​Nobel Prize laureate in physics of 2016, J Michael Kosterlitz, giving his keynote speech at the LT28 conference on ) August. Photo: Michael Nystås

Flying start for conference on low temperature physics

"28th International Conference on Low Temperature Physics" got a flying start on Wednesday with an inspiring lecture by Nobel Prize winner J Michael Kosterlitz. "I first thought it was a joke, but when I got to Stockholm and received the price, I realized it must be true," he told.

Actually, Nobel Prize winner J Michael Kosterlitz would rather climb cliffs. But as a young doctor at the University of Birmingham, there were no mountains in sight – so Kosterlitz continued researching instead, he said in his speech at the Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre on 9 August.

The major conference "28th International Conference on Low Temperature Physics" brings together 900 researchers from around the world on 9-16 August. The conference started with a keynote speech by J Michael Kosterlitz, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2016 together with David Thouless and Duncan Haldane for their work in the physics of condensed matter. Kosterlitz opened the conference with the lecture "Topological Order and Defects, and Phase Transitions in Two Dimensions".

In front of an interested audience, he told about his inspiring journey up to the Nobel Prize, and how it happened when he received the happy message.
"I was waiting at an underground car park when the phone rang. Then I had this weird conversation; a person with a strong Swedish accent said something about the Swedish National Academy and something about a Nobel Prize. I first thought it was a joke, but when I got to Stockholm and received the price, I realized it was true, said Michael Kosterlitz.
He is a professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.
"Our work was done early in the 1970s, so we had to wait a long time for the Nobel Prize, which came last year."

In his youth, Michael Kosterlitz was one of Britain's most skilled rock climbers. He even has his own mountain named in Italy – Fessura Kosterlitz in the famous Orco Valley, where he renewed the climbing during his time at the University of Torino (Instituto di Fisica Teorica) in the 60s and 70s. Kosterlitz was employed as a postdoctoral student in Torino after attending the University of Oxford in Britain.
"I carried out long tedious calculations on the Veneziano Model which was actually a precursor to modern string theory. But when I wanted to go to Cern, I succeeded in submitting a delayed application, thanks to my usual chaotic lack of organisation. My wife then helped me look for vacancies in Britain instead and I applied for and got a place in Birmingham. "Sit down and apply!", she urged me.
But, in fact, Birmingham was the last place he wanted to come to. So it was with some reluctance that Michael Kosterlitz accepted the service he was offered. In Birmingham, he worked alone with continued calculations in high temperature physics, but eventually became increasingly frustrated:
"I was repeatedly scooped by a research team in Washington, who was actually doing the same thing what I was trying to do but they always managed to do it first. I was on my own and just couldn't keep up with them. So after this had happened at least twice, probably three times, I got really fed up and started walking around the department asking people if they had some problem maybe we could look at."
He continued his fascinating story:
"I eventually found myself in David Thouless office listening to him, talking of all sorts of weird and wonderful things that I knew very little about, that's actually an exaggeration, that I knew nothing about; things like topology and phase transitions in two-dimensions. David had a related problem that they had broken for 20 years and we said we might be able to investigate it further", Michael Kosterlitz told us.
The rest is, as it is called, history. In 2016, Thouless and Kosterlitz were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their groundbreaking discoveries in Birmingham. At the Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre, Kosterlitz praised his colleague:
"David Thouless is a most remarkable man, he has the most incredible mind, he knew everything about everything and was a brilliant mathematician as well", he said about his friend and colleague.

Per Delsing, Professor of Experimental Physics at the Department of Microtechnology and Nanoscience – MC2 – at Chalmers, is chairman of the Local Organization Committee for the Conference "28th International Conference on Low Temperature Physics – LT28". It is the most important conference in low temperature physics, and is organized every three years, alternating in Europe, Asia and America. This year's conference is organized by MC2 in collaboration with the Department of Physics at the University of Gothenburg.
The target group is physicist who works at low temperatures.
"I think and hope that this conference will be a success. We have around 900 registered participants, and I'm sure we have a very exciting week ahead",said Per Delsing in his welcome speech.
The LT conferences are of ancient lineage. The first was arranged in Cambridge in the late 40's, already.
"My first conference was LT17 in Karlsruhe 33 years ago. You who are here for the first time can look forward to arranging LT40 around the year 2050", said Per Delsing (picture below).

He also thanked the conference's main sponsors: The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), Oxford Instruments and BlueFors Cryogenics. The organizers also receive a certain contribution from the Nobel Institute of Physics in Stockholm.
"As you can imagine there are quite a lot of people who have been working with this conference  already before we start and I want to thank these people for putting in a lot of hard work to make this thing happen. Especially the programme committee chairs have put in a lot of effort to make the program and to sort all abstracts and everything, said Per Delsing.

The local organizing committee has consisted of Per Delsing, Jonas Bylander, Mikael Fogelström, Floriana Lombardi, Thilo Bauch, Susannah Carlsson, Tord Claeson, Henrik Johannesson, Göran Johansson, Sergey Kubatkin, Tomas Löfwander, Vitaly Shumeiko, Janine Splettstoesser, Dag Winkler, August Yurgens and Stellan Östlund.
The five program committees have been chaired by Mikael Fogelström, Floriana Lombardi, Stellan Östlund, Göran Johansson and Thilo Bauch.
"As you know there are also satellite conferences around the LT conferences. This year there are four of them; in Helsinki, Stockholm, Heidelberg and Leipzig. The Helsinki conference has just ended and I know that several of you were there. The ones in Stockholm, Heidelberg and Leipzig will start directly after we finish here", said Per Delsing.

The LT28 conference was concluded by Professor Per Delsing from MC2. He thanked the local organizing committe, the programme committees, the advisory committee, the conference chairs, the session hosts, the poster work committee, all the speakers, Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre, the sponsors, and Tania Börjesson and Ulla Conti from the Resia organizers.
"I also would like to thank Susannah Carlsson, who I know really have put in a lot of work. Thank you for remembering all the things that I've forgot, I can tell you that there's quite a few things. The programme committes with the chairs have also put in a lot of work to make the scientific programme. The reason why I think this has been a great conference is all of the speakers, I think we have had some really, really good talks here", said Per Delsing.

The conference ended with a short presentation of the LT29 conference, which will be arranged in Sapporo, Japan, on 16-22 August 2020. Naoto Nagaosa, co-chair of the organizing committee, thanked the LT28 organizers and congratulated them for their success. He welcomed all participants to the Sapporo Convention Center in central Sapporo, with a capacity of 2 500 people in its largest congress hall.

Text and photo: Michael Nystås

Article updated 7 September 2017.

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Published: Fri 11 Aug 2017. Modified: Thu 07 Sep 2017