Prelude

Why did I decide to add yet another blog to the many already out there vying for attention? Obviously not to fill some void on the internet, where a hole for just this here was waiting to be filled. Rather it was for my own benefit, any readers, should they come, are a most welcome side effect. I decided to write such a blog as I became increasingly aware that any time I wanted to explain to someone what it was I actually did I could only do so with a significant amount of time. Which naturally causal askers of that question were not so keen to invest, it was only a polite query! But just shrugging and, muttering something about magnets out superconductors, and trying to move on always felt like I was insulting the person I was talking to. As if what I do is beyond the ken of a mere layman. It is my hope that by spending some time explaining the ideas at the heart of my work, that I can become better at this, and get these ideas across in ten relatively easy minutes rather than a tough and unwelcome few hours. Maybe the practice will improve my writing, which probably falls into many of the traps that academic writing is often accused of: dryness, pomposity, unnecessary jargon, and no doubt others…

This blog will be mainly about physics, maybe a few other things that catch my fancy, but mainly physics. More than that it will be about the particular area of physics I work in, condensed matter physics. To be even more precise, it will mostly be about my own work on the topic as a theoretical physicist of some 10 years standing (already 14 if I include my PhD studies). Condensed matter physics, despite being one of the largest currently studied areas of physics [1], is rather neglected in popular science books. Is there a good reason for this? It of course does not have the instant glamour of black holes or the birth of the universe, and it is not in a hunt after the fundamental stuff of the world. Nor does it look at those very day questions which physics can try and answer, like why does time seem to flow only one way [2]? Nonetheless I think there is much which could be of interest to any intellectually curious person in this area of physics.

Condensed matter physics concerns itself with how solids behave. Most of it, I think, with the electronic and thermal properties of solids in all sorts of strange configurations and sizes. This is the are of physics which butts up against chemistry on one side, and is constantly pilfering useful ideas from high energy physics on the other. It encompasses superconductors, semiconductors, topological insulators, ferromagnets, quantum dots, graphene, nanowires, nano-‘just about anything’ in fact, and many other topics – some of which I plan to explore here.

The key idea which I think keeps me constantly fascinated by what I do, quite apart from the sheer joy of solving tricky problems, is the way in which condensed matter physics is built out of a few simple building blocks but leads to such a wonderful variety of phenomena. I think it is perhaps the perfect riposte to the, I suspect quite meaningless, charge that since is somehow reductionist. But more on this later…


[1] By numbers working on it rather than thing studied, I guess cosmology wins there.
[2] I said try. (Though this is perhaps unfair, as there are some very good ideas on this out there.)

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