BLOG: Sweden's Nobel Prize in Physics 2016

Emma Löfgren
Emma Löfgren - [email protected]
BLOG: Sweden's Nobel Prize in Physics 2016
Professor Thors Hans Hansson using a pretzel to explain the award. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Three British scientists based in the US have won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics. The Local reported live.


13:30 Until tomorrow

That's all for today. The Nobel Prize in Physics 2016 has gone to David J. Thouless, and the other half jointly to F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz "for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter". Find out more about how their research could help construct quantum computers here. We'll be back tomorrow for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry!

We'll leave you with these comments from Nobel Committee Secretary Gunnar Ingelman:

"I would say it’s really groundbreaking because in Physics one was not thinking in these terms. That’s shown by the fact that when they first came with these ideas, some of it, people didn’t think was right. Or it could ever be used in practice."

"The fact that this is mathematically quite advanced, so not so many people could follow in detail what they had actually done. After some years more and more people understood the theoretical framework, then in research labs, one started to do experiments and actually observe phenomena like this. That made the field explode, so in the last decade there have been lots of experiments that have shown these effects, and have shown the great importance of the concept of topology in physics."

13:05 How cinnamon buns explain physics

The Secretary of the Nobel Committee for Physics Gunnar Ingelman, Professor in Subatomic Physics, has explained the cinnamon bun example below to The Local's reporter Lee Roden.

 Could you explain the cinnamon bun example?

"There are two important things with topology. One is that things only change in steps. So in the analogy, you can have zero holes – a bun, one hole – then it’s a bagel – or two holes – then it’s a pretzel. And you immediately, when you see such a thing, identify it as a ‘cinnamon bun’ because it has no holes, a pretzel because it has two."

"But this also illustrates the other important aspect of topology, which is that by looking at only a small part of the system you can’t see this property. You have to look at the whole system. Then you will see ‘this has zero holes’, ‘this has one holes’, ‘this has two holes’, so that illustrates what is also true in the quantum physics world they’re discussing, that the system acts as a whole. You cannot derive these properties by just looking at an individual atom or an individual electron in your system. You have to have a theoretical, mathematical description of the whole system. THEN, you will get these topological properties, corresponding to zero holes, one hole, two holes and so on."

Gunnar Ingelman. Photo: Lee Roden/The Local

12:30 Yeah, yeah, but what did they do?

Here's some more information from the Nobel Committee's press release, explaining the winners' research:

"In the early 1970s, Michael Kosterlitz and David Thouless overturned the then current theory that superconductivity or suprafluidity could not occur in thin layers. They demonstrated that superconductivity could occur at low temperatures and also explained the mechanism, phase transition, that makes superconductivity disappear at higher temperatures."

"In the 1980s, Thouless was able to explain a previous experiment with very thin electrically conducting layers in which conductance was precisely measured as integer steps. He showed that these integers were topological in their nature. At around the same time, Duncan Haldane discovered how topological concepts can be used to understand the properties of chains of small magnets found in some materials."

12:20 Stay tuned

The Local's reporter Lee Roden is now waiting to speak to one of the Nobel judges to find out more about the winners, their research, and if there's any left of those cinnamon rolls they were playing with earlier.

12:08 Who are they?

All the scientists are Britons based in the US. Kosterlitz was born in Aberdeen, Haldane in London and Thouless in Bearsden. One half of the prize money (eight million kronor) will go to Thouless and the other half will be shared between Haldane and Kosterlitz.

12:05 'I was very surprised'

Professor Haldane, one of the three winners, is now speaking to the room live over the phone. He is somewhat emotional, which is understandable, and says he was "very surprised, very gratified".

11:55 On pretzels and topology

Swedish physicist Thors Hans Hansson is now using a pretzel, bagel and a cinnamon roll to explain topology and how the US-based trio revealed the secrets of exotic matter. It has something to do with how the bagel has one hole, the pretzel many holes and the cinnamon roll none, and that's what a topologist would talk about if you asked them how the pastries differ. Topologists seem like a fun bunch.

It seems to go over the heads of most of the reporters in the room, but the press release says: "This year’s Laureates opened the door on an unknown world where matter can assume strange states. They have used advanced mathematical methods to study unusual phases, or states, of matter, such as superconductors, superfluids or thin magnetic films. Thanks to their pioneering work, the hunt is now on for new and exotic phases of matter. Many people are hopeful of future applications in both materials science and electronics."

11:48 The winners are...

... David J. Thouless, the other half jointly to F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz "for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter".

11:40 Hold onto your seats...

You should be able to watch a live stream of the announcement if you scroll down.

11:35 International attention

The Local's reporter Lee Roden snapped this picture of international journalists at the press conference, which is about to start at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.

There are plenty of Asian journalists in the room, he says, including television. Of course, it has been a good Nobel week for that part of the world so far. Yesterday's Medicine winner, Yoshinori Ohsumi, is from Japan. And last year, one of the two winners was Takaaki Kajita, also from Japan.

The Nobel Prize press conference. Photo: Lee Roden/The Local

11:25 Fun facts

Or some kind of facts, anyway. 200 people have been awarded the Physics prize since 1901. Of those, two have been women. US scientist John Bardeen, meanwhile, has won it twice: in 1956 and 1972.

The two most common dates for Nobel Physics Laureates' birthdays are May 21st and February 28th. 

11:15 Watch the announcement live

This year's Nobel Prize in Physics winner will be announced at 11.45am, and the judges are usually pretty punctual. In theory you should be able to watch the live stream below, but they had some tech issues yesterday, so we make no promises.

10:54 Your best physics jokes

10:47 Better get working on that research

The average age of all Nobel Physics winners is 55 years, but the oldest laureate to date is Raymond Davis Jr, who was 88 years old when he won it in 2002. The youngest was Lawrence Bragg, who was 25 years old when he won it in 1915 together with his father. Now that's something to bragg about (sorry). 

10:40 The Royal Academy of Sciences

This is the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, where the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics will be revealed in just over an hour. The winner gets told only just before the rest of us finds out, so depending on where in the world they live, it could be a very surprising early-morning wake-up call.

10:32 Forget about Nobel Prizes, give me my cinnamon bun 

In Sweden, the Nobel Prize committee is competing with another important day in Sweden: Cinnamon Bun Day. That's a whole day dedicated to Swedish cinnamon buns (kanelbullar), so if you were to imagine what the perfect day would look like: this is it. If nobody volunteers to buy you a fika, here's our favourite recipe.

10:30 Nobel Prize in Physics 2016

Good morning and welcome to another day of Nobel excitement, we bet you can't get enough. Our editor Emma Löfgren and reporter Lee Roden are covering the announcement live from Stockholm. As is by now as much of a tradition as the Nobel Prize announcements themselves, they are likely to fall back on silly physics jokes to cover up the fact that they don't really remember much of physics at all from school. 

If you missed yesterday's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, read more about it here.


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