Monday, January 13, 2020

Popular treatment of condensed matter - topics

I'm looking more seriously at trying to do some popularly accessible writing about condensed matter.  I have a number of ideas about what should be included in such a work, but I'm always interested in other peoples' thoughts on this.   Suggestions? 

8 comments:

James Chase Geary said...

I have no suggestions, not really knowing anything about condensed matter physics, but such treatment would be of great interest to me

Anonymous said...

I think physics at different scales and the rough idea of renormalization is extremely interesting and can probably made accessible for a popular treatment in a simplified form. Also the connection between phases and order or disorder (and maybe order parameters). The idea of quasiparticles is also neat and reasonably intuitive

Douglas Natelson said...

Anon, thanks. Those are already on my list (as is emergence in general in various forms; what we mean by phases; universality; symmetry and "the universe in a flake of pencil").

Pizza Perusing Physicist said...

If you want a real challenge, you could try popularizing quantum/topological order, including such beauties like fractionalize excitations with fractional statistics, long-range many-body entanglement, emergent gauge theories, etc...

Pizza Perusing Physicist said...

Another suggestion - the soft matter and nonequilibrium statistical mechanics underlying life as we know it. If you can highlight to the layperson ways in which ideas from fields like active matter can yield novel, interesting insights into the way biology operates, I'm pretty sure that would be extremely well received.

Wendy said...

Maybe plasmonics/SPR? Hard to explain without images/videos, but if there is room for that, I find this topic fascinates students from all areas of study once they finally get it.

Don Monroe said...

Agree about phase transitions. But don't neglect first-order transitions, which are much more generic and also more familiar to the layperson. This also brings in additional important ideas around metastability/hysteresis and nucleation.

Another topic is insulators/semiconductors/conductors. As someone who did his PhD in amorphous semiconductors, I think this is most easily and intuitively conveyed without bringing all of the baggage of crystal momentum and so forth. All you need is energy bands and the exclusion principle. (We pulled this off in a third-grade class demo.)

Of course periodicity etc. is interesting as a subject on its own. In an earlier era one would have said that bubble rafts were an accessible example of topological defects such as dislocations, and also give insight into material strength.

A somewhat related idea is that the human-scale facets of crystals directly reflect the atom-scale organization.

Biomimetic hierarchical structures with improved mechanical properties (e.g. mother-of-pearl)?

Structural color?

thm said...

One idea--which I don't think I could pull off even in the infinite time approximation--would be to trace the physics behind the advancements in computer memory and storage, then tie them to the tasks that sufficiently large and cheap memory or storage enabled. Can't run google if all you have is magnetic core memory.