Another UW Nobel Prize illustrates the value of government spending on scientific research.

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THE University of Washington celebrated another Nobel Prize winner this week. David James Thouless, a UW emeritus professor of physics, was one of three winners of the 2016 Nobel Prize in physics.

Thouless was honored for pure scientific research he did decades ago that has led to some amazing technological developments and is still informing scientific work today. Although the prize is a salute to this man’s genius and creativity, it is also a great reminder of the need for the U.S. government to support scientific research even when the results of that work might not be seen for 40 years or longer.

It’s also an indication of how much Washington benefits from having two world-reknowned research universities, whose scientists are changing the world with their discoveries while training the next generation of scientists in their classrooms and laboratories. The University of Washington is one of the largest recipients of government research dollars in the United States.

Thouless is the UW’s seventh Nobel laureate and the second in physics after Hans Dehmelt in 1989. The other UW winners have been honored for their work in medicine and physiology: E. Donnall Thomas in 1990, Erwin G. Krebs and Edmond H. Fischer in 1992, Leland Hartwell in 2001 and Linda B. Buck in 2004. At the time of their awards, Thomas, Hartwell and Buck were also researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Thouless won for breakthroughs in the 1970s and ’80s in understanding matter. His work has led to modern research on innovative materials like thin magnetic films. He was honored for both his theoretical work and for his contributions to materials science.

Robert Stacey, the dean of the UW College of Arts and Sciences, says Thouless’ work is a great example of the university’s commitment to scientific research and helps explain the complex universe.

“It reminds us how important fundamental scientific research and education are to our society, even when the practical applications of such research take decades to emerge,” Stacey said.