David J. Thouless

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]

David Thouless

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)
Scientific career
FieldsCondensed matter physics
ThesisThe application of perturbation methods to the theory of nuclear matter (1958)
Doctoral advisorHans Bethe[4]
Notable studentsJ. Michael Kosterlitz (postdoc)[1]


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]

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, giving a course on atomic physics.[13][14][15] 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,[16] and professor of applied science at Yale University from 1979 to 1980,[15] before becoming a professor of physics at the University of Washington[17] in Seattle in 1980.[16] Thouless made many theoretical contributions to the understanding of extended systems of atoms and electrons, and of nucleons.[18][19][20] He also worked on superconductivity phenomena, properties of nuclear matter, and excited collective motions within nuclei.[18][19][20]

Thouless made many important contributions to the theory of many-body problems.[20] For atomic nuclei, he cleared up the concept of 'rearrangement energy' and derived an expression for the moment of inertia of deformed nuclei.[20] In statistical mechanics, he contributed many ideas to the understanding of ordering, including the concept of 'topological ordering'.[20] Other important results relate to localised electron states in disordered lattices.[2][20]

Academic papers

Selected papers[21] 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.
  • 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.


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).[22] Among his awards are the Wolf Prize for Physics (1990),[23] the Paul Dirac Medal of the Institute of Physics (1993), the Lars Onsager Prize[24] of the American Physical Society (2000), and the Nobel Prize in Physics (2016).[19][25]

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.[26] He died on 6 April 2019 in Cambridge, aged 84.[6]


  1. Anon (2016). "BBC Radio 4 profile: Professor David J Thouless". London: BBC.
  2. 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. David J. Thouless at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  5. "Thouless, Prof. David James". Who's Who. ukwhoswho.com. 2016 (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
  6. "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. ISBN 9780946653706 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. ISBN 9789814329880 via Google Books.
  13. "The Nobel Prize in Physics 2016". NobelPrize.org. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  14. "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.
  15. "David Thouless". aip.org. Archived from the original on 5 October 2016. Retrieved 10 October 2016.
  16. "Two former Birmingham scientists awarded Nobel Prize for Physics". University of Birmingham. 4 October 2016. Retrieved 4 October 2016.
  17. Nijs, Marcel den (31 May 2019). "David Thouless (1934–2019)". Science. 364 (6443): 835. doi:10.1126/science.aax9125. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 31147511.
  18. "The Nobel Prize in Physics 2016". NobelPrize.org.
  19. 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. Bibcode:2016Natur.538...18G. doi:10.1038/nature.2016.20722. PMID 27708331.
  20. "David J. Thouless Facts". Nobel Prize.org. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  21. David J. Thouless publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  22. "David Thouless". National Academy of Sciences Online. Archived from the original on 10 October 2016. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  23. David J. Thouless Winner of Wolf Prize in Physics – 1990 on the official website of Wolf Foundation
  24. "2018 Stanley Corrsin Award Recipient". www.aps.org.
  25. "David J. Thouless − Facts". Nobel Media AB 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  26. 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.
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