A trio of British-born researchers working in the U.S. won the Nobel Prize in Physics Tuesday for what one of them called a curious mathematical “toy” that to his surprise revolutionized the study of exotic matter suitable for quantum computers, new superconductors, and advanced designer materials. Working separately, the three laureates conceived a new way to understand the topology of materials, as the study of shapes that change in increments is called. At its simplest, a sheet of paper can have many sides, depending upon the topology of its folds. At an atomic level, however, variations in the structural topology of electrons can yield materials with properties unknown among the commonplace solids, fluids and gases of the ordinary world.
While their work was theoretical, “there is nothing more practical than understanding the theoretical basis of the properties of matter, said physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. “Our whole world is a material world. They were really pioneers of a field that has blossomed and is essential in understanding the properties of modern materials.” Read more from The Wall Street Journal.