ITHACA, NY – David J. Thouless, who obtained his Ph.D. from Cornell in 1958, has won one-half of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics for using advanced mathematical methods to study phenomena in what are effectively two-dimensional spaces.

“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,” wrote the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in a press release. “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.”

The release indicates that laureates’ research could be used for new generations of electronics, superconductors and quantum computing.

Here’s a basic overview of the underlying science, explained using baked goods:

Thouless, now an Emeritus Professor at the University of Washington, won one half of the prize. The other half went to F. Duncan Haldane, a professor of physics at Princeton and J. Michael Kosterlitz, professor of physics at Brown University.

Thouless has been making major discoveries in physics since the 1970s, when he and Kosterlitz overturned the theory that superconductivity or suprafluidity could not occur in thin layers. He even has a type of energy and special phase transition named after him.

(Featured photo courtesy University of Washington)

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.