Two former University of Birmingham academics, Professor David Thouless and Professor Mike Kosterlitz performed the work recognised by the award of the 2016 Physics Nobel Prize at the University of Birmingham.

They showed that a phase transition of a very unexpected variety occurred in a model of magnetism or very thin liquid "superfluid" films. As the system is heated, little whirl pools are created. Initially at low temperatures whirlpools of opposite motion stick together. However at a "critical temperature", the whirlpools break away from their partners and the film stops flowing with no resistance (stops being superfluid). Subsequent experiments at Cornell University in the United States by Dr David Bishop and Professor John Reppy showed the ideas were correct.

This was one of the first examples where topology revealed itself in physics, and was seized upon in elementary particle physics as a picture of how quarks could become unbound in the early universe or in very high energy collisions.

This thread connecting topology to physics continues in the Theoretical Physics group, with work describing rotating bose gases and, most recently, topological superconductors.