Theories of Exotic States of Matter Win 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics

COLLEGE PARK, MD, October 4, 2016 – Three American Physical Society Fellows have won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics for the study of exotic physics on the surfaces of materials.

Half the prize goes to David Thouless (University of Washington) and half will be shared between Duncan Haldane (Princeton) and John Kosterlitz (Brown University) for “theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.” Their work offers novel insights into superconductors that allow electricity to flow without resistance, superfluids that are the liquid analogue to electrical superconductors, and countless quantum effects that can be produced on the surfaces of materials, in thin films, or in chains of atoms and molecules.

Prior to sharing in the Nobel Prize, all three of the Laureates had already been recognized with American Physical Society (APS) prizes. Kosterlitz and Thouless shared the APS Lars Onsager Prize in 2000 for theories of topological phase transitions. Haldane won the APS Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Physics Prize in1993 for theories of one- and two-dimensional quantum systems.

“The field this year’s Laureates helped pioneer is one of the most dynamic and active areas in physics,” said APS President-Elect Laura Greene, “with many thousands of authors publishing tens of thousands of papers every year. Haldane, Kosterlitz and Thouless alone have authored well over a hundred papers in APS journals. Their theoretical innovations point the way to quantum computers, highly sensitive detectors, and new experiments that can provide insights into the behavior of exotic, and sometimes bizarre, states of matter. They have ignited a firestorm of research, and although applications are still yet to come, I believe it’s only a matter of time before their research leads to advances as unimaginable to us now as lasers and computer chips were a hundred years ago.”

Simple solids are well understood, including simple metals, semiconductors, and insulators. Each conduct electricity, or do not conduct, based on their crystal structure and how the electrons interact with their underlying lattice. Thouless, Haldane and Kosterlitz instead considered the many exotic states of electrons in matter where the electron-electron interactions are much stronger than the electron-lattice interactions. These “strongly correlated electron systems” are fascinating in the beautiful complex states they produce, and also have functional applications, such as high-temperature superconductors and ferroelectrics.

“The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics this year honors three researchers who have cracked a crucial part of this problem, explaining electronic and magnetic highly correlated states in two dimensions,” said Greene. “These solutions are clever and inspiring, and have laid the foundation for today’s exploding field of topological matter — as indicated by the growing number of papers in this area taking up an ever larger fraction of the condensed matter community.”

Of the Laureates’ many papers, APS has made some of the key Physical Review publications providing the basis for this year’s physics Nobel available free-to-read to the general public.

D. J. Thouless, Mahito Kohmoto, M. P. Nightingale, and M. Den Nijs, “Quantized Hall Conductance in a Two-Dimensional Periodic Potential”, Phys. Rev. Lett. 49, 405 (1982)

F. D. M. Haldane. Model for a Quantum Hall Effect without Landau Levels: Condensed-Matter Realization of the "Parity Anomaly", Phys. Rev. Lett. 61, 2015 (1988)

F. D. M. Haldane, “Nonlinear Field Theory of Large-Spin Heisenberg Antiferromagnets: Semiclassically Quantized Solitons of the One-Dimensional Easy-Axis Néel State”, Phys. Rev. Lett. 50, 1153 (1983)

David R. Nelson and J. M. Kosterlitz, “Universal jump in the superfluid density of two-dimensional superfluids”, Phys. Rev. Lett. 39, 1201 (1977)

Qian Niu, D. J. Thouless, and Yong-Shi Wu, “Quantized hall conductance as a topological invariant”, Phys. Rev. B 31, 3372 (1985)

Information about the prizes the APS has bestowed on the three Laureates is available below.

Gray Arrow 2000 Lars Onsager Prize: David James Thouless
Gray Arrow 1993 Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Physics Prize: F. Duncan M. Haldane
Gray Arrow 2000 Lars Onsager Prize: John Michael Kosterlitz

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