When three British-born scientists scooped this year's Nobel Prize for Physics, it came as something of a shock - mainly to its recipients. Prof Haldane commented: "I was very surprised and very gratified."
David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz received the prize for their work on topology, which is the core concept behind the creation of a new generation of super-materials.
The research was done in the 70s and 80s but the true implications of this work is only just being realised. It could lead to an electronics revolution where such super-materials replace the wires and parts usually found in our electronic devices to create a new generation of super-fast systems.
The Nobel Committee even commented this discovery had "opened the door on an unknown world".
Nobel prizes always start a bun fight as people argue why one discovery or body of work is more important than the other. I'm going to toss a theoretical bagel into the mix with my five favourite British universities and/or scientists that I think deserve a nod (and maybe the £727,000 prize money) from the Nobel committee:
1. A Nano-sized Hall of Mirrors
Researchers at the University of Cambridge have found a way to mix light and molecules. This isn't just about making plants look pretty - it has some serious implications for quantum technologies and manipulating the physical and chemical properties of matter to understand complex processes, such as photosynthesis.
The researchers trapped the light by constructed tiny cavities, which were only one nanometre across. They used the tiny gap between a gold nanoparticle and a mirror, and placed a coloured dye molecule inside.
“It’s like a hall of mirrors for a molecule, only spaced a hundred thousand times thinner than a human hair,” said Professor Jeremy Baumberg of the NanoPhotonics Centre at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research.
It's cutting-edge stuff and the implications are not yet fully understood - but it's a fascinating topic which has the potential to light up a range of scientific discoveries.
And, no, I'm not apologising for that pun.
2. Eternal Data Storage
All data degrades. Whether you're using a state-of-the-art computer or resort to pen and paper, it's impossible to store information forever.
Or is it?
Researchers from the University of Southampton unveiled a method earlier this year that could store data indefinitely. Nano-structured glass is used to record and retrieve 360TB of data on a piece of glass, which is about the size of a 10p coin. At room temperature, the data could exist roughly 13.8 billion years - which is the estimated age of the universe.
Professor Peter Kazansky, from the University’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) , says: “It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations. This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilisation: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”
3. Quantum Computers
A team at the University of Oxford produced a quantum logic gate this year with record-breaking 99.9% precision, reaching the benchmark required to build a quantum computer.
Dr Chris Ballance, a research fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford and lead author of the paper, said: "The development of a “quantum computer” is one of the outstanding technological challenges of the 21st century. A quantum computer is a machine that processes information according to the rules of quantum physics, which govern the behaviour of microscopic particles at the scale of atoms and smaller."
"An important point is that it is not merely a different technology for computing in the same way our everyday computers work; it is at a very fundamental level a different way of processing information. It turns out that this quantum-mechanical way of manipulating information gives quantum computers the ability to solve certain problems far more efficiently than any conceivable conventional computer. One such problem is related to breaking secure codes, while another is searching large data sets. Quantum computers are naturally well-suited to simulating other quantum systems, which may help, for example, our understanding of complex molecules relevant to chemistry and biology."
4. Hawking Radiation
Black holes were assumed to be gravitational sinkholes, which pull in matter and never allow it to escape. However, Professor Stephen Hawking's theory from 1974 disputes this theory and claimed that black holes actually emit tiny particles, allowing energy to escape.
This means that black holes could evaporate completely - which has profound implications for our understanding of the universe.
Hawking has not received a Nobel prize as yet because of the lack of experimental evidence to prove his theory.
But, in April 2016, new research from Israel’s Technion University recreated the conditions of a black hole in a lab using sound waves in order to study how subatomic particles behave on the edge of a black hole, known as an event horizon.
Helium was cooled to a fraction above absolute zero by the team and moved around so quickly that a sound barrier was created – much like the light barrier of a black hole's event horizon.
Phonons, the energy that makes up sound waves, escaped from the sound black hole, much like in Hawking’s theory. However, other scientists remain sceptical and believe there may be an alternative explanation for this leak.
Watch this space.
5. Detecting Gravitational Waves
This illustration shows the merger of two black holes and the gravitational waves that ripple outward as the black holes spiral toward each other. The black holes — which represent those detected by LIGO on Dec. 26, 2015 — were 14 and 8 times the mass of the sun, until they merged, forming a single black hole 21 times the mass of the sun. In reality, the area near the black holes would appear highly warped, and the gravitational waves would be too small to see. Image: T. Pyle/LIGO
I couldn't write an article about the Nobel Physics prize without a nod to, arguably, the most important scientific discovery of 2016: the detection of gravitational waves.
Gravitational waves are tiny ripples is space-time that travel at the speed of light. Einstein's general theory of relativity predicted their existence more than a century ago but, until now, they had remained elusive.
Physicists predicted specific and extreme events, such as the collision of two massive black holes, could release enough gravitational energy to detect these tiny ripples on Earth. On 14 September 2015, the gravitational waves from such a collision were picked up by a pair of detectors known as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO).
The discovery ties together so many core physics principles, it led many to predict Nobel success for the LIGO team.
The role of British scientists in this discovery is prominent, and important, but whether a UK scientist would make the cut and be one of the three scientists eligible for the award seems a little unlikely.
What is important, is to look at the author list on the paper announcing this discovery.
There are 1,004 co-authors.
This discovery, like so many monumental moments in science, transcends a scientist's country of birth or university address. It took hundreds of brilliant minds to bring about this scientific success.
It's a shame that we have to brandish science with the tabloid-esque tripe of which country "wins" at science.
As the LIGO discovery so aptly demonstrates: if we pull together, we could all "win" at science.
Hello. I'm the freelance writer who gets tech. So, I blog on three core topics:
Science and Technology
And I explain science with Lego in Sunday Science.
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