the door to a previously unknown world where matter can assume unusual states or phases.
“Their discoveries have brought about breakthroughs in the theoretical understanding of matter’s mysteries and created new perspectives on the development of innovative materials,” the academy said.
The 8 million kronor ($930,000) award was divided with one half going to Thouless and the other to Haldane and Kosterlitz for “theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.”
Topology is a branch of mathematics that describes properties of objects.
The judges said that there is now hope that “topological materials will be useful for new generations of electronics and superconductors or in future quantum computers.”
Nobel judges often award discoveries made decades ago to make sure they withstand the test of time.
Thouless, 82, is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington. Haldane, 65, is a physics professor at Princeton University in New Jersey. Kosterlitz, 73, is a physics professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and currently a visiting lecturer at Aalto University in Helsinki.
Speaking by a phone link to a news conference in Stockholm, Haldane said he was “very surprised and very gratified” by the award, adding the laureates stumbled onto the discoveries.
“Most of the big discoveries are really that way,” he said. “At least in theoretical things, you never set out to discover something new. You stumble on it and you have the luck to recognize what you’ve found is something very interesting.”
Kosterlitz, a dual U.K.-U.S. citizen, said he got the news in a parking garage while heading to lunch in Helsinki.

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