What is condensed matter physics?
Condensed matter physics is the study of macroscopic (visible to the naked eye) properties of materials. More specifically, it concerns states of matter where atoms are in close proximity to each other, so materials such as liquids and solids.
This field aims to understand how matter arises from a large number of interacting atoms and electrons, and what physical properties this matter has as a result of these interactions. For example, condensed matter physicists discovered the Bose-Einstein condensate, a state of matter formed when a large volume of extremely cold atoms (at -275.15C) clump together and act as if they were a single atom.
What does condensed matter research involve?
Theoretical condensed matter physicists create complex mathematical models to better understand these properties, while the experimental side conducts experiments to discover new properties of different materials. Areas of research within the field include quantum information processing and superconductivity.
Fun fact: condensed matter research has led to the development of laser technology, MRI, liquid crystal and even modern plastic!
What are the responsibilities of a condensed matter physicist?
Day to day responsibilities include:
- Review existing literature on areas of interest
- Write relevant codes and run them on computer programmes
- Create reports and presentations on the results
- Contribute to collaborative projects.
Many condensed matter physicists lecture at universities. In this case, they would have additional responsibilities: helping develop the curriculum and providing teaching and mentoring to students.
What skills do I need to be a successful condensed matter physicist?
Technical literacy is important, as you’ll be working with complex computer programs. Making technical mistakes will only slow down the progress of your research.
Collaboration skills are also valued, as you’ll often be working with other condensed matter physicists on the same research project. You might have different styles of working, but you’ll need to find a way to collaborate harmoniously.
Finally, theoretical skills are also a good idea. Much of your research will rely on you understanding abstract concepts, which can be a little confusing sometimes. Senior physicists are a valuable source of advice for this, having no doubt struggled with the same thing before.
How do I become a condensed matter physicist?
To enter this field, you’ll need a PhD in physics and a demonstrable interest in the study of condensed matter (through your PhD research or having written for journals).
Many students are put off by the financial burden of a PhD, but it’s more affordable than you think. If you start looking in advance, many universities and research institutes offer grants, and the UK government even offers loans for PhD students.