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Physics Too much Dirac, too little Onsager and Landau?

  1. Apr 4, 2017 #1
    Currently I'm set to pursue solid state physics in a EE department, working on more practical theory. However I'm seeing a lot of papers studying mathematically obfuscatory topics such as topological materials, Berry's phase, quantum phase transitions, and other abstruse (albeit important and interesting) stuff.

    To summarize it in a name, it seems to be the specter of Dirac. After all, he was the first to really elevate austere, unintuitive mathematical analysis to legendary status in physics, so far as I know. Subsequently, a culture interested in repeating his feats has emerged. Topological properties of materials are sold on the basis that the mathematics is beautiful and elegant, exotic mathematical abstractions can guide experimental and industrial work (see: papers out of engineering departments investigating using TI's for spintronics or interconnects in integrated circuits etc).

    However there seems to be very little progress in the theoretical physics of ordinary, more down to earth stuff. I am unaware of any progress on turbulence. Non-equilibrium physics has received some useful updates by Jarzyski, Crooks, and probably others, but is mostly the domain of chemists. We don't seem to make physicists like Landau anymore, who had an intimidating command of both classical field theory (e.g. hydrodynamics) and the ability to contribute to fundamental physics.

    After this long winded post, my question is, if I wanted to pursue an "Onsager" or "Landau" style career (not assuming I can be even 1% as brilliant as either), how would I go about doing so? Why does there appear to be a dearth of progress and work in such subjects? Am I simply missing something?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 5, 2017 #2

    Dr Transport

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    just work hard and they will eventually notice.

    the reason you don't hear about it is because it isn't "sexy science" like finding the Higgs or gravity waves. a large part of why you hear about it is that the groups doing it find their funding on the chopping block and they have to get the public involved to keep their cash flowing in because their constituents, i.e. the john q public, screams to their governments not to cut the funding because it is important. Sure, it is important for knowledge's sake, but frankly, not knowing the mass of the Higgs isn't making our lives any worse off.

    seriously, if they don't notice, at least you can go forward and say that you did what you thought best to further enhance society and that is the best we could ever try to do.
     
  4. Apr 5, 2017 #3

    StatGuy2000

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    Crass_Oscillator, are you familiar with the following?

    https://phys.org/news/2014-03-decade-long-physics-debate-turbulence.html
     
  5. Apr 5, 2017 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    I empathize with your perspective, in general I have the same approach. I don't think you are missing anything, there's always a lot of extra attention paid to the new shiny object.

    How's this for a suggestion- rather than focus on people who have been dead for a long time, find current scientists who have the career approach that you are interested in, and model yourself after them. The practice of science (i.e. making a living being a scientist) is very different now than it was back in Onsager and Landau's time.
     
  6. Apr 5, 2017 #5
    Dr. Transport,

    I largely agree, but it seems as though fundamental questions still have a major impact on technology (e.g. non-relativistic quantum and its influence on electronics/optics has been of vast economic importance). It's more that it seems as though there are fundamental questions that remain unresolved in other fields.

    StatsGuy,

    I had not! Looks cool!

    Andy,

    I agree that something new is needed, but what I am wondering is if working on non-quantum/relativity topics, working in multiple areas, and in particular, working on statistical mechanics can form a fruitful career track. It seems as though theorists outside of the current hot topics of topological materials/quantum information are relegated to a weird purgatory.
     
  7. Apr 5, 2017 #6

    radium

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    There are plenty of condensed matter theorists working on things other than topological materials and quantum information. There's a lot of research on high Tc and transport in strongly interacting systems including in magnetic fields, etc. hydrodynamical regimes in these materials (there have been several measurements in graphene that support the existence of this behavior the charge neutrality point). There's also a lot of work on disordered systems, driven systems, nonequilibrium. Many-body localization is also a hot topic which may also seem more down to earth.
     
  8. Apr 5, 2017 #7

    Dr Transport

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    True, my field of Boltzmann Transport in semiconductors has never been fully exploited. Optical properties of materials is another place where there is significant work to be done. My advisor told me that there are the brilliant theorists who blaze the way and then there are the rest of us who have to do all the pick and shovel work to exploit and extend the new directions. I been doing pick and shovel work for a lot of years and there is more to be done. like I said this morning, work hard and find your own way and you'll get recognized for it.
     
  9. Apr 6, 2017 #8

    Andy Resnick

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    It has for me- not statistical mechanics in particular, but "working on non-quantum/relativity topics, working in multiple areas".
     
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