Condensed Matter Physics

Rare-earth magnets made in Hadjipanayis lab are crucial for alternative energy frontiers: from hybrid cars to wind turbines.
Electronic structure of Fe|MgO|Fe lattice [credit: Nanotech. 18, 424026 (2007)] of magnetic tunnel junctions made in Xiao Lab.
Structure of He atoms (green) adsorbed on bundles of single-walled carbon nanotubes probed by neutron scattering in Glyde group
Aerogel (picture from NASA Jet Propulsion Lab) is a low-density solid-state material used in Mulders Lab to confine liquid He.
Superlenses made of negative-index metamaterials could optically image proteins, viruses and DNA (credit: Xiang Zhang, Berkeley)

At the heart of Condensed Matter Physics (CMP) is the quest to understand, through a combination of experimental, theoretical, and computational investigations, how unexpected phenomena emerge when large numbers of constituents interact with one another. These constituents, traditionally electrons, atoms, and molecules, have now been extended to a vast array, including complex biological molecules, nanoparticles, cells, and even grains of sand.

By understanding these phenomena, CMP researchers affect people’s lives in countless ways, from improving our understanding of nature to developing new technologies. Historically reliable drivers for the discovery of new emergent phenomena are new materials and devices. Examples of materials and phenomena first targeted by CMP researchers can be found almost everywhere: semiconductor lasers are in DVD players, advanced magnetic materials store data on computer hard drives, liquid-crystal displays show us photographs and telephone numbers. Efforts to understand magnets, ferroelectrics, superconductors, polymers, and liquid crystals, exploited in innumerable applications, spurred the development of the elegant, unified conceptual framework of broken symmetry that not only explains how the characteristic behaviors of these materials are related, but also underlies much of modern physics.

CMP has the strongest links, not only to other branches of physics (particularly Atomic, Molecular, and Optical physics where scientific and technological connections are historically strong, principally because of similarities between the energy and length scales of the two fields), but also to other science and engineering fields. Nanophysics, which many regard as a branch of CMP, has numerous examples of collaborations between CMP physicists and chemists, biologists, electrical and mechanical engineers, material scientists, and computer scientists.

Research Areas:

See also the Website of Nanoscale Physics.