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BLOG | NEWS | 04 October 2016

Nobel Prize in Physics for British Rock Climber, Michael Kosterlitz

This Scottish-born climber opened routes in the Alps and Orco Valley, in the seventies and made the first repeat of The American Direct on Les Dru, in 1966.

Towards the end of the sixties, a young climber from Aberdeen was at the forefront of European climbing. Raised on the climbing style and ethics of Scotland, he soon looked further afield, to the Alps, where, together with Mick Burke, he made the first repeat of the American Direct on Les Dru, in 1966 and two years later opened the rarely repeated Via degli Inglesi, ED on Piz Badille.

Following a period as a postdoctoral researcher at Torino University, he opened numerous routes in Orco Valley, also dubbed the Italian Yosemite. Here he introduced bouldering to the area and the Fessura Kosterlitz, named after him, is still the most famous crack in the area.

"It was amazing, just amazing. There was the continuous succession of granite walls, one more beautiful and larger than the other, where everything was still to be done. It was like discovering a Yosemite behind the door. For me, accustomed to small walls of Wales and Derbyshire, exploited till the last foothold, it was heaven on earth. There was more virgin rock just on Caporal then on all Snowdonia. We only had to decide where to go, it was absolutely incredible that there were still places like that," affirmed the Nobel Prize winner years later in an interview with Gianni Battimelli.

Michael Kosterlitz played an important role in the initiation of the Nuovo Mattino (New Morning) movement, which appreciated creativity, ethics and the innovation of equipment and free climbing, rather than the old-fashioned values of the time, that focussed on summits, nationalism and heroics.

During his time as a researcher in Brown University, Rhode Island (where he still holds a position), he climbed the big walls of Yosemite and also opened a number of trad. routes, such as the beautiful Kosterlitz-Highbee crack in the Bugaboos.

Unfortunately, due to serious health problems, he was forced to put climbing to one side. However, he was able to centre his efforts on research, which led to the 2016 Nobel Prize for Physics.

It is interesting to note that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences refers to 1972 as the period which played an essential role in the discovery which has led to this award. In the same year Michael was at his most active as climber, in the Italian Orco valley, which demonstrates that love and passion for the mountains is by no means incompatible with research into such specific areas.

NOBEL PRIZE
The Nobel Prize for Physics was also awarded to David J. Thouless and F. Duncan M. Haldane for “revealing the secrets of exotic matter”. The Swedish Academy affirms that the three British laureates have made “theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”. They also mention the implications this discovery has for the future:“Thanks to their pioneering work, the hunt is now on for new and exotic phases of matter. Many people are hopeful of future applications in both materials science and electronics.”

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