The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics was split in half this year. One half went to David J. Thouless of the University of Washington in Seattle. The other half went to his collaborators, Duncan M. Haldane from Princeton and J. Michael Kosterlitz from Brown. The trio received the distinction for "theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter."
According to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the three opened a door into using advanced mathematical methods to study unusual phases in matter. Some of these states of matter include superconductors, superfluids, and magnetic films. Many in the scientific and technological communities are optimistic about the potential widespread applications of their findings.
The reason for the discovery was explained by temperatures towhich the scientists exposed atoms. Classical physics, before the discovery, dictated that absolute zero or 0K was the lowest theoretical limit to which an atom of matter could be cooled. At this temperature, it was believed that atoms would stop vibrating and interacting and simply come to a standstill.
What Thouless et al discovered was that when they cooled the atoms, the momentum of each atom decreased and a certain level ofquantum uncertainty as far as the position of each atom is achieved. At that point, it becomes difficult to pinpoint individual atoms as only a blurry space where the atom must reside is visible. When this happens, the atoms begin overlapping and stop becoming individual entities.