Science and Engineering at The University of Edinburgh

Welcome to the Institute for Condensed Matter and Complex Systems

Decorative Picture: Condensed Matter Collage

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Condensed matter physics (CMP) is concerned with the study of liquids and solids, and ‘viscoelastic’ materials (such as polymers and suspensions) with properties in between. In essence, condensed matter physics is about discovering and characterising the behaviour of these materials in the laboratory, and understanding such behaviour in terms of the microscopic constituents (atoms, molecules, colloidal particle, etc.). Experimentally, the determination of structure, and the characterisation of static and dynamic optical, electrical, magnetic, mechanical and other properties under ambient and a variety of more or less extreme conditions calls upon a very wide range of tools. Novel developments in experimental probes (e.g., femto-second pulsed lasers) or sample environments (e.g. enabling high pressure measurements in high magnetic fields) allow condensed matter physicists continually to extend the range of phenomena they can study. To gain conceptual understanding of phenomena uncovered in the laboratory requires the methods of statistical mechanics, applied both analytically and by computer simulations. Thus, fundamental developments in statistical physics and the invention of novel simulation methodologies can have far-reaching impact on CMP.

Because the subject matter of CMP is the very stuff of the everyday world, it has very wide applicability. Thus, CMP overlaps considerably with materials science. In particular, the modern electronics and opto-electronics industries are underpinned by the fundamental understanding of semiconductors, liquid crystals, conducting polymers and other materials provided by condensed matter physicists. Earth scientists find that results from CMP can help them in understanding mineralogical phase transformations. Increasingly, condensed matter physicists are unravelling the complex behaviour of suspensions and polymers, which are important in everything from paints through shampoo to tomato ketchup. Finally, the methods and results of CMP are now being applied to the study of biological systems, which are, after all, specialised forms of condensed matter! It is therefore not surprising that more physicists work in CMP than in perhaps any other single sub-discipline of physics.

We describe our CMP research in more detail under the following thematic areas