Professor David Thouless FRS: 1934–2019

8th April 2019 in News and Events, People

Professor David Thouless FRS: 1934–2019

21 September 1934–6 April 2019.

The College is saddened to hear the news that Honorary Fellow and Nobel Prize winner, Professor David Thouless died this weekend. David was the College's first Director of Studies in Physics from 1961–5 before getting a chair in Birmingham and returned to the College as a Visiting Fellow some years later.

David was one of three British scientists awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2016 for "theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.” 

He was educated at Winchester College, and read Natural Sciences at Trinity Hall. He obtained his BA in 1955, and then did graduate work in physics at Cornell University under the supervision of Hans Bethe, getting his PhD in 1958. After a year at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California, he did a further two years of post-doctoral work with Rudolf Peierls at Birmingham University. He moved to Cambridge in 1961, where he was an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, and a Fellow of Churchill College. In 1965, he moved back to Birmingham as a Professor of Mathematical Physics. It was there that he did the work with Mike Kosterlitz on topological phase transitions that was cited in the award of the Nobel Prize in 2016. Between 1978-1980, he had brief appointments at Queen's University in Canada and at Yale University in the USA, before moving to the University of Washington in 1980. There he did further work on topological phases of low-dimensional systems, which was the second piece of work cited in the award of his Nobel Prize. He remained at the University of Washington until he retired in 2003. He and his wife Margaret returned to live in Cambridge in 2014.

Other honours and awards include the Maxwell Medal in 1973, the Holweck Prize in 1980, the Lars Onsager Prize in 2000, and the Wolf Prize for Physics in 1990. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and an Honorary Fellow of Trinity Hall and Clare Hall. 

The College extends its condolences to Margaret and their three children.


Photo — David Thouless © Trinity Hall, Cambridge University. Photo: Kiloran Howard