David J. Thouless

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David J. Thouless

DavidThouless 1995 UW.jpg
David Thouless in 1995
David James Thouless

(1934-09-21)21 September 1934
Bearsden, Scotland
Died6 April 2019(2019-04-06) (aged 84)
Cambridge, England
ResidenceUnited Kingdom [1]
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
Alma mater
Known for
Margaret Elizabeth Scrase(m. 1958)
ChildrenThree [1]
Scientific career
Fields Condensed matter physics
Thesis The application of perturbation methods to the theory of nuclear matter  (1958)
Doctoral advisor Hans Bethe [4]
Notable students J. Michael Kosterlitz (postdoc) [1]

David James Thouless FRS [2] ( /ˈθlɛs/ ; 21 September 1934 – 6 April 2019) [5] [6] [7] was a British condensed-matter physicist. [8] He was the winner of the 1990 Wolf Prize and a laureate of the 2016 Nobel Prize for physics along with F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter. [9]

Fellow of the Royal Society Elected Fellow of the Royal Society, including Honorary, Foreign and Royal Fellows

Fellowship of the Royal Society is an award granted to individuals that the Royal Society of London judges to have made a 'substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science and medical science'.

Condensed matter physics branch of physics

Condensed matter physics is the field of physics that deals with the macroscopic and microscopic physical properties of matter. In particular it is concerned with the "condensed" phases that appear whenever the number of constituents in a system is extremely large and the interactions between the constituents are strong. The most familiar examples of condensed phases are solids and liquids, which arise from the electromagnetic forces between atoms. Condensed matter physicists seek to understand the behavior of these phases by using physical laws. In particular, they include the laws of quantum mechanics, electromagnetism and statistical mechanics.

Physicist scientist who does research in physics

A physicist is a scientist who specializes in the field of physics, which encompasses the interactions of matter and energy at all length and time scales in the physical universe. Physicists generally are interested in the root or ultimate causes of phenomena, and usually frame their understanding in mathematical terms. Physicists work across a wide range of research fields, spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic and particle physics, through biological physics, to cosmological length scales encompassing the universe as a whole. The field generally includes two types of physicists: experimental physicists who specialize in the observation of physical phenomena and the analysis of experiments, and theoretical physicists who specialize in mathematical modeling of physical systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. Physicists can apply their knowledge towards solving practical problems or to developing new technologies.



Born in Bearsden, Scotland, [10] Thouless was educated at Winchester College and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge as an undergraduate student of Trinity Hall, Cambridge. [1] He obtained his PhD at Cornell University, [5] [11] where Hans Bethe was his doctoral advisor. [4] [12]

Bearsden town in East Dunbartonshire, Scotland

Bearsden is a town in East Dunbartonshire, Scotland, on the northwestern fringe of Greater Glasgow. Approximately 6 miles (10 km) from Glasgow City Centre, the town is effectively a suburb, and its housing development coincided with the 1863 introduction of a railway line. The town was named after Bearsden railway station, which was named after a nearby cottage.

Winchester College school in Winchester, Hampshire, England

Winchester College is an independent boarding school for boys in the British public school tradition, situated in Winchester, Hampshire. It has existed in its present location for over 600 years. It is the oldest of the original seven English public schools defined by the Clarendon Commission and regulated by the Public Schools Act 1868.

The Natural Sciences Tripos (NST) is the framework within which most of the science at the University of Cambridge is taught. The tripos includes a wide range of Natural Sciences from physical sciences to biology which are taught alongside the history and philosophy of science. The tripos covers several courses which form the University of Cambridge system of Tripos. It is known for its broad range of study in the first year, in which students cannot study just one discipline, but instead must choose three courses in different areas of the natural sciences and one in mathematics. As is traditional at Cambridge, the degree awarded after Part II is a Bachelor of Arts (BA). A Master of Science degree (MSci) is available to those who take the optional Part III. It was started in the 19th Century.

Career and research

Thouless was a postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, and also worked in the physics department, from 1958 to 1959. [13] [14] He was the first director of studies in physics at Churchill College, Cambridge, in 1961–1965, professor of mathematical physics at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom in 1965–1978, [15] and professor of applied science at Yale University from 1979 to 1980, [14] before becoming a professor of physics at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1980. [15] Thouless made many theoretical contributions to the understanding of extended systems of atoms and electrons, and of nucleons. [16] [17] [18] He also worked on superconductivity phenomena, properties of nuclear matter, and excited collective motions within nuclei. [16] [17] [18]

A postdoctoral researcher or postdoc is a person professionally conducting research after the completion of their doctoral studies. The ultimate goal of a postdoctoral research position is to pursue additional research, training, or teaching in order to have better skills to pursue a career in academia, research, or any other fields. Postdocs often, but not always, have a temporary academic appointment, sometimes in preparation for an academic faculty position. They continue their studies or carry out research and further increase expertise in a specialist subject, including integrating a team and acquiring novel skills and research methods. Postdoctoral research is often considered essential while advancing the scholarly mission of the host institution; it is expected to produce relevant publications in peer-reviewed academic journals or conferences. In some countries, postdoctoral research may lead to further formal qualifications or certification, while in other countries it does not.

University of California, Berkeley Public university in California, USA

The University of California, Berkeley is a public research university in Berkeley, California. It was founded in 1868 and serves as the flagship institution of the ten research universities affiliated with the University of California system. Berkeley has since grown to instruct over 40,000 students in approximately 350 undergraduate and graduate degree programs covering numerous disciplines.

Churchill College, Cambridge college of the University of Cambridge

Churchill College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England. It has a primary focus on science, engineering and technology, but still retains a strong interest in the arts and humanities.

Thouless made many important contributions to the theory of many-body problems. [18] For atomic nuclei, he cleared up the concept of 'rearrangement energy' and derived an expression for the moment of inertia of deformed nuclei. [18] In statistical mechanics, he contributed many ideas to the understanding of ordering, including the concept of 'topological ordering'. [18] Other important results relate to localised electron states in disordered lattices. [2] [18]

The many-body problem is a general name for a vast category of physical problems pertaining to the properties of microscopic systems made of a large number of interacting particles. Microscopic here implies that quantum mechanics has to be used to provide an accurate description of the system. A large number can be anywhere from 3 to infinity, although three- and four-body systems can be treated by specific means and are thus sometimes separately classified as few-body systems. In such a quantum system, the repeated interactions between particles create quantum correlations, or entanglement. As a consequence, the wave function of the system is a complicated object holding a large amount of information, which usually makes exact or analytical calculations impractical or even impossible. Thus, many-body theoretical physics most often relies on a set of approximations specific to the problem at hand, and ranks among the most computationally intensive fields of science.

Atomic nucleus core of the atom; composed of bound nucleons (protons and neutrons)

The atomic nucleus is the small, dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom, discovered in 1911 by Ernest Rutherford based on the 1909 Geiger–Marsden gold foil experiment. After the discovery of the neutron in 1932, models for a nucleus composed of protons and neutrons were quickly developed by Dmitri Ivanenko and Werner Heisenberg. An atom is composed of a positively-charged nucleus, with a cloud of negatively-charged electrons surrounding it, bound together by electrostatic force. Almost all of the mass of an atom is located in the nucleus, with a very small contribution from the electron cloud. Protons and neutrons are bound together to form a nucleus by the nuclear force.

Moment of inertia moment of inertia

The moment of inertia, otherwise known as the angular mass or rotational inertia, of a rigid body is a quantity that determines the torque needed for a desired angular acceleration about a rotational axis; similar to how mass determines the force needed for a desired acceleration. It depends on the body's mass distribution and the axis chosen, with larger moments requiring more torque to change the body's rotation rate. It is an extensive (additive) property: for a point mass the moment of inertia is just the mass times the square of the perpendicular distance to the rotation axis. The moment of inertia of a rigid composite system is the sum of the moments of inertia of its component subsystems. Its simplest definition is the second moment of mass with respect to distance from an axis. For bodies constrained to rotate in a plane, only their moment of inertia about an axis perpendicular to the plane, a scalar value, matters. For bodies free to rotate in three dimensions, their moments can be described by a symmetric 3 × 3 matrix, with a set of mutually perpendicular principal axes for which this matrix is diagonal and torques around the axes act independently of each other.

Academic papers

Selected papers [19] include:

  • Kosterlitz, J. M.; Thouless, D. J. (1973). "Ordering, metastability and phase transitions in two-dimensional systems" (PDF). Journal of Physics C: Solid State Physics. 6 (7): 1181–1203. Bibcode:1973JPhC....6.1181K. doi:10.1088/0022-3719/6/7/010. ISSN   0022-3719. PMID   27665689.
  • Thouless, D. J.; Kohmoto, M.; Nightingale, M. P.; den Nijs, M. (1982). "Quantized Hall Conductance in a Two-Dimensional Periodic Potential". Physical Review Letters. 49 (6): 405–408. Bibcode:1982PhRvL..49..405T. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.49.405. ISSN   0031-9007.
J. Michael Kosterlitz British physicist

John Michael Kosterlitz is a Scottish born British-American physicist. He is a professor of physics at Brown University and the son of biochemist Hans Kosterlitz. He was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in physics along with David Thouless and Duncan Haldane for work on condensed matter physics.

The bibcode is a compact identifier used by several astronomical data systems to uniquely specify literature references.

Digital object identifier Character string used as a permanent identifier for a digital object, in a format controlled by the International DOI Foundation

In computing, a Digital Object Identifier or DOI is a persistent identifier or handle used to identify objects uniquely, standardized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). An implementation of the Handle System, DOIs are in wide use mainly to identify academic, professional, and government information, such as journal articles, research reports and data sets, and official publications though they also have been used to identify other types of information resources, such as commercial videos.


International Standard Book Number Unique numeric book identifier

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency.

The Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) is a serially-based system of numbering cataloging records in the Library of Congress in the United States. It has nothing to do with the contents of any book, and should not be confused with Library of Congress Classification.

Awards and honours

Thouless was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1979, [2] a Fellow of the American Physical Society, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences (1995). [20] Among his awards are the Wolf Prize for Physics (1990), [21] the Paul Dirac Medal of the Institute of Physics (1993), the Lars Onsager Prize [22] of the American Physical Society (2000), and the Nobel Prize in Physics (2016). [17] [23]

Personal life

Thouless married Margaret Elizabeth Scrase in 1958 and together they had three children. [1] In 2016, Thouless was reported to be suffering from dementia. [24] He died on 6 April 2019 in Cambridge, aged 84. [6]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Anon (2016). "BBC Radio 4 profile: Professor David J Thouless". London: BBC.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Anon (1979). "Professor David Thouless FRS". London: royalsociety.org. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from the royalsociety.org website where:
    All text published under the heading 'Biography' on Fellow profile pages is available under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License." – "Royal Society Terms, conditions and policies". Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  3. Devlin, Hannah; Sample, Ian (4 October 2016). "British trio win Nobel prize in physics 2016 for work on exotic states of matter – live". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 October 2016.
  4. 1 2 David J. Thouless at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  5. 1 2 Thouless, Prof. David James. ukwhoswho.com. Who's Who. 2016 (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. Closed Access logo alternative.svg (subscription required)
  6. 1 2 "Professor David Thouless 1934–2019". Trinity Hall, Cambridge. 6 April 2019. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  7. "The Nobel Prize in Physics 2016". NobelPrize.org.
  8. "Physicist Thouless to give two talks at Lab". Archived from the original on 15 October 2006. Retrieved 4 October 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link), Los Alamos National Laboratory
  9. "The international who's who 1991–92". Europa Publ. 25 July 1991 via Google Books.
  10. Sturrock, Laura (5 October 2016). "Bearsden scientist is awarded Nobel prize in Physics". Kirkintilloch Herald. Retrieved 6 October 2016.
  11. Thouless, David James (1958). The application of perturbation methods to the theory of nuclear matter (PhD thesis). Cornell University. OCLC   745509629.
  12. Lee, Sabine (8 April 2011). "From Nuclei to Stars: Festschrift in Honor of Gerald E. Brown". World Scientific via Google Books.
  13. "UW Professor Emeritus David J. Thouless wins Nobel Prize in physics for exploring exotic states of matter | UW Today". www.washington.edu. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  14. 1 2 "David Thouless". aip.org. Archived from the original on 5 October 2016. Retrieved 10 October 2016.
  15. 1 2 "Two former Birmingham scientists awarded Nobel Prize for Physics". University of Birmingham. 4 October 2016. Retrieved 4 October 2016.
  16. 1 2 "The Nobel Prize in Physics 2016". NobelPrize.org.
  17. 1 2 3 Gibney, Elizabeth; Castelvecchi, Davide (2016). "Physics of 2D exotic matter wins Nobel: British-born theorists recognized for work on topological phases". Nature. London: Springer Nature. 538 (7623): 18–18. Bibcode:2016Natur.538...18G. doi:10.1038/nature.2016.20722.
  18. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "David J. Thouless Facts". Nobel Prize.org. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  19. David J. Thouless publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  20. "David Thouless". National Academy of Sciences Online. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  21. David J. Thouless Winner of Wolf Prize in Physics – 1990 on the official website of Wolf Foundation
  22. "2018 Stanley Corrsin Award Recipient". www.aps.org.
  23. "David J. Thouless − Facts". Nobel Media AB 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  24. Knapton, Sarah. "British scientists win Nobel prize in physics for work so baffling it had to be described using bagels". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 24 September 2017.