What is condensed matter theory?

  • #1
Could someone with some familiarity with condensed matter theory explain what exactly it involves? I'm not asking without having done research: I've looked at a lot of faculty pages at various universities looking for what people who call themselves condensed matter theorists do. So far I've gathered it consists of mostly stuff like semiconductors, superconductors, metals, superfluids, "materials," nanoscale structures, etc. What I'm looking for is for is a personal account from people who work in the area. What do you do? What kind of physics and mathematics do you make use of in your every day life? What kind of computational work do you do? Is it fun (:p)?

I'm trying to decide what I want to do with my life and condensed matter sounds interesting, but I don't know all that much about it.

edit: Also, if I wanted to go into condensed matter, what would be some good electives to look into as an undergraduate (aside from obvious ones like solid state physics, semiconductor physics, advanced stat. mech)?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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If it's alright with the OP, maybe if someone has information on career info for what you can do with a Ph.D in condensed matter theory. Do these guys get hired at places like Bell Labs or IBM or something?
 
  • #3
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I'm an entering grad student, and I've done some undergrad research in CMT, so I dunno if this counts... still, FWIW

A major part of research in CMT involves what is known as strongly-correlated systems, which is sort of a blanket term used to describe several research areas such as High T_c superconductivity, non-Fermi liquids, heavy fermions, Mott insulators etc. There are several areas dealing with topological properties of matter, such as topological insulators, quantum hall effect, Luttinger liquids,...
A lot of stuff in the field of cold-atom physics (like BEC-BCS crossover, optical lattices etc.) is very close to cond-mat theory. CMT also involves a bit more "practical" stuff like band structure calculations, crystal geometry etc. Also, these days, lot of CMT people work in related topics like quantum computation, biophysics, soft condensed matter etc.

Depending on how abstract you want to go, CMT can involve quite a bit of math - algebra, topology, differential geometry, etc. along with a lot of quantum field theory and statistical mechanics. There's a group of people (most notably Subir Sachdev) who are trying to use techniques from string theory (particularly the Maldacena conjecture) to understand things like superconducting phase transitions.

If you want to study cond-mat theory, I would strongly recommend a many body physics course if it is offered in your university (luckily, at my school, they taught many body theory in quantum III). Also, do as much stat-mech as you can, possibly some advanced stuff such as renormalization, critical phenomena, fluctuation-dissipation etc.

Sorry for the long post, I'm also interested in hearing others' opinions on this. I too found this topic to be very interesting and I will (most probably) be doing that in grad school.
 
  • #4
Andy Resnick
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"Condensed Matter" is a very broad field- what the OP mentions is what I call 'traditional' solid state- lots of standard texts and courses.

There is an increasing amount of research into 'soft matter'- this covers another huge area of research, uses some of the same methods as 'solid state physics', but also new tools- Chaikin and Lubensky's book is an excellent place to start.
 

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