TT News Agency / Reuters

NEWS BRIEF David Thouless, Duncan Haldane, and Michael Kosterlitz have been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on “theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”—or in easier-to understand terms, they used advanced mathematical methods to explain strange phenomena in unusual phases.

In the 1970s, Kosterlitz, of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and Thouless, an emeritus professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, used topology—a branch of mathematics that describes properties that only change step-wise—in physics to overturn the then-prevalent 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,” the Nobel committee said in a statement.

It added:

Then 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 about the same time, Haldane, now 82 and a professor of physics at Princeton University, used topological concepts to understand the properties of chains of small magnets found in some materials.

It’s hoped, the Nobel Committee said, that this are of research can be used in new generations of electronics and superconductors, or in future quantum computers.

The winners will share the 8 million kronor ($932,786) prize.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.