Sunday, May 10, 2009

The most important experiment in condensed matter ever?!

A wonderful book is The Cambridge Guide to the Material World by Rodney Cotterill. A new edition just came out. The images in the book are exquisite. I have found it helpful when preparing lectures on solid state physics. However, I was shocked when I read Cotterill's claim, made in passing, concerning the first observation in 1912 of diffraction of x-rays by a crystal (von Laue, Friedrich, and Knipping):
This experiment, which can be regarded as the most important every undertaken in the study of condensed matter,....
Surely not? What about much more exciting discoveries such as liquification of helium, superconductivity, superfluidity in 3He, quasi-crystals, liquid crystals, universality of critical exponents for the liquid-gas transition, ...?

However, I now tend to agree with this claim. Later I will write why...

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