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    A Random Walk through Physics to the Nobel Prize


    J Kosterlitz Malmstrom 2019

    2019 Kay Malmstrom Lecture in Physics

    Guest Lecturer
    J. Michael Kosterlitz
    Harrison E. Farnsworth Professor of Physics
    Brown University
    2016 Nobel Prize Laureate in Physics

    This talk is the story of Professor Kosterlitz’s random walk through physics—via Cambridge, Oxford, Turin, and Birmingham—while finishing up at Brown University. He describes his very crooked path through life, including both physics and mountaineering, as well as a summary of his prize-winning work: topological defects and phase transitions in two dimensions. Matter occurs with different phase transitions, for example, when ice turns to water or water turns to steam. In extremely low temperatures, unusual phases may occur, such as electric current flows without resistance (superconductivity) and fluid flows without resistance (superfluidity). In the early 1970s, Kosterlitz and David Thouless introduced the concept of a vortex as a topological excitation or defect to describe phase transitions (i.e., superconductivity and superfluidity) in thin layers at low temperatures. This work may pave the way for future quantum computers and other revolutionary technologies.

    About Michael Kosterlitz, PhD

    Professor Kosterlitz received his BA and MA from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He earned a D.Phil. from Oxford University as a postgraduate student of Brasenose College, Oxford. He was appointed to the faculty of the University of Birmingham in 1974, first as a lecturer and, later, as a reader. Since 1982, he has been professor of physics at Brown University. Kosterlitz does research in condensed matter theory, one- and two-dimensional physics, and phase transitions; random systems, electron localization, and spin glasses; and in critical dynamics: melting and freezing. He has been awarded the Maxwell Medal from the British Institute of Physics and the Lars Onsager Prize from the American Physical Society, both for his work on the Kosterlitz-Thouless transition. He was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2016, shared with David Thouless and Duncan Haldane, for work on the Kosterlitz-Thouless transition. In 2017, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences.