The 2016 Nobel Prize for physics has been awarded to David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz for their “theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”.
Simply put, topology is the study of spaces and how they deform under various conditions. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the laureates used mathematical techniques to investigate unique states of matter that showed up when groups of atoms were cooled to very low temperatures. These states, broadly called quantum phases, exhibited unique properties that could be explained using topological concepts.
Today, physicists are attempting to exploit these exotic states of matter to build advanced electronic circuits and quantum computers.
Before the prize’s announcement, there were widespread rumours that the winners would be the trio of physicists who conceived the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatories, which discovered gravitational waves in September 2015. However, they could have missed out because the deadline for nominations was a month before the discovery was announced, in February this year.