Outstanding Talk from Nobel Prize Winner

7th December 2020
BY Julian Perry, Senior Chemistry Technician

On 7 December, the Science Society hosted an excellent online lecture by Nobel-prize winning, theoretical physicist, Professor J. Michael Kosterlitz. The lecture was watched by boys, dons and support staff from Winchester College, as well as pupils from Barton Peveril, Peter Symonds, Midhurst Rother and St Swithun’s schools.  

Professor Kosterlitz engagingly recounted his life story, starting with his early days at Cambridge (where he almost forgot to take his finals!) to his post-doctoral work at Birmingham University, and then receiving the Nobel Prize with Old Wykehamist David Thouless in 2016. He described Thouless as a genius, and as great a figure as the American theoretical physicist, and fellow Nobel Prize winner, Richard Feynman.  Kosterlitz suggested that 95% of his own journey to the Nobel Prize was simply luck: a combination of being in the right place, with the right people, with the right problem, at the right time. He also talked about his passion for rock-climbing, having almost decided to become a professional mountaineer.

Questions afterwards ranged from how he overcame his multiple sclerosis, to what was the biggest physics problem currently keeping him awake at night. He was also asked about the Kosterlitz Constant, which is included in his KTHNY-theory that describes the melting of crystals in two dimensions.  

The audience reaction to the talk was very positive. “Very entertaining. I learned about technical physics and the highs of rock climbing from a Nobel winner,” said first-year pupil, Alexander Hornsey.  “It really was a very good talk indeed,” said Matthew Burnett, Master-in-charge of Science Society. “Kosterlitz is that much-needed tonic of humility which best represents the scientific community.”


Photo: Professor Kosterlitz receiving his Nobel Prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. © Brown University

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