Congratulations to David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz! These are the winners of the Physics Nobel Prize 2016 “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”. So what does that mean? Well topology is a branch of mathematics which studies the properties of space which are preserved under continuous deformation. But what does that mean? Well it means if you had two objects which were identical, and you took one of them and deformed it by stretching it or flattening it, tying it in a knot maybe even rolling it up. As long as you do not cut it or rip it, it is, topologically speaking, still equivalent to the to the other object which you left alone. If you were to have say cut a hole in the middle of the object it would not longer be topologically equivalent to the other object.
I don’t claim to be an expert on topology by any means. All my knowledge of the subject comes from Numberphile, a channel I highly recommend, and whilst you’re there you should definitely check out all the videos by the eccentric Cliff Stoll. He is one of my favourite people on Numberphile and does some fantastic videos on topology.
Anyway. Physics. So using topology the three British physicists explained something called the Quantum Hall Effect, and also explained topological states of matter… What ever that means. Luckily, Professor Thors Hans Hansson, a member of the Nobel Committee for Physics, explained these extraordinary and complicated things using pastries. You can see presentation he did and the interview, which both contain pastries, on the link I have provided.
I must admit I was shocked by the announcement; I was expecting the prize to go for the discovery of gravitational waves, however, I do think these three chaps were very well deserving of the Nobel prize. But maybe it doesn’t matter who won, maybe the real prize is the discovery itself.
“God used beautiful mathematics in creating the world.”