Condensed Matter/Solid State Physics/Materials Science?

  • Thread starter mc0210
  • Start date
  • #1
Hi all,
I was just wandering what exactly the difference is between the three above areas. From what I understand, solid state physics is a branch of condensed matter. However, would materials science background be very helpful for these areas of study? Any insight would be appreciated, thanks!

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Condensed matter usually refers to things like superconductivity, ferromagnetism, topological insulators/other topological phases (usually under solid state), liquid crystals, granular fluids, polymers (soft matter), bose-einstein condensates, cold atomic gases, among other topics.
Materials science seems to focus more on studying materials in order to make materials with certain properties like certain structural or electrical properties. An example of active research is ferroelectrics, materials that have a spontaneous electric polarization that can be switched by applying an electric field.
  • #3
Thanks for the response! I think its applications are really cool, its just my chemistry is decent, definitely not one of my strengths. Is it a whole lot of chemistry? My current physics teacher is in solid state and I am going to ask him about this area as well.
  • #4
essentially they all tend to look at similar problems, but depending on what you are trying to accomplish each approach has a slightly different tool set. actually, solid sate and condensesd mater are really the same. condensed could be looked at as taking all the lessons from solid state and seeing that they can be applied to a wide range of problems in systems that may or may not be in a perfect solid state. materials science is more of a engineering approach to the problems of how to make a bit of matter do something in particular. so it will more or less come down to do you see your self as a physicist or an engineer?
  • #5
Well at the moment, I definitely align more with the physics. I was curious because I find this to be an interesting field and my school has an engineering physics degree with this as a focus. Thought it could make an interesting combination.
  • #6
From my experience, condensed matter physics tends to look at idealized materials (e.g. near perfect single crystals) and fundamental subjects (e.g. quantum phase transitions at very low temperature physics), whereas materials science is more focused on real-world materials (strained polycrystals full of defects) and very applied questions (how do I make this metal stronger?).

Condensed matter and solid state seems to mean more or less the same, but not all condensed matter is solid.

As always there is a big gray zone in between these subjects that can be either, depending on who you ask.
  • #7
Thanks for the response! It seems pretty clear to me that the two are not as related as I would have thought.
Again, thank you
  • #8
Hey. I did a bachelors in physics (emphasis in solid state) and am now in a PhD program in materials science and engineering. Maybe I can provide some insight.

Condensed matter physics deals physical phenomena in condensed phases of matter (solid phases, liquid phase, superconducting phase, ferromagnetic phase, etc.). Condensed matter physicists try to explain the physical phenomena using mostly quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, and E&M. Solid state physics, the largest branch of condensed matter physics, is concerned with physical phenomena and properties of solids. The emphasis of the research conducted in SS/CM physics is to discover and explain new physical phenomena.

Materials science and engineering is the applied SS/CM physics. Knowledge of SS/CM physics is used to study real world material systems, with the emphasis on practical application. In contrast, physicists are more likely to deal with ideal systems to better study the science behind things. People in MSE also learn more about defects, processing, characterization, etc. in hopes of designing or improving material systems.
  • #9
Basically, Materials Science = Solid State Physics + Solid State Chemistry, but without the theoretical background and focus of either of those. That is, it focuses more on processing, manufacture and characterization of novel materials for real world use than trying to figure out the physico-chemical phenomena of the materials occuring in nature.

Sometimes, materials science may have elements of metallurgy as well, but not always. You are more likely to work with Ellingham diagrams as an MSE major, for example, while a chemist would be looking at something like Latimer or Pourbaix diagram a lot more. The Solid State Physics major would be more concerned with band diagrams in general :) .
Last edited: