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Professor David Thouless is awarded the Nobel Prize

04 October 2016

David Thouless, Emeritus Professor at the University of Washington, was one of three British scientists to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics by The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Tuesday, 4 October 2016. 

David was awarded half of the Nobel Prize for his contributions and the other half was awarded jointly to Duncan Haldane, Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics at Princeton University, and Michael Kosterlitz, Harrison E. Farnsworth Professor of Physics at Brown University. 

The three men received the Prize for their work on ‘theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter’. Their work consisted of using topological concepts to reveal the secrets of exotic matter. Topology is a branch of mathematics that describes properties of materials which remain unchanged when an object is altered or deformed in a series of steps. The theory helped to explain phenomena such as phase transitions in thin layers of materials, superconductivity and the quantum hall effect. Their discoveries allowed significant progress to be made in the understanding of material properties and have opened up new areas for research. 

Thanks to their pioneering work, the hunt is now on for new and exotic phases of matter. It is hoped that topological materials could be used in new generations of electronics and superconductors, or in future quantum computers. 

Scottish-born David Thouless graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1955 before completing his PhD at Cornell University in 1958. From 1965-1978 he was the Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Birmingham, where he began working with Professor Michael Kosterlitz. He joined the University of Washington as the Professor of Physics in 1980. This is not the first prize he has won and other notable achievements include winning the Wolf Prize in Physics in 1990, and the Paul Dirac Medal and Prize of the Institute of Physics in 1993. 

David is the father of two Old Edwardians: Professor Michael Thouless (1977) who is currently the Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Professor of Materials Science & Engineering at the University of Michigan, and Dr Christopher Thouless (1978) who has worked on various conservation projects, the most recent being his work with Save The Elephants in Kenya as their Strategic Adviser. 

The three Laureates will receive their medals at the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall on Saturday 10 December. 

Read more information about the Laureates' work.


Image credit: Niklas Elmehed. Copyright: Nobel Media AB 2016