The Nobel Prize in Physics 2016 is awarded to a trio of scientists whose work with advanced mathematics probed the unusual behavior of matter in exotic states. Half of the prize will go to University of Washington’s David J. Thouless, while the remainder will be split between J. Michael Kosterlitz of Brown University and F. Duncan M. Haldane of Princeton University.
The winners used a branch of mathematics known as topology to describe the behavior of matter in some extreme conditions, such as when it is so flat it can be said to exist in only two or even just one dimension. Topology describes properties of matter that can only change is steps, remaining constant when the matter is deformed, but not when it is torn. Thouless, Kosterlitz and Haldane used topology to challenge the then-prevailing understanding of phase transitions and to explain why certain properties of very flat matter can only change in integers. Their work continues to inspire research today. Current research into topological materials looks to usher in improvements in electronics, superconductors and quantum computing.