Add some ice cubes to a pan on the stove. Within minutes, you will have observed the three most common phases of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. But at the extreme of nature’s limits, such as close to absolute zero (−273° C), the same matter enters strange and wonderful new phases.
The 2016 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to three researchers whose work transformed our understanding of matter in such exotic states. David Thouless of the University of Washington, Duncan Haldane of Princeton University, and Michael Kosterlitz of Brown University took home the prize for, as the Nobel committee put it, “theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.”
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