Mike Kosterlitz - climber and Nobel prize winner


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Chris Jones

Social climber
Glen Ellen, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 4, 2016 - 10:09am PT
Nice to add Mike Kosterlitz to the list of Nobel Prize winning climbers! He and two colleagues were just awarded the Nobel in physics for their work on "exotic states of matter." At Cambridge in the mid 1960s he was a formidable rock climber and alpinist. Later while studying in Italy he pioneered routes in the Italian Alps. In 1966 he with Don Willans and one or two others made the first foray by top-rate UK climbers to Yosemite, climbing the Northwest Face of Half Dome and the West Face of Sentinel. Not bad for a short holiday trip.

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
Oct 4, 2016 - 10:41am PT
Very cool. Most of my climbing friends are idiots. This is great news. Thanks for the share.


Mountain climber
Oct 4, 2016 - 11:01am PT
What other rock climbing or mountaineering Nobel laureates are there?

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Oct 4, 2016 - 11:01am PT


I love hearing the Yosemite history part!!


Social climber
Oct 4, 2016 - 11:05am PT
That's cool! There's a crack with his name "Fessura Kosterlitz" in Orco valley in Italy. Really a highball 5.10 hand crack (or possibly easier if it was stateside). We thought we found it on our trip there, but didn't and ended up doing a harder crack FAed by Edlinger: "Fissure du Panetton", only finding out much later of our mistake...

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Oct 4, 2016 - 11:17am PT

Chris, besides Henry Kendall who are the other Nobel prize winners?

Gold Canyon, AZ
Oct 4, 2016 - 11:20am PT
Bill Shockley, inventor of the transistor and FA-ist of "Shockley's Ceiling" in the Gunks, for sure.

Alan Rubin

Oct 4, 2016 - 11:44am PT
Lester Germer a well-known Gunks habituee in the 50s and 60s, was a Bell Laboratory scientist who was a Nobel finalist during the same period as Shockley--so an 'almost'--and along with Kendell (who didn't win his prize until years afterwards)they were all contemporaries in the Northeast US climbing scene--quite a group!!! In addition to the Nobel Laureates, I believe that some climber-mathematicians have won the Fields Medal--the Nobel equivalent in that field of study. I'm sure that Rgold or Jogill can confirm.

Trad climber
Wolfeboro, NH
Oct 4, 2016 - 11:45am PT
Another climber comes to mind:


I believe Henry was the 1st American climber to ascend the Walker Spur-
a respected climb BITD.

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Oct 4, 2016 - 11:54am PT
In 1967, I read an article in Summit by D. Jock McPherson (if I remember rightly, which at my age becomes increasingly unlikely), a climber from Washington state, describing his ascent of the West Face of Sentinel Rock with Mike in 1966. Robbins had a footnote hinting at some of Mike's accomplishments in the Europe, including the Phillip/Flamm route on the Civetta -- a route that, at the time, I regarded as cutting edge.

I was wondering if that climber was the Nobel winning physicist. Thanks for confirming that he is. Who's next? Ed Hartouni, what are you working on?



Gold Canyon, AZ
Oct 4, 2016 - 11:54am PT
Lester Germer a well-known Gunks habituee in the 50s and 60s, was a Bell Laboratory scientist who was a Nobel finalist during the same period as Shockley.

Yep. Close but no cigar. Germer's boss at Bell Labs (Clinton Davisson) did win the Nobel prize in physics, but Germer did not get a share of the prize. Interesting, because the seminal work cited is still called the Davisson-Germer experiment.

Alan Rubin

Oct 4, 2016 - 12:25pm PT
Thanks Curt, I had heard that Lester Germer was 'somehow overlooked' when the Prize was awarded but wasn't certain enough about the details to include them in my prior post, so glad you did. I don't know if this had anything to do with what happened around the Nobel, but Lester was definitely an eccentric individual--at least in the climbing world, who often didn't 'see eye-to-eye' with the 'powers that be'. His personality and 'niche' in the Gunks is discussed in some detail in Guy and Laura Waterman's book Yankee Rock and Ice.

I met Mike Kosterlitz briefly in Chamonix in the late '60s---he was definitely a well-respected climber amongst his peers at that time.

Gold Canyon, AZ
Oct 4, 2016 - 12:47pm PT
Irving Langmuir (1932) and Manfred Eigen (1967) were both chemistry Nobel laureates and apparently mountaineers.

Disclaimer: so says a Google search--I have no personal knowledge of this.

Ben Campbell-Kelly

Gym climber
Oslo, Norway
Oct 4, 2016 - 05:31pm PT
Great post Chris..
Back in the early 70's I climbed with Mike Kosterlitz quite a few times. I read somewhere we did the FFA of The Pin on the Shelter Stone crag in the Scottish Cairngorms - not that I can remember so clearly through the fog of time (The Pin was a RAB Carrington creation). But the highlight of the trip had to be outwitting the ferocious Scottish midges that were determined to eat us alive. Be warned!
Sadly, the UK went into recession in the 70's and many of us had to leave to get jobs in Europe and North America. I moved to Norway and Mike and many others moved to USA. In fact all the three Nobel laureates for the 2016 Physics prize are brits living and working in USA.
As a matter of interest Mike's father Hans Kosterlitz was the man who identified endorphins and enkephalins. Endorphins, being the body's natural painkillers, are responsible for the rush we get out of climbing. Mmmm.. so good!

Now I can say one of my climbing friends is a Nobel prize winner - how cool is THAT!
Thanks for the share.
Mighty Hiker

Outside the Asylum
Oct 4, 2016 - 05:40pm PT
Hi, Ben! Would Blob want to know the news?

Did the Kosterlitz family emigrate to England?
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Oct 4, 2016 - 06:18pm PT
Who's next? Ed Hartouni, what are you working on?

I'm working on NIF, but not in a way likely to earn a Nobel Prize...

maybe Mike Bolte...

Trad climber
Oct 4, 2016 - 07:21pm PT
The last great physicist to make contributions to both theory and experiment:
Enrico Fermi
He was an avid climber, both in the Alps and Peru
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

Out Of Bed
Oct 5, 2016 - 03:49am PT
To many great things being mentioned by far more worthy participants !

But Dr E Hartouni, may not want to share a name.

I'm waiting and always expect to see the TorR attached to that award.
I'll leave it at that.

The Bell Labaratorys at/in Murry Hill - No one calls it that .
The Labs are In Berkley Heights NJ. The Campus is huge and goes underground a ways
There are active gun turrets overlooking the whole shebang.
Growing up, its presence was felt in many ways. Both because parents who worked there, schools in the area benefit too and the Diabase I sprout from is walking distance,
or a very short down hill ride from the Labs.

The climbers and Canoe club was a thing.
It was the 1st organization to try to get climbing open in New Jersey.
( failed - got a great resource noticed and so closed - yup )
My climbing partner, Victor Benesh(sp?) was a solid soloist, well into his 50s.
I met many of the Labs guys and got to hear 1st hand stories of the search for archives,
and other things that went on in the vast complexe. It always sounded like fun.

Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
Oct 7, 2016 - 09:35am PT
ha, ha Ed H.

I've had my brush with the Nobel. In 1995 Craig Hogan, a cosmologist at U Chicago, and I were asked to write a review for Nature about the hot topic of the time which was that the ages estimated for the oldest stars in the Galaxy was 15 billion years, but the expansion age of the Universe since the Big Bang was looking more like 8.5 billion years. Either the our understanding of stellar structure and evolution was significantly flawed or there was something wrong the General Relativistic models of the Universe and our measurements of the current day expansion rate and the expansion history of the Universe.

We looked carefully at all the random and systematic errors in all the relevant observations and all the cross-checking observations and concluded that the most likely resolution of the discrepancy between stellar and expansion ages was a non-zero value for the so-called cosmological constant in Einstein's GR equation. We even concluded the article by suggesting that the best observational test would be to make measurements of a particular type of supernova at large distances and look-back times.

The 2011 Nobel prize was given to members of the two teams who used those supernovae to demonstrate a non-zero cosmological constant The number measured for the cosmological constant was even the value Craig and I suggested in our 1995 article.

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Oct 7, 2016 - 01:18pm PT
With regard to Alan's comment, many mathematicians climb, not necessarily at world-class levels. The only Fields Medalist I can think of is John Milnor, who used to climb some in the Gunks and elsewhere.

There are quite a few prominent mathematicians who climb; I'm sure I don't know even close to the full list and won't begin to attempt it here. From BITD, Hassler Whitney (Steele Prize, Ford Prize, Stiefel-Whitney classes, Geometric Integration Theory) comes to mind, as does Georges de Rham (de Rham cohomoogy), who climbed with Milnor in Switzerland in the 60's (when in his late fifties) and who had quite an alpine career for his day, being among the best climbers in Switzerland from 1930 to 1960.

There are many contemporary mathematicians who climb; among them John Gill who we all know stands out for his vision and accomplishments, but it is far beyond my present capacity to attempt a better list.

Although this has little to with mathematics, (now we're into astrophysics) it is not totally inappropriate to bump a thread I started on Lyman Spitzer, a climber, wonderful human being, and "father of the Hubble Telescope." http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/1596980/An-Astronomer-Climber

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