Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Thouless, Haldane, Kosterlitz win the 2016 Nobel in physics

Topological phases and topological phase transitions have won the 2016 Nobel prize in physics.

David J. Thouless of Seattle won 50%, F. Duncan M. Haldane of Princeton won 25%, J. Michael Kosterlitz won 25%. All three men were born in Britain and have moved to America.

The condensed matter insights are genuine and very important – the main 1973 theoretical paper has almost 9,000 citations while Haldane's 1983 paper on the Haldane gap in 1D Heisenberg anti-ferromagnets (chains) has over 2,400 citations – but I believe that this choice is a surprise for virtually everyone, anyway.

In fact, I am convinced that even most of those people who were suggesting a Nobel for "topological" things in condensed matter physics were betting on other names. For example, in 2014, Thomson Reuters predicted a Nobel prize for topological insulators – to theorist Charles L. Kane, experimenter Laurens W. Molenkamp, and theorist Shoucheng Zhang.

Breakthrough Prize winner Alexei Kitaev could have been awarded a prize for the topological quantum computers but his work is probably too mathematical (although less so than e.g. Maxim Kontsevich's). Various other condensed matter physicists comparable to the newest winners and their collaborators – e.g. Ian Affleck – could have won, too.

Just to be sure, the work by these three men is very closely related to the quantum Hall effect and the 1998 prize was for the (fractional) quantum Hall effect. Two prizes for that kind of stuff is arguably one too many.

The Nobel officials were showing their lunch and holes in their doughnuts from the Cheesecake Factory, just like Brian Greene in the popularization of string theory. The man also added a picture of a tornado which was his vortex.

Those explanations are highly low-brow and when it comes to the world-class research, I would prefer lowly high-brow explanations addressed to the scientific public. You know, these guys were very far from inventing the genus or Euler characteristics of surfaces and similar things. The presenter didn't get very far in explaining what these guys were actually awarded for.

But Kosterlitz and Thouless did introduce the notion of "topological order" in 1973. They also showed superconductors and superfluids to be possible in 2D. Haldane added his insights in the 1980s and applied the previous insights to 1D anti-ferromagnetic chains. Another 1983 paper by Thouless (with 750+ citations) was also explicitly mentioned and was the reason why Thouless got a greater share than the other two men.

So Barry Barish is probably happy that the Nobel committee has waited with the LIGO. (The January 31st deadline for the nomination could have been the reason that delayed the Nobel prize for LIGO, after all.)

Most of the journalists who were asking questions to Duncan Haldane – who was on the phone – were stupid and obnoxious females who asked questions like "where are the devices based on your work, Sir" and "why the hell did you do something as boring as physics that youth is increasingly uninterested in". Haldane didn't allow them to spoil his good mood and enthusiasm, however. Nevertheless, I think that journalists who are openly hostile towards physics as a pure science shouldn't be allowed at similar ceremonies whose main purpose is to celebrate the physicists' achievements.

You may read a review of the topics of this Nobel prize.

Congratulations to everybody!

Yesterday, the medicine Nobel prize went to Yošinori Ohsumi (JP) for his clarification of autophagy (cells' self-eating by which they sometimes recycle the material).

BTW, yesterday, the New York Times published an opinion piece claiming that the Nobel prizes should be "updated" and reward less prestigious disciplines such as ecology and some downright pseudoscientific disciplines such as the global warming hysteria that are closer than physics etc. to the journalists and the stupid people and that have spread all over the society and even the Academia.

If I weren't tired by this kind of idiocratic junk in which we're increasingly drowning and that I have debunked so many times in the past, I would react again.

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