Office of the President

October 4, 2016

UW Professor Emeritus David J. Thouless awarded Nobel Prize in Physics

Ana Mari Cauce

David J. Thouless

David J. Thouless
Photo credit: Mary Levin, University of Washington

This morning we awoke to tremendous news: One of the University of Washington’s own, Professor Emeritus David J. Thouless, has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics.

As the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted when awarding the prize to Thouless and two of his colleagues, “This year’s laureates opened the door on an unknown world where matter can assume strange states.” Together, they overturned commonly held theories on superconductivity and suprafluidity, including demonstrating how superconductivity is possible at low temperatures — and why it disappears at higher temperatures. Researchers today are still exploring the “exotic worlds” discovered by Thouless and his fellow laureates, F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz.

Prof. Thouless’ work is a perfect example of why curiosity-driven basic science is so vital. Not only did his discoveries open up entirely new fields of research, but they also have had implications for the electronic devices that power our world today and those that may do so in the future — everything from advanced superconductors to quantum computers to other applications we can hardly imagine. That’s why research that seeks to answer questions about the fundamental nature of our world, our universe and ourselves is as important as research with applications that are immediately known.

I know you will join me in congratulating Prof. Thouless on this incredible honor, as he becomes the seventh University of Washington faculty member to earn a Nobel Prize, and the second from our Department of Physics. This achievement is a testament to the groundbreaking nature of his work and an example of the excellence of our faculty, as well as a truly great day for the Department of Physics, the College of Arts and Sciences and our entire University.