Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Basic introductions to Condensed Matter Physics

Suppose a motivated and intelligent high school student or first year undergraduate comes to you and says, ``Condensed matter physics sounds really cool! What should I read or look at to learn more about it?"

Obviously, suggesting the student look at classic graduate texts such as Ashcroft and Mermin or Chaikin and Lubensky is not helpful. They need something that will inspire them to want to learn more as well as introduce them to some of the basic ideas and topics.

I would suggest the following.

David Pines, Unit 8 in Physics for the 21st Century, an on-line course
Emergent Behavior in Quantum Matter

Robert Laughlin, A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down

Stephen Blundell, Superconductivity: A Very Short Introduction

Rodney Cotterell, The Material World

But when then have read some of these it would be nice if the student could look at something more technical. To second year undergrads I give a series of lectures on Thermodynamics and Condensed Matter Physics. They don't need to know any quantum or stat. mech., just some thermo, and they can still get some of the flavour, excitement, and scope of the subject. But, I don't know a book that lays this material out clearly and simply. I draw on Schroeder, Thermal Physics, but it has no discussion of superfluids, order parameters, or symmetry breaking.

What do you think are good resources?

I thank Alex Agedah for asking this question.

Update. Here are some slides for a talk that Danielle McDermott gave on the subject. It lists many useful resources. (She mentions it in a comment below).


  1. I would add The Problems of Physics by A. J. Leggett. The chapter on condensed matter physics is fantastic.

  2. Hi Prof. Ross, when I was a undergraduate student, the best introduction of solid state physics to me was "The nature of solids" by Alan Holden.

  3. Thanks for responding! I'll definitely look into some these

  4. Great question. It is one I've been thinking a lot about the last several years. I've even given an invited AAPT talk entitled "What to say when a student asks about Condensed Matter Physics" that is full of links, videos, and activities at the outreach level. It is a huge file, but I can send you a copy if you'd like.

    Another textbook aimed at undergrads is Fundamentals of Condensed Matter and Crystalline Physics by David Sidebottom. It is a good book for reading about the big picture, but the problems at the end of the chapter are difficult to connect back to the text, so I hope the book gets a second edition or a supplementary instructors manual to address that.

    I'd like to end with a short critique of one of your recommendations. I tried to read Laughlin's book a few years ago and couldn't get through it. He made several comments in the book about women that are, at best, old fashioned. He out-and-out stated that staying up late at night working in an experimental lab was a man thing. He made a few other related comments there were enough for me to stop reading the book. Women don't need to be told they don't fit the physics mold.

    1. Dear Danielle,

      Thanks for the helpful comment. Please do send me the AAPT talk.

      Thanks also for the critique of the Laughlin book. It is sad he has spoiled it with those comments.

  5. James Watson of the Crick/Watson DNA structure , Tim Hunt recently have all been making silly statements about women. For James Watson it has become a ritual to mention Rosalind Franklins name.Looks like guilt is biting JW very hard.
    He wrote some silly remarks about her in the " Double Helix " book.

  6. I found The Oxford Solid State Basics by Steven H. Simon to be a very readable introductory text.

  7. Thanks for the reference to the Cotterill book. I went out to get it, and its a beauty.