Nobel Prize winner Michael Kosterlitz in front of a white board (© AP Images)
Michael Kosterlitz, a winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in physics, says youth and inexperience helped him think creatively. (© AP Images)

Nobel Prize winner Michael Kosterlitz says he was “young and stupid” when he made the discovery that earned him and two other scientists the prestigious physics award.

In the 1970s, Kosterlitz and David Thouless both showed that, against expectations, two-dimensional materials could conduct electricity without any loss to resistance. That property is called superconductivity.

We may not think about it much, but most of us are familiar with the three-dimensional world: we can move left or right, up or down, forward or back. But what would happen to matter in a world that is two dimensional?

According to conventional wisdom, probably nothing too interesting. But Kosterlitz of Brown University in Rhode Island, Thouless of the University of Washington and Duncan Haldane of Princeton University in New Jersey proved everyone wrong. They found and explained strange properties of exotic materials — so thin, they are considered two- or one-dimensional.

Their work will have a big impact on materials in future electronics and quantum computers.

That’s why the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the three men the 2016 Nobel Prize in physics.

Kosterlitz, in his 20s at the time, said that his “complete ignorance” was an advantage in challenging the established science. “I didn’t have any preconceived ideas,” he said. “I was young and stupid enough to take it on.”

Haldane agreed. “You stumble on it and you have the luck to recognize what you’ve found is something very interesting.”

ShareAmerica contributed to this article.