Defining topology through interviews

In the following week I will release a series of interviews with PhD students and Post Docs working in the field of topology. Why? Because Nobel Prize.

chalk-dust-inverse-homotopy-tom-hockenhull
A frame from the Inverse Homotopy, part 1. This is a comic by one of our interviewees, Tom, and can be found in chalkdust magazine.

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics was just awarded to three physicists, one half awarded to David J. Thouless, the other half jointly to F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”.

When I heard the news my interest was peaked and my friends were all like “Hey Rachael, look! It’s topology!” I very quickly realised two things:

  1. that I had no idea what part of topology was being used by these physicists and also
  2. that the vast majority of people online were not defining topology very well (I am not going to point fingers at well established newspapers and websites)

In particular everyone seemed to be going mad about doughnuts and coffee cups and even though this says something about homology – a main player in topology and certainly my closest friend – I fear that it neglects many other really interesting areas that topologists work in.

So I have collected some glorious people that work in different areas of topology, and they will each answer 3 questions for you:

  1. What do you say when trying to explain your work to non-mathematicians?
  2. What would your own personal description of ‘topology’ be?
  3. How does your work relate, if at all, to the Nobel Prize work?

There will of course be pictures involved and hopefully we can all learn how diverse the study of topology can be, as well as a bit more about the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics.

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