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British trio win Nobel prize for physics

'Opened door to unknown world where matter can assume strange states'

By Kat Hall, 4 Oct 2016

A trio of British scientists working in US universities have been awarded this year's Nobel prize for physics.

The prize will be shared by David Thouless (82), Duncan Haldane (65) and Michael Kosterlitz (76) for their work on exotic states of matter.

The men will share the 8 million Swedish kronor (£720,000) prize.

Thouless, who was born in Bearsden in Scotland and is professor at the University of Washington, was awarded half of the prize.

The other half will be shared equally between Haldane from London, who is professor at Princeton University and Kosterlitz, born in Aberdeen and professor at Brown University.

"This year’s Laureates opened the door on an unknown world where matter can assume strange states," read the press release from the official website for the Nobel Prize.

Their work used advanced mathematical methods in the field of topology 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. Many people are hopeful of future applications in both materials science and electronics," said the The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Topology is a branch of mathematics that, in a way, is a modern version of geometry. Using topology as a tool, they were able to astound the experts.

Kosterlitz and Thouless are credited with overturning the then current theory that superconductivity or suprafluidity could not occur in thin layers in the early 1970s.

In the 1980s Haldane discovered how topological concepts can be used to understand the properties of chains of small magnets found in some materials.

"We now know of many topological phases, not only in thin layers and threads, but also in ordinary three-dimensional materials.

"Over the last decade, 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," said the release. ®

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