Nobel prize in physics is awarded to three Brits for revealing the secrets of 'exotic matter'
- Half the prize money went to David Thouless from Bearsden and the rest to Duncan Haldane from London and Michael Kosterlitz from Aberdeen
- Trio looked at a mysterious world where matter can assume unusual states
- Their research began the hunt for new exotic materials that may have applications in electronics, magnetic devices and quantum computing
Three Brits have split the Nobel Prize in Physics for their research into the secrets of 'exotic matter'.
Half of this year's 8 million Krona ($930,000 or £730,000) prize was awarded to David Thouless, with the other half being awarded to Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz.
The prize was given in recognition of work that opened the door to a mysterious world in which matter can assume unusual states unknown in nature.
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The Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded to three Brits for their research into 'exotic matter'. Half of this year's prize was awarded to David Thouless, with the other half being awarded to Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz (pictured left to right)
The trio used advanced mathematical modelling to study strange 'phases' of matter such as superconductors, superfluids and thin magnetic films.
Their pioneering research began the hunt for new exotic materials that may have applications in electronics, magnetic devices and quantum computing.
Speaking on the phone to the committee, Professor Haldane, 65, who is based at the Princeton University, said: 'As everyone else is, I was very surprised and very gratified.'
'My work was in the late 80s and at the time it seemed very abstract,' he added.
The accolade is the biggest international honor recognised, and was created by 19th-century Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel. Pictured is the gold Nobel Prize medal awarded to the late novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in Bogota, Colombia
All three researchers were born in the UK, with Thouless, born in Bearsden and Haldane and Kosterlitz from London and Aberdeen, respectively.
The trio all now live and work in the US.
Their combined work has helped to explain the strange properties and phases of matter.
They looked at how matter behaves when things become extremely hot or cold and weird quantum properties start to take effect - such as the lack of resistance when electrical conductors are supercooled.
EXOTIC MATTER AND TOPOLOGY
The scientists studied phenomena that arise in 'flat' layers of material so thin they can be considered two dimensional, or ultra-fine threads.
Events that occur in the 'flatlands' are very different from those we are familiar with in the 3D world.
Extremely cold thinly distributed atoms can have unusual collective properties, including material phases that are still not fully understood.
Gases, liquids and solids are all phases of matter that form part of our everyday experience.
But other kinds of phase are also possible, such as those that allow electrons and other particles to move without any resistance - giving rise to superconductors and superfluids.
The three Nobel laureates used a branch of mathematics called topology to study how transitions between one phase and another occur in a stepwise fashion.
In the early 1970s, Professor Kosterlitz and Professor Thouless overturned the widely held theory that superconductivity or fluidity could not occur in thin layers.
Professor Thouless showed in the 1980s that electrical conductance in very thin material can be measured in precise integer steps that had a 'shape'. They were topological in nature.
At around the same time, Professor Haldane discovered how topological concepts could be used to understand the properties of chains of small magnets found in some materials.
Half of the 2016 physics prize was awarded to David Thouless of the University of Washington, with the other half was awarded to Duncan Haldane at Princeton and Michael Kosterlitz at Brown (pictured)
Announcing the award in Stockholm this morning, one of the award committee, Thors Hans Hansson, used a bagel, pretzel and cinnamon bun to explain the compex concepts of topology and exotic matter.
'The concept of topology may not be familiar to you,' he told a press conference in Stockholm.
'I have a cinnamon bun, I have a bagel and a Swedish pretzel with two holes.
Speaking on the phone to the committee, Professor Duncan Haldane (pictured), who is based at the Princeton University, said: 'As everyone else is, I was very surprised and very gratified.'
John Michael Kosterlitz is one of the scientists that has been awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. After time at Cambridge and Oxford Universities, Kosterlitz spent time at Birmingham, where he worked with Thouless on a theory around phase transitions
'Now for us these things are different, one is sweet one is salty, they are different shapes.
'But if you are a topologist there is only one thing that is really interesting with these things.
'I'M A BIT BRITISH ABOUT THESE THINGS,' SAYS WINNER
Duncan Haldane, one of three British scientists awarded Nobel prize for physics, had a typically reserved British response to his win.
Speaking over the phone from Princeton to the Nobel Prize new conference in Stockholm, Professor Haldane said the he was 'very surprised and very gratified' by the award.
'I’m a bit British, or phlegmatic, about these things so I didn’t faint or anything,' he added.
A photo of Professor Haldane in front a board showing complex theoretical information was later posted on the Nobel Prize's Facebook page.
'The background whiteboard is explaining my 1988 work on the quantum Hall effect without a magnetic field that led to topological insulators that I used for a video clip in an online lecture,' said Professor Haldane.
Nobel prize winner Duncan Haldane in a photo taken by his wife Odile Belmont and posted on the award's Facebook page
'This thing (the bun) has no holes, the bagel has one holes, the pretzel has two holes.'
'The number of holes is what the topologist would call a topological invariant.'
Explaining the term 'exotic', Professor Hansson said: 'Exotic' is not a precise scientific term.
'[It is] something that expresses our wonder at something very unusual and very hard to understand.
One of the award committee, Thors Hans Hansson (pictured), used a bagel and pretzel to explain the concepts of topology and exotic matter
The common states, or phases, of matter are solids, liquid and gas, but at very high and low temperatures, more exotic states with strange quantum properties emerge (illustrated)
'What is exotic now, may not be in 20 or 30 years. I guess electricity was very exotic when it first came around, it is not so exotic any longer.'
The hope is that the research from the three physicists will eventually lead to new materials able to conduct not only electricity, but quantum properties such as spin.
Professor Hansson added: 'Perhaps you could use these things to code quantum information in an efficient way.
'Who knows, there might be a future quantum computer where topological effects are important.'
WHO ARE THE WINNERS?
David J. Thouless, who was awarded half of this year’s prize, is a professor at the University of Washington.
Born in Bearsden, Scotland in 1934, his early career revolved around mathematics, gaining a professorship at the University of Birmingham, where he met fellow prize winner Michael Kosterlitz. The pair worked on a theory of phase transition.
Following his research to the US, Thouless later switched to physics, taking a professorship at Washington.
J Michael Kosterlitz was born in Aberdeen in 1942. After time at Cambridge and Oxford Universities, Kosterlitz spent time at Birmingham, where he worked with Thouless on a theory around phase transitions.
F. Duncan M. Haldane, born in London in 1953, completes the trio of this year’s winners.
Currently a physicist at Princeton University, Haldane’s research has focused on condensed matter physics.
Along with Thouless, he developed new theoretical work which challenged previous theories, including those determining which materials conduct electricity and quantum fluids.
The announcement comes as a surprise as the team behind the ground breaking discoveries of gravitational waves had been seen as the favourites.
Gravitational waves are 'ripples' in the fabric of space-time caused by violent processes in the Universe, such as colliding black holes or the collapse of stellar cores.
British physicists Ronald Drever and Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss of the US first observed them in September 2015, and announced their discovery in February 2016. And since then, they have clinched all the major astrophysics prizes to be had.
Princeton University physics professor Duncan Haldane pictured leaving his home after it was announced that he has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics
Last year, the physics prize went to Japan's Takaaki Kajita and Canada's Arthur McDonald for determining that neutrinos have mass, a key piece of the puzzle in understanding the cosmos.
Today's announcement follows the award in physiology or medicine, which was awarded to Japanese biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi for his work exploring autophagy - the process by which cells recycle their own contents.
The winners were announced just before 11am (BST) this morning in Stockholm. The prize for chemistry will be announced tomorrow with the Nobel Prize for peace awarded on Friday.
The prize committee often awards discoveries that were made decades ago, to make sure that they're still relevant.
Each prize is worth 8 million Krona ($930,000 or £730,000).
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