Oliver Thewalt

    Oliver Thewalt

    Theoretical Physics | Quantum Biology | Dark Matter Research Cluster

    Topological Phase Transition and topological phases of matter


    Press Release: The Nobel Prize in Physics 2016

    4 October 2016

    The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics 2016 with one half to

    David J. Thouless
    University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

    and the other half to

    F. Duncan M. Haldane
    Princeton University, NJ, USA


    J. Michael Kosterlitz
    Brown University, Providence, RI, USA

    ”for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”

    They revealed the secrets of exotic matter

    This year's Laureates opened the door on an unknown world where matter can assume strange states. They have used advanced mathematical methods 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.

    The three Laureates' use of topological concepts in physics was decisive for their discoveries. Topology is a branch of mathematics that describes properties that only change step-wise. Using topology as a tool, they were able to astound the experts. In the early 1970s, Michael Kosterlitz and David Thouless overturned the then current theory that superconductivity or suprafluidity could not occur in thin layers. They demonstrated that superconductivity could occur at low temperatures and also explained the mechanism, phase transition, that makes superconductivity disappear at higher temperatures.

    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. He showed that these integers were topological in their nature. At around the same time, Duncan 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. Current research is revealing the secrets of matter in the exotic worlds discovered by this year's Nobel Laureates.

    Read more about this year's prize

    Popular Science Background
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    Image - Phases of matter (pdf 900 kB)

    Image - Phase transition (pdf 622 kB)

    Image - Topology (pdf 417 kB)