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Should I take Solid State Physics?

  1. Jun 10, 2008 #1
    I'll be in my senior year next year, taking Solid State in the fall. I've taken Thermal, E&M, QM, Modern, Mathematical, Stat Mech, and a few circuit labs.

    I'm just not sure if taking SS would be worth it for me. The course description makes it out to be what we just did in Stat Mech this quarter, but more in depth. We sort of covered conductivity with things like band gaps and phonons and Fermi Gasses in Metals.

    I don't know what I want to do yet in graduate school, though. I really would like to do something with a direct application, like nano-electronics or quantum computing, but those are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head, and I know there are HUGE fields in physics that are directly applicable to life, I just don't know of them.

    Instead of SS I was thinking of taking an Electronics course, something a bit more indepth than "here is a resistor".

    Does anybody have any advice for me?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 10, 2008 #2


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    Solid State physics is the biggest division in physics I think, It depends on what you want to do with your life. If you want to become a researcher, I would choose solid state physics course, since it is the basics for very much of contemporary physics. Also, remember that electronics is fundamentally solid state physics (insulators, conductors, semiconducturs etc).

    Look at SS physics as applied stat mech and quantum mechanics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_state_physics

    We did very much in my intro course in solid state, and it is one of my favorite courses so far.
  4. Jun 10, 2008 #3


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    If you plan on doing experimental work down the road, knowing more electronics would be quite useful in the lab.
  5. Jun 10, 2008 #4

    Based on that link and what I've learned in my stat mech course, it seems like Solid State is learning a lot of different models that you can work with, without any real new concepts.

    By concepts, I mean things like new laws or theories being introduced, just things that we know aren't correct but work quite well for what they are intended for. Is this a fairly accurate statement?

    I definitely want to go into experimentalism.
  6. Jun 10, 2008 #5

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    I took Solid State as a grad student, I didn't take any electronics until well after I earned my PhD (I am a theorist by training). I am better in the lab since, but I wish I took circuits etc before I was forced to to help me keep my job. If you ever intend on working in the lab, take as much electronics, circuits and experimental design as early as you can.
  7. Jun 10, 2008 #6
    Thank you. Now if the EE department will let me waive the prerequisites, I'll be set.
  8. Jun 11, 2008 #7


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    Well I have no idea how the curriculum for your solid state course looks like, but Solid State physics (experimental) is like the fusion of quantum- atomic- molecular- statistical- electronic- magnetic- thermal- physics. With much new stuff, one important feature is the periodicity and lattices. And you have to start in one end of the rope, with the basics. And the basics has often quite many rude approximations.

    And solid state physics is big, everything from making electronic devices and optics, to exotic stuff like superconductors and advanced magnetic materials.

    One could also say that atomic physics, nuclear physics etc, is just models that uses quantum mechanics.
  9. Jun 11, 2008 #8
    I took solid-state physics last semester and it was the most painful and unhappy class experience I have ever had. This was partly because my professor was a joke and partly because I found out after it was too late to drop that I just hated the subject. So I definitely would recommend you take the class not really in order to have an amazing educational experience but in order to figure out whether physics is really for you. Solid-state physics is basically the same thing as condensed matter physics and the Wikipedia page says that at least 1/3 of physicists call themselves condensed matter physicists. So this is a topic that will probably be reoccurring constantly throughout your career if you go into professional. before I took that class, I was whole-heartedly in love with physics but then taking the class made me realize that is not something I want so it allowed me to switch my post-college plans to mathematics instead of physics early enough to get into a good math grad school (hopefully).

    Unlike the courses you mentioned you had already taken, solid-state physics is much more of an "applications" class instead of a "theory" class. So again my suggestion is take the class to get an introduction to what many physicists do for a living.
  10. Jun 11, 2008 #9
    Maybe you should have a look at Fraser's "The new Physics for the twenty-first century".


    A collection of 19 articles from physicists of every branch of physics you can think of. Each of them giving an overview of the state of the art (in 2006) in his field and boasting that it is the coolest of them all. At about the level of a "Scientific American" article. This might give you some inspiration. Quite expensive though, maybe you can find it in your library or steal or borrow it.
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2008
  11. Jun 11, 2008 #10
    I think I saw something similar in the physics lounge. They might have an up-to-date one. If not, the library is my next stop. Buying it would still be worth it if I can't borrow it...
  12. Jun 11, 2008 #11


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    There are some junior-level pre-reqs that they should not waive. If you are well-schooled in undergrad physics, you should not need to take any of the Physics or Engineering Mathematics (sometimes called Applied Mathematics) that EEs might be taking (like Diff Eq; Complex Numbers and Variables; Probability, Random Variables, & Random Processes; Matrix Theory and Applications, maybe some Approximation Theory and Numerical Methods), but you should take a good course in Signals and Systems or what used to be known as Linear System Theory which is a generalization of Linear Electric Circuits. You'ld propbably ace those courses but you should have the discipline of thinking in terms of those course offer before taking courses in Electronic Circuits, Control Systems Theory, Communications Systems Theory, or Digital Signal Processing. Knowing about that stuff can help you understand more of the target goals for VSLI design which would get much closer to the physics of devices from which Solid State Physics might.

    Electronics is about 3/4 Circuits (how to hook up devices to accomplish a certain mathematical signal processing task that you want) with the other 1/4 about Devices (what are devices that we have around to hook up and what, in terms of mathematical input-output descriptions, are their physical characteristics). Most EEs (like me) look at the physics of devices as a sorta alchemy (we don't think so much about where the holes and electrons go or why or how) and worry more about the sorta "macroscopic" behavior of the devices, i.e. their "volt-amp characteristics" (Ebers-Moll equations). As a physicist who is also knowledgable about target electronic goals, you could be very valuable in doing chip design and such. If such is interesting to you, you should take Solid State Physics or maybe Semiconductor Physics.
  13. Jun 12, 2008 #12
    Didn't seem that way for me in the slightest. Obviously your SS and SM courses could differ from mine, but while I would consider them overlapping, the two classes, when I took them, had radically different curricula. Also, I would characterize that second paragraph you wrote as incorrect, or at least misleading.

    Having said that, from all you've told us it seems to me you would benefit a lot more from the electronics than the solid state.
  14. Jun 14, 2008 #13
    Could you elaborate a bit? So far I've only learned the Debye thoery of solids (and not too deep into it) and the Fermi Gas model for metals. We know where they break down and it's not really how it works, but it's a good approximation for the range which we apply it to.

    Right now I'm still signed up for the SS lecture and lab. I had to apply to take the class through the EE department because it's not my major. I'll know in September whether I can take it or not. :tongue:

    Would this class be what you are talking about? I can't seem to find any of the names you mentioned:

    E E 233 Circuit Theory (5)
    Electric circuit theory. Analysis of circuits with sinusoidal signals. Phasors, system functions, and complex frequency. Frequency response. Computer analysis of electrical circuits. Power and energy. Two port network theory. Laboratory in basic electrical engineering topics.

    If that's not it then it's just not listed in the catalog, because the next class after this is the one I want to take. It just seems like I've seen most of this stuff before so I decided to skip it. The reviewer who I sent my application to will look over it and see if I'm ready to skip this or not, though.

    Circuit design is very interesting to me and now I don't know what to do...
  15. Jun 23, 2008 #14
    what if i'm a 3rd year undergrad, leaning more towards theoretical/mathematical physics, but i may change my mind. is it still recommended to take solid state?
  16. Jun 30, 2008 #15
    There is no "really" how it works though; that's the trick, you can't predict macroscopic properties of materials from their microscopic constituents. You were suggesting the model is not a representation of the physical reality, but that's a dangerous distinction, since we don't have any model at all that we know has no limitations.

    I will agree that beginning solid state physics is very crude, but so is all introductory physics.
  17. Jun 30, 2008 #16
    So do you think I should take it now or just blow it off until I need to take it in grad school (if at all?).

    I may be horribly wrong in my thinking, but what I'm thinking right now is if I end up doing something like condensed matter in grad school and need to learn about a specific model in solid state, I can just pick up a book and learn about that model and blow off the rest.
  18. Jul 6, 2008 #17
    If you have any plan to pursue condensed matter physics in graduate school, or have an interest in nanotechnology, semiconductor tech, quantum computing, solar cells... pretty much all the interesting applicable parts of physics research...you should take the course now. A good undergrad solid state course will give you a valuable handhold that will allow you to read the abstracts of some modern CM research papers without having your head swim too much.
    Also, Grad level Solid State courses usually require Grad Level QM. So what happens is if a student hasn't seen SS coming into grad school they either have to take the undergrad SS course (along with getting destroyed by their Mechanics, EM, and QM courses as they prepare for their quals) or wait all the way till their second year till they see any SS.
    Also, taking SS will give you a good idea as to whether it is a field you'd like to pursue further. For me personally, it was my intro Solid State course (which i took as an undergrad) that made my really fall in love with Physics Research.

    None of this applies of course if you aren't going to Physics Grad School.. What are your post grad plans?

    You have it the wrong way around. An intuitive grasp of the basic models of the electronic and thermal properties of materials is absolutely vital if you want any place in a Condensed Matter or Nano-Electro-Quantum whatever lab. It is with electronics that you pick up a reference book to look up the circuit that does what you want. Granted, every experimentalist would be all the better if they were also trained in Electrical Engineering, Chemistry, Computer Science and giving back massages, but you have to prioritize.
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