Planet Princeton

Princeton University Professor Wins Nobel Prize in Physics

Haldane in Princeton's Jadwin Hall Tuesday morning teaching his first class as a Nobel Laureate, "Electromagnetism: Principles and Problem Solving." As Haldane entered the room, his students erupted in applause and cheers. Photo: Princeton University, Office of Communications, Denise Applewhite.
Haldane in Princeton’s Jadwin Hall Tuesday morning teaching his first class as a Nobel Laureate, “Electromagnetism: Principles and Problem Solving.” As Haldane entered the room, his students erupted in applause and cheers. Photo: Princeton University, Office of Communications, Denise Applewhite.

Princeton University Professor F. Duncan Haldane has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics for his path-breaking discoveries in condensed matter physics.

He used mathematical methods to reveal unusual states of matter, leading to advances in electronics that could aid researchers trying to develop quantum computers.

Haldane, who joined the Princeton faculty in 1990, shares the prize with David Thouless of the University of Washington and J. Michael Kosterlitz of Brown University.

“They have used advanced mathematical methods to study unusual phases, or states, of matter, such as superconductors, superfluids or thin magnetic films,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in announcing the award. “Thanks to their pioneering work, the hunt is now on for new and exotic phases of matter. Many people are hopeful of future applications in both materials science and electronics.”

Haldane said he was surprised and gratified to receive the award. He was woken up at about 4:30 a.m. with a call from Sweden notifying him of the award. He taught a regularly scheduled graduate class Tuesday morning, and then participated in a press conference in the afternoon with the president of the university. He said he took pride in doing his job teaching on this special day.

“All these graduate students who come in have hopes, and I think any one of them could discover something tremendous and new,” he said. “You don’t get up at the beginning of the day and say `I’m going to discover something great today.’ You’re doing whatever you’re doing and you happen to chance on something through some other root, and you have to have the insight to see that what you’ve found is something interesting and worth exploring more. Most discoveries are accidental in some way. You are looking at some other problem.”

Haldane, who is British, earned his bachelor’s degree in 1973 and his doctorate in 1978, both from the University of Cambridge. From 1977 to 1981 he was a physicist at the Institut Laue-Langevin in Grenoble, France. He joined the faculty at the University of Southern California in 1981. He served as a member of the technical staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill from 1985 to 1988, and was a professor at the University of California-San Diego from 1986 to 1992. He was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society in 1986 and was awarded a Sloan Foundation fellowship from 1984 to 1988.

During the press conference, Haldane described the revolution in his field as scientists began to apply theoretical research to real, three-dimensional materials, using new and different ways to look at old problems.

“This whole field has burgeoned and spread as this new way of thinking has led to new discoveries,” he said. “Whatever the future will bring it is a very rich field, quantum engineering, quantum information technology. We’ve gone a long way in condensed mater physics from when I started.”

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Betterwould

    Great news. And the word on the street is he and his wife are great parents too – – what’s not to like?!?

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