2016 Nobel Prize in Physics: The Revelation of Topological Phases of Matter

Research used to guide light around sharp corners; photonic transitions for enabling future quantum computation and nanosciences

WASHINGTON — (BUSINESS WIRE) — October 4, 2016 — The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded today to David J. Thouless of University of Washington, F. Duncan M. Haldane of Princeton University and J. Michael Kosterlitz of Brown University, USA. The award was given for their theoretical work on “topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.” The discovery has led to new and exotic phases of matter likely to impact the future of quantum computation, nanosciences and biophysics.

"The recent advances in photonics building on the Laureates’ theoretical work from three decades ago have, in a very real sense, been enabled in part by optical and photonic technology," stated Dr. Michal Lipson, Eugene Higgins Professor Electrical Engineering, Columbia University, New York, USA, and 2016 OSA Director-at-Large. Dr. Lipson, one of the main founders of the field of silicon photonics, added: "The research completed by this team has moved us towards novel photonic structures that would have been unthinkable a decade ago, including, for example, the demonstration of the ability to break the reciprocity of light – one of the paradigms of optics.”

Since the researchers began their work in the 1970’s and 1980’s, there has been tremendous growth in the research area of condensed matter physics giving rise to device applications, such as the development of the semiconductor transistor and laser technology. Several phenomena studied in the context of nanotechnology come under the purview of condensed matter physics. Techniques such as scanning-tunneling microscopy can be used to control processes at the nanometer scale and have given rise to the study of nanofabrication and magnetic resonance imaging.

Topological phase transitions inspired new research in photonics leading to fundamentally new states of light. Photonic systems have recently been predicted and demonstrated with the ability to transmit light along the edges of the system but not within the interior of the system and at the same time to transit light that is robust to imperfections. This is in direct analogy to topological insulators in solid state systems.

Potential practical applications of topological photonics include photonic circuitry that is less dependent on isolators and slow light that is insensitive to disorder. The recent ferment in photonic topological order was highlighted by a 2014 Incubator meeting at The Optical Society in which researchers discussed recent experimental demonstrations and theoretical predictions of such topological photonic systems. The meeting highlighted the power of this family of photonic structures for quantum computing, communications and quantum simulations. To learn more about exotic states of light, attend a symposium on integrated quantum optics at FiO/LS 2016.

The prestigious Nobel Prize has been awarded for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace since 1901 by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences was established in 1968 in Memory of Alfred Nobel, the founder of the Nobel Prize. Recipients receive a medal and a diploma and share a cash award, to be presented in December.

About The Optical Society

Founded in 1916, The Optical Society (OSA) is the leading professional organization for scientists, engineers, students and entrepreneurs who fuel discoveries, shape real-life applications and accelerate achievements in the science of light. Through world-renowned publications, meetings and membership initiatives, OSA provides quality research, inspired interactions and dedicated resources for its extensive global network of optics and photonics experts. OSA is a founding partner of the National Photonics Initiative and the 2015 International Year of Light. For more information, visit:  www.osa.org.

About FiO/LS

The Frontiers in Optics (FiO) 2016 is The Optical Society’s (OSA) 100th Annual Meeting and is being with Laser Science, the 32nd Annual meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) Division of Laser Science (DLS). The two meetings unite the OSA and APS communities for four days of quality, cutting-edge presentations, in-demand invited speakers and a variety of special events spanning a broad range of topics in optics and photonics—the science of light—across the disciplines of physics, biology and chemistry. The exhibit floor will feature leading optics companies, technology products and programs. More information at: www.FrontiersinOptics.org.


The Optical Society
Rebecca B. Andersen, +1 202-416-1443
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The Optical Society
Joshua Miller, +1 202-416-1435
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