A Universe in Every Solid

I am often asked by close friends and family: why condensed matter physics? What is it? What kinds of applications are there? Basically, they are trying to ask in a round-about way: why do you do what you do?

This gets to the heart of why we are starting this blog. In condensed matter physics, we are concerned with creating, discovering and quantifying new phases of matter. Just like in any realm of creative endeavor, one does not know where it is going to lead, and that is precisely why it is worth doing.

For me, there are few things more exciting than discovering a new type of quasiparticle in a solid. Particle physicists are often concerned with discovering constituent particles that can be observed when you take other particles apart. In condensed matter physics, we are concerned with the new types of quasiparticles that can be observed with you put other particles together.

Condensed matter physicists are in some sense creating new little universes with new quasiparticles when they discover new phases of matter. With the number of elements in the periodic table and the number of knobs the condensed matter physicist can turn (i.e. magnetic field, pressure, temperature, etc.), the number of “universes” the condensed matter physicist can explore are almost limitless and are only currently bound by one’s imagination.

These phases of matter or “universes” can sometimes manifest themselves on a macroscopic scale in spectacular ways such as quantized vorticity in superfluid 4He, dissipationless flow of electrons in a superconductor and protected edge states in topological insulators and quantum Hall systems. All of these phenomena are curiously stunning and one gets the feeling that we are just scratching the surface of what is physically possible.

So ultimately, I do what I do because the space for creativity and discovery is vast, it constantly forces me to formulate pictures without logical inconsistencies and most importantly I enjoy it!

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