Born in Budapest, he went to high school at the Minta Gymnasium, but due to anti-Jewish laws he had to leave the country, gaining his master's degree at the Sorbonne in Paris. He obtained his doctorate in low-temperature physics in Berlin, working with Professor Franz Simon. However, when Adolf Hitler rose to power, both Simon and Kurti left Germany, joining the Clarendon Laboratory in the University of Oxford, England.
During World War II he worked on the Manhattan project, returning to Oxford in 1945. In 1956, Simon and Kurti built a laboratory experiment that reached a temperature of one microkelvin. This work attracted worldwide attention, and Kurti was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He later became the society's Vice-President from 1965 to 1967.
He became Professor of Physics at Oxford in 1967, a post he held until his retirement in 1975. He was also Visiting Professor at City College in New York, the University of California, Berkeley, and Amherst College in Massachusetts.
His hobby was cooking, and he was an enthusiastic advocate of applying scientific knowledge to culinary problems. In 1969 he gave a talk at the Royal Society titled "The physicist in the kitchen", in which he amazed the audience by using the recently invented microwave oven to make a "reverse Baked Alaska", aka Frozen Florida (cold outside, hot inside). Over the years he organized several international workshops in Erice, Italy on "Molecular and Physical Gastronomy."
- Sanders, J. H. (2000). "Nicholas Kurti, C.B.E. 14 May 1908 -- 24 November 1998: Elected F.R.S. 1956". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 46: 299. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1999.0086.
- Scurlock, Ralph (June 1999). "Obituary: Nicholas Kurti". Physics Today 52 (6): 77–78. Bibcode:1999PhT....52f..77S. doi:10.1063/1.2802798.
- But the Crackling is Superb: An Anthology on Food and Drink by Fellows and Foreign Members of The Royal Society of London ISBN 0-7503-0488-X
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- Oral History interview transcript with Nicholas Kurti 11 September 1968, American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library and Archives