The Nobel Prize in Physics: What exactly have David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz done?

Three British scientists win the Nobel Prize in Physics

The announcement was made at a press conference in Sweden (Getty)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Three British people have won the Nobel Prize in Physics for discoveries about "exotic matter" - the culmination of a 40-year body of work in which they have twisted some of the world's most basic materials into weird and wonderful new shapes.

David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz will share the £727,000 prize, after they were announced as winners at a press conference in Sweden.

The Nobel Committee claimed they had "opened the door on an unknown world" through their decades of study.

The three scientists, whose work began in the 1970s, centres on topology - the science which, in its most basic form, is about pulling basic shapes into different patterns and formations.

Yet from this relatively simple basis they have hit upon previously undiscovered behaviours of solid materials and created a mathematical framework to explain them.

Their key achievements include demonstrating that superconductivity is possible in thin surface layers of materials, and their breakthroughs have facilitated or expedited a range of technologies, the latest being quantum computing.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the trio "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.

"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."