Britons win Nobel for work on 'exotic' matter, explained with bagel

Tuesday, 2016-10-04 22:38:25
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British-born scientist Duncan Haldane of Princeton University poses for a portrait after winning the 2016 Nobel Prize for Physics, at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, U.S. October 4, 2016. (Credit: Reuters)
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Three British-born scientists won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics on October 4 for revealing unusual states of matter, leading to advances in electronics and potentially helping work on future quantum computers.

David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz, who all now work at U.S. universities, share the prize for their discoveries on abrupt changes in the properties, or phases, of ultra-thin materials.

Their research centers on topology, a branch of mathematics involving step-wise changes like making a series of holes in an object. The difficult-to-grasp concept was illustrated by Nobel Committee member Thors Hans Hansson at a news conference using a cinnamon bun, a bagel and a pretzel.

Phases are obvious when matter goes from solid to liquid to gas, but materials can also undergo topological step changes that affect their electrical properties. One example is a superconductor, which at low temperatures conducts electricity without resistance.