Nobel Prize awarded for mathematical physics research

Former University of Birmingham scientists have been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Physics for research in topology which has paved the way for quantum computers and other revolutionary technologies.

Professor David Thouless and Professor Mike Kosterlitz were academic members in the Department of Mathematical Physics, when they published their work in 1973. Their research had far reaching implications, the influences of which are still felt in research carried out in both the School of Mathematics and the School of Physics and Astronomy.

They will share the prize with Professor Duncan Haldane, now of Princeton University.

Professor Chris Good, Deputy Head of School of Mathematics, said, 'The work of Thouless, Haldane and Kosterlitz is another fantastic example of how ideas from abstract mathematics turn out to have really exciting applications. Their work at the overlap between maths and physics is not just theoretically important, but is a significant advance in our understanding of the behaviour of matter with all the potential for the development in smart materials and quantum supercomputers which that brings.'

'At this level mathematics and physics are very similar. Topology is a branch of pure maths which would be typically studied in a mathematics environment; the phases of matter is something that would be studied in physics. What these three theoretical physicists are doing is developing mathematical theory to solve problems in physics, which may have massively significant real world applications. Awesome theoretical science at its very best.'

Topology refers to the properties of materials that are unchanged when an object is stretched, twisted, or altered in some other way. For example, the number of holes in a material remains the same no matter what shape it is bent into. It was this discovery that helped the scientists to explain the behaviour of not only thin slivers of materials, but threads and other structures.

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