The Mercury News

Trio of British scientists share Nobel physics prize

- By Malcolm Ritter and Karl Ritter

How is a doughnut like a coffee cup? The answer helped three British-born scientists win the Nobel prize in physics Tuesday.

Their work could help lead to more powerful computers and improved materials for electronic­s.

David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz, who are now affiliated with universiti­es in the United States, were honored for work in the 1970s and ‘80s that shed light on strange states of matter.

“Their discoverie­s have brought about breakthrou­ghs in the theoretica­l understand­ing of matter’s mysteries and created new perspectiv­es on the developmen­t of innovative materials,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

Thouless, 82, is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington. Haldane, 65, is a physics professor at Princeton University in New Jersey. Kosterlitz, 73, is a physics professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and currently a visiting lecturer at Aalto University in Helsinki.

The $930,000 award was divided with one half going to Thouless and the other to Haldane and Kosterlitz.

They investigat­ed strange states of matter like supercondu­ctivity, the ability of a material to conduct electricit­y without resistance.

Their work called on an abstract mathematic­al field called topology, which presents a particular way to describe some properties of matter. In this realm, a doughnut and a coffee cup are basically the same thing because each contains precisely one hole. Topology describes properties that can only change in full steps; you can’t have half a hole.

Haldane said he found out about the prize through an early morning telephone call.

“My first thought was someone had died,” he told The Associated Press. “But then a lady with a Swedish accent was on the line. It was pretty unexpected.”

Kosterlitz, a dual U.K.U.S. citizen, said he got the news in a parking garage while heading to lunch in Helsinki.

 ??  ?? Nobel winners, from left, David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz.
Nobel winners, from left, David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz.
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