On Friday 7 July, Nobel Prize winners Professor David Thouless and Professor Mike Kosterlitz received honorary degrees from the University of Birmingham. They joined more than 5,000 students collecting their degrees at a series of 22 ceremonies in the University’s iconic Great Hall, which are running until 13 July.

Professor Kosterlitz received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2016. He was a Research Fellow in high energy physics before becoming Lecturer and then Reader at the University of Birmingham from 1970 to 1982. He is Professor of Physics at Brown University, Rhode Island, USA. During his time at Birmingham, he collaborated with Professor David Thouless on phase transitions driven by topological defects – work which later led to their Nobel Prize.

During his visit to the University on Friday, Professor Kosterlitz gave a talk on ‘Topological Defects and Phase Transitions’ to the School of Physics and Astronomy.

Nobiel Prize winner Professor Kosterlitz giving a talk on ‘Topological Defects and Phase Transitions’ to the School of Physics and Astronomy

Professor Thouless received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2016. He carried out post-doctoral work at Birmingham, before becoming Professor of Mathematical Physics in 1965. While at Birmingham, his collaboration with Professor Mike Kosterlitz led to their Nobel Prize-winning work on the theory of phase transitions in two dimensions. His contributions to condensed matter theory have been recognized by many awards.

The two former University of Birmingham academics were recognised by the award of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work into the discoveries of the properties of matter. It was given for decades of work into states of matter that may pave the way for quantum computers and other revolutionary technologies.

Both scientists were academic members in the University’s Department of Mathematical Physics, now the Theoretical Physics Research Group, in 1973 when they published the seminal work that indicated that matter can have an internal geometry or ‘topology’, which can have measurable effects on their properties.

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.