As can be seen from the title, in this article we will try to understand together what the physics of matter studies. But to answer the question in the title we must first ask ourselves: what is the physics of matter?
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Typing on the web the words ” physics of matter ” you will discover that it is a branch of physics. It studies the microscopic physical properties of matter.
This area of physics is currently the largest research field that modern physics has developed.
In particular, it deals with condensed phases, characterized by a large number of constituents of the system and by their strong interactions.
A bit of history
Initially the physics of condensed matter arose from the physics of the solid state .
It was Philip Anderson (Nobel Prize in Physics in 1977) coined the term f ISICA condensed matter . This happened in 1976, renaming his research group, previously dedicated to the solid state.
Later in 1978 the Solid State Physics Division of the American Physical Society was renamed the Condensed Matter Physics Division.
The reason for this change of name is due to the fact that many of the theories and methods used for the study of solids also applied to fluid systems .
One of the main examples is represented by conduction electrons in an electrical conductor which form a type of quantum fluid with properties very similar to those of fluids made up of atoms.
The physics of condensed matter is a discipline characterized by a strong theoretical roots.
The potential of matter physics
In the mid-1960s, theoretical physicists came into possession of techniques for implementing a powerful many-body perturbative quantum theory.
They therefore began to apply it not only to the study of solids and low temperature fluids. But also to nuclear physics, to the quantum electrodynamics of sets of elementary particles and even to astrophysics problems .
Like the set of high density neutrons that make up the pulsars. Or as the even denser fluid that represents the heart of the big bang cosmology .
The real specialization of these theorists had less to do with the particular type of subject matter of their study than with the mathematical tools available to them.
Most research in the field of condensed matter continued to be directed towards technological applications.
From the theoretical point of view, the specialists did not deal with general problems or even more specific problems, such as the properties of a particular ceramic or metal alloy or a specific sample of semiconductor material .
Already at the beginning of the seventies, in many sectors it was now possible to make precise predictions on the properties of new combinations of atoms.
This meant that solid-state materials and devices could be started on demand. Only a few and among the most sagacious realized that these physicists were opening a new era in the history of human civilization. What would soon be called the information age.
Physics of Matter boasts the privilege of studying both through theory and computer simulations. Both through sophisticated experiments, the behaviors, properties and applications of matter, made up of semi-elemental constituents.
Now that we know the history and potential of this discipline, the question naturally arises.
What does a physicist of matter study?
In reality, the infinite possible phases and states of matter, and the micrometric and nanometric structures, pose continuous challenges to researchers.
Both for the development of new materials, radiation sources and compounds with innovative features and applications. Both for the fundamental understanding and the possibility to modify their properties.
The areas of interest range from extended systems (solids, liquids, “soft matter” and plasmas) in thermodynamic equilibrium to nanometric aggregates of matter and non-equilibrium phenomena.
RESEARCH IN THIS FIELD ALSO DEALS WITH RADIATION-MATTER INTERACTION.
Including theoretical and experimental innovative spectroscopic approaches, the study of atomic-scale friction and dissipative phenomena through theoretical models and numerical simulations.
The dynamics of confined plasmas are also part of the approaches together with particle beams and the quantum properties of radiation. Also combined with other phenomena such as coherent phenomena – from free electron laser to entanglement. Without forgetting the applications to the quantum information process and to quantum metrology.
There are several physicists who study nanotechnology and therefore take care of assembling atoms and molecules to synthesize materials that perform the function of devices.
The subject of material physics is also studied with nanolaser, high efficiency light emitters and new materials for photonics , the technique that uses light to transmit and process information.
More and more researchers are dedicated to experimenting with technological solutions and materials to produce, store and manage energy in a sustainable way. An example are thin, flexible and low cost solar cells.
THE COMPLEXITY OF CONDENSED MATTER MAKES IT NECESSARY TO TRANSLATE THE LAWS OF QUANTUM AND STATISTICAL MECHANICS INTO A FORM THAT CAN BE UNDERSTOOD BY A COMPUTER.
All this to perform real numerical experiments theoretical physicists study the structural, mechanical, transport properties etc. of nanostructured systems. These systems are under the influence of structural and compositional disorder and temperature.
In another perspective, we focus on the properties of ordered systems such as crystals or artificial supercrystals. An example is research on superconducting materials, in which the current flows indefinitely without the need for a voltage generator at very low temperatures.
When physics meets art
A further field of application of material physics concerns the development of new non-destructive characterization techniques for works of art or archaeological finds.
Examples are the study of materials and the identification of pigments on paintings, ceramics, manuscripts. Faces to find solutions to the problems of restoration, conservation, dating and authentication of works of art.
The physics of materials is by far the largest field of research in contemporary physics. It is also enriched by numerous overlaps with different disciplines such as chemistry, materials science, electronics, nanotechnology and engineering.
All these features make it a very complex but at the same time really fascinating material.