Condensed matter…?

I started this blog to give everyone the chance to accompany me on my daily journeys through the wonderful landscape of Condensed Matter Physics – hoping that some would enjoy the trip. More recently, however, the site you are reading has become more about things that lay beyond condensed matter physics. It now includes various personal observations about everything from European politics to business practices and the social role of academia – and even some poetry.

So what is Condensed Matter Physics (or cond-mat, for short)? It is certainly not the science of the very big, nor of the very small. Rather, cond-mat studies things that are in-between: a magnet; an ice cube; a superconductor; almost anything that is neither sub-atomic nor the size of a planet.

So what’s the point? For a physicist, what these things have in common is that they are complex: they are made up of myriad microscopic particles interacting with each other according to the laws of classical and quantum mechanics. Out of this complexity the world around us emerges, with all its beautiful and deceptively simple properties: magnets magnetize; water freezes; and a superconductor exhibits all that wonderful and fascinating quantum-mechanical behaviour.

At its heart, condensed matter physics is an attempt to understand this: how the simple yet fascinating properties of seemingly ordinary matter emerge from the complex motions of trillions upon trillions of minute particles that make it up.

I still devote most of my time to exploring the physics of condensed matter – but I now log those efforts (together with those of my students and collaborators, as well as the occasional commentary on someone else’s work) on my official research group blog at the University of Kent, The name of the present blog, however, remains apt as, ultimately, all the stuff around us results from the complex behaviour of many interacting components. Condensed Matter Physics just happens to focus on systems that are simple enough that a quantitative understanding, on the basis of a few simple laws and basic principles (i.e. in the way Physicists like it) may just about be achievable. For everything else there’s opinion, intuition, poetry and hope.

Jorge Quintanilla
Harwell, 6 April 2009
Canterbury, 28 July and 20 October 2015

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