Solid-state physics

Last updated

Solid-state physics is the study of rigid matter, or solids, through methods such as quantum mechanics, crystallography, electromagnetism, and metallurgy. It is the largest branch of condensed matter physics. Solid-state physics studies how the large-scale properties of solid materials result from their atomic-scale properties. Thus, solid-state physics forms a theoretical basis of materials science. It also has direct applications, for example in the technology of transistors and semiconductors.

Matter substance that has rest mass and volume, or several other definitions

In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ultimately composed of atoms, which are made up of interacting subatomic particles, and in everyday as well as scientific usage, "matter" generally includes atoms and anything made up of them, and any particles that act as if they have both rest mass and volume. However it does not include massless particles such as photons, or other energy phenomena or waves such as light or sound. Matter exists in various states. These include classical everyday phases such as solid, liquid, and gas – for example water exists as ice, liquid water, and gaseous steam – but other states are possible, including plasma, Bose–Einstein condensates, fermionic condensates, and quark–gluon plasma.

Solid solid object

Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter. In solids molecules are closely packed. It is characterized by structural rigidity and resistance to changes of shape or volume. Unlike liquid, a solid object does not flow to take on the shape of its container, nor does it expand to fill the entire volume available to it like a gas does. The atoms in a solid are tightly bound to each other, either in a regular geometric lattice or irregularly. Solids cannot be compressed with little pressure whereas gases can be compressed with little pressure because in gases molecules are loosely packed.

Quantum mechanics branch of physics dealing with phenomena at scales of the order of the Planck constant

Quantum mechanics, including quantum field theory, is a fundamental theory in physics which describes nature at the smallest scales of energy levels of atoms and subatomic particles.



Solid materials are formed from densely packed atoms, which interact intensely. These interactions produce the mechanical (e.g. hardness and elasticity), thermal, electrical, magnetic and optical properties of solids. Depending on the material involved and the conditions in which it was formed, the atoms may be arranged in a regular, geometric pattern (crystalline solids, which include metals and ordinary water ice) or irregularly (an amorphous solid such as common window glass).

Hardness is a measure of the resistance to localized plastic deformation induced by either mechanical indentation or abrasion. Some materials are harder than others. Macroscopic hardness is generally characterized by strong intermolecular bonds, but the behavior of solid materials under force is complex; therefore, there are different measurements of hardness: scratch hardness, indentation hardness, and rebound hardness.

In physics, elasticity is the ability of a body to resist a distorting influence and to return to its original size and shape when that influence or force is removed. Solid objects will deform when adequate forces are applied to them. If the material is elastic, the object will return to its initial shape and size when these forces are removed.

Magnetism class of physical phenomena

Magnetism is a class of physical phenomena that are mediated by magnetic fields. Electric currents and the magnetic moments of elementary particles give rise to a magnetic field, which acts on other currents and magnetic moments. The most familiar effects occur in ferromagnetic materials, which are strongly attracted by magnetic fields and can be magnetized to become permanent magnets, producing magnetic fields themselves. Only a few substances are ferromagnetic; the most common ones are iron, nickel and cobalt and their alloys such as steel. The prefix ferro- refers to iron, because permanent magnetism was first observed in lodestone, a form of natural iron ore called magnetite, Fe3O4.

The bulk of solid-state physics, as a general theory, is focused on crystals. Primarily, this is because the periodicity of atoms in a crystal — its defining characteristic — facilitates mathematical modeling. Likewise, crystalline materials often have electrical, magnetic, optical, or mechanical properties that can be exploited for engineering purposes.

Crystal solid material whose constituent atoms, molecules, or ions are arranged in an ordered pattern extending in all three spatial dimensions

A crystal or crystalline solid is a solid material whose constituents are arranged in a highly ordered microscopic structure, forming a crystal lattice that extends in all directions. In addition, macroscopic single crystals are usually identifiable by their geometrical shape, consisting of flat faces with specific, characteristic orientations. The scientific study of crystals and crystal formation is known as crystallography. The process of crystal formation via mechanisms of crystal growth is called crystallization or solidification.

Atom smallest unit of a chemical element

An atom is the smallest constituent unit of ordinary matter that has the properties of a chemical element. Every solid, liquid, gas, and plasma is composed of neutral or ionized atoms. Atoms are extremely small; typical sizes are around 100 picometers.

Electrical engineering field of engineering that deals with electricity

Electrical engineering is a professional engineering discipline that generally deals with the study and application of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. This field first became an identifiable occupation in the later half of the 19th century after commercialization of the electric telegraph, the telephone, and electric power distribution and use. Subsequently, broadcasting and recording media made electronics part of daily life. The invention of the transistor, and later the integrated circuit, brought down the cost of electronics to the point they can be used in almost any household object.

The forces between the atoms in a crystal can take a variety of forms. For example, in a crystal of sodium chloride (common salt), the crystal is made up of ionic sodium and chlorine, and held together with ionic bonds. In others, the atoms share electrons and form covalent bonds. In metals, electrons are shared amongst the whole crystal in metallic bonding. Finally, the noble gases do not undergo any of these types of bonding. In solid form, the noble gases are held together with van der Waals forces resulting from the polarisation of the electronic charge cloud on each atom. The differences between the types of solid result from the differences between their bonding.

Sodium chloride chemical compound

Sodium chloride, commonly known as salt, is an ionic compound with the chemical formula NaCl, representing a 1:1 ratio of sodium and chloride ions. With molar masses of 22.99 and 35.45 g/mol respectively, 100 g of NaCl contains 39.34 g Na and 60.66 g Cl. Sodium chloride is the salt most responsible for the salinity of seawater and of the extracellular fluid of many multicellular organisms. In its edible form of table salt, it is commonly used as a condiment and food preservative. Large quantities of sodium chloride are used in many industrial processes, and it is a major source of sodium and chlorine compounds used as feedstocks for further chemical syntheses. A second major application of sodium chloride is de-icing of roadways in sub-freezing weather.

An ion is an atom or molecule that has a non-zero net electrical charge. Since the charge of the electron is equal and opposite to that of the proton, the net charge of an ion is non-zero due to its total number of electrons being unequal to its total number of protons. A cation is a positively charged ion, with fewer electrons than protons, while an anion is negatively charged, with more electrons than protons. Because of their opposite electric currents, cations and anions attract each other and readily form ionic compounds.

Chlorine Chemical element with atomic number 17

Chlorine is a chemical element with symbol Cl and atomic number 17. The second-lightest of the halogens, it appears between fluorine and bromine in the periodic table and its properties are mostly intermediate between them. Chlorine is a yellow-green gas at room temperature. It is an extremely reactive element and a strong oxidising agent: among the elements, it has the highest electron affinity and the third-highest electronegativity, behind only oxygen and fluorine.


The physical properties of solids have been common subjects of scientific inquiry for centuries, but a separate field going by the name of solid-state physics did not emerge until the 1940s, in particular with the establishment of the Division of Solid State Physics (DSSP) within the American Physical Society. The DSSP catered to industrial physicists, and solid-state physics became associated with the technological applications made possible by research on solids. By the early 1960s, the DSSP was the largest division of the American Physical Society. [1] [2]

The American Physical Society (APS) is the world's second largest organization of physicists. The Society publishes more than a dozen scientific journals, including the prestigious Physical Review and Physical Review Letters, and organizes more than twenty science meetings each year. APS is a member society of the American Institute of Physics.

Large communities of solid state physicists also emerged in Europe after World War II, in particular in England, Germany, and the Soviet Union. [3] In the United States and Europe, solid state became a prominent field through its investigations into semiconductors, superconductivity, nuclear magnetic resonance, and diverse other phenomena. During the early Cold War, research in solid state physics was often not restricted to solids, which led some physicists in the 1970s and 1980s to found the field of condensed matter physics, which organized around common techniques used to investigate solids, liquids, plasmas, and other complex matter. [1] Today, solid-state physics is broadly considered to be the subfield of condensed matter physics that focuses on the properties of solids with regular crystal lattices.

Condensed matter physics branch of physics

Condensed matter physics is the field of physics that deals with the macroscopic and microscopic physical properties of matter. In particular it is concerned with the "condensed" phases that appear whenever the number of constituents in a system is extremely large and the interactions between the constituents are strong. The most familiar examples of condensed phases are solids and liquids, which arise from the electromagnetic forces between atoms. Condensed matter physicists seek to understand the behavior of these phases by using physical laws. In particular, they include the laws of quantum mechanics, electromagnetism and statistical mechanics.

Crystal structure and properties

An example of a simple cubic lattice Fcc lattice 4.jpg
An example of a simple cubic lattice

Many properties of materials are affected by their crystal structure. This structure can be investigated using a range of crystallographic techniques, including X-ray crystallography, neutron diffraction and electron diffraction.

The sizes of the individual crystals in a crystalline solid material vary depending on the material involved and the conditions when it was formed. Most crystalline materials encountered in everyday life are polycrystalline, with the individual crystals being microscopic in scale, but macroscopic single crystals can be produced either naturally (e.g. diamonds) or artificially.

Real crystals feature defects or irregularities in the ideal arrangements, and it is these defects that critically determine many of the electrical and mechanical properties of real materials.

Electronic properties

Properties of materials such as electrical conduction and heat capacity are investigated by solid state physics. An early model of electrical conduction was the Drude model, which applied kinetic theory to the electrons in a solid. By assuming that the material contains immobile positive ions and an "electron gas" of classical, non-interacting electrons, the Drude model was able to explain electrical and thermal conductivity and the Hall effect in metals, although it greatly overestimated the electronic heat capacity.

Arnold Sommerfeld combined the classical Drude model with quantum mechanics in the free electron model (or Drude-Sommerfeld model). Here, the electrons are modelled as a Fermi gas, a gas of particles which obey the quantum mechanical Fermi–Dirac statistics. The free electron model gave improved predictions for the heat capacity of metals, however, it was unable to explain the existence of insulators.

The nearly free electron model is a modification of the free electron model which includes a weak periodic perturbation meant to model the interaction between the conduction electrons and the ions in a crystalline solid. By introducing the idea of electronic bands, the theory explains the existence of conductors, semiconductors and insulators.

The nearly free electron model rewrites the Schrödinger equation for the case of a periodic potential. The solutions in this case are known as Bloch states. Since Bloch's theorem applies only to periodic potentials, and since unceasing random movements of atoms in a crystal disrupt periodicity, this use of Bloch's theorem is only an approximation, but it has proven to be a tremendously valuable approximation, without which most solid-state physics analysis would be intractable. Deviations from periodicity are treated by quantum mechanical perturbation theory.

Modern research

Research topics in solid state physics include:

See also

Related Research Articles

Materials science interdisciplinary field which deals with the discovery and design of new materials; primarily concerned with the physical and chemical properties of solids

The interdisciplinary field of materials science, also commonly termed materials science and engineering is the design and discovery of new materials, particularly solids. The intellectual origins of materials science stem from the Enlightenment, when researchers began to use analytical thinking from chemistry, physics, and engineering to understand ancient, phenomenological observations in metallurgy and mineralogy. Materials science still incorporates elements of physics, chemistry, and engineering. As such, the field was long considered by academic institutions as a sub-field of these related fields. Beginning in the 1940s, materials science began to be more widely recognized as a specific and distinct field of science and engineering, and major technical universities around the world created dedicated schools of the study, within either the Science or Engineering schools, hence the naming.

Metallic bonding is a type of chemical bonding that rises from the electrostatic attractive force between conduction electrons and positively charged metal ions. It may be described as the sharing of free electrons among a structure of positively charged ions (cations). Metallic bonding accounts for many physical properties of metals, such as strength, ductility, thermal and electrical resistivity and conductivity, opacity, and luster.

A semiconductor material has an electrical conductivity value falling between that of a metal, like copper, gold, etc. and an insulator, such as glass. Their resistance decreases as their temperature increases, which is behaviour opposite to that of a metal. Their conducting properties may be altered in useful ways by the deliberate, controlled introduction of impurities ("doping") into the crystal structure. Where two differently-doped regions exist in the same crystal, a semiconductor junction is created. The behavior of charge carriers which include electrons, ions and electron holes at these junctions is the basis of diodes, transistors and all modern electronics. Some examples of semiconductors are silicon, germanium, and gallium arsenide. After silicon, gallium arsenide is the second most common semiconductor used in laser diodes, solar cells, microwave frequency integrated circuits, and others. Silicon is a critical element for fabricating most electronic circuits.

State of matter distinct forms that different phases of matter take on

In physics, a state of matter is one of the distinct forms in which matter can exist. Four states of matter are observable in everyday life: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Many other states are known to exist, such as glass or liquid crystal, and some only exist under extreme conditions, such as Bose–Einstein condensates, neutron-degenerate matter, and quark-gluon plasma, which only occur, respectively, in situations of extreme cold, extreme density, and extremely high-energy. Some other states are believed to be possible but remain theoretical for now. For a complete list of all exotic states of matter, see the list of states of matter.

Exciton quasiparticle which is a bound state of an electron and an electron hole

An exciton is a bound state of an electron and an electron hole which are attracted to each other by the electrostatic Coulomb force. It is an electrically neutral quasiparticle that exists in insulators, semiconductors and in some liquids. The exciton is regarded as an elementary excitation of condensed matter that can transport energy without transporting net electric charge.

Atomic, molecular, and optical physics (AMO) is the study of matter-matter and light-matter interactions; at the scale of one or a few atoms and energy scales around several electron volts. The three areas are closely interrelated. AMO theory includes classical, semi-classical and quantum treatments. Typically, the theory and applications of emission, absorption, scattering of electromagnetic radiation (light) from excited atoms and molecules, analysis of spectroscopy, generation of lasers and masers, and the optical properties of matter in general, fall into these categories.

Band gap energy range in a solid where no electron states can exist; energy difference (in electron volts) between the top of the valence band and the bottom of the conduction band in insulators and semiconductors

In solid-state physics, a band gap, also called an energy gap or bandgap, is an energy range in a solid where no electron states can exist. In graphs of the electronic band structure of solids, the band gap generally refers to the energy difference between the top of the valence band and the bottom of the conduction band in insulators and semiconductors. It is the energy required to promote a valence electron bound to an atom to become a conduction electron, which is free to move within the crystal lattice and serve as a charge carrier to conduct electric current. It is closely related to the HOMO/LUMO gap in chemistry. If the valence band is completely full and the conduction band is completely empty, then electrons cannot move in the solid; however, if some electrons transfer from the valence to the conduction band, then current can flow. Therefore, the band gap is a major factor determining the electrical conductivity of a solid. Substances with large band gaps are generally insulators, those with smaller band gaps are semiconductors, while conductors either have very small band gaps or none, because the valence and conduction bands overlap.

In chemistry and atomic physics, the electron affinity (Eea) of an atom or molecule is defined as the amount of energy released or spent when an electron is added to a neutral atom or molecule in the gaseous state to form a negative ion.

Drude model to explain the transport properties of electrons in materials (especially metals)

The Drude model of electrical conduction was proposed in 1900 by Paul Drude to explain the transport properties of electrons in materials. The model, which is an application of kinetic theory, assumes that the microscopic behavior of electrons in a solid may be treated classically and looks much like a pinball machine, with a sea of constantly jittering electrons bouncing and re-bouncing off heavier, relatively immobile positive ions.

In solid-state physics, the electronic band structure of a solid describes the range of energies that an electron within the solid may have and ranges of energy that it may not have.

In solid-state physics, the free electron model is a simple model for the behaviour of charge carriers in a metallic solid. It was developed in 1927, principally by Arnold Sommerfeld who combined the classical Drude model with quantum mechanical Fermi–Dirac statistics and hence it is also known as the Drude–Sommerfeld model.

Impurities are chemical substances inside a confined amount of liquid, gas, or solid, which differ from the chemical composition of the material or compound.

An extrinsic semiconductor is one that has been doped; during manufacture of the semiconductor crystal a trace element or chemical called a doping agent has been incorporated chemically into the crystal, for the purpose of giving it different electrical properties than the pure semiconductor crystal, which is called an intrinsic semiconductor. In an extrinsic semiconductor it is these foreign dopant atoms in the crystal lattice that mainly provide the charge carriers which carry electric current through the crystal. The doping agents used are of two types, resulting in two types of extrinsic semiconductor. An electron donor dopant is an atom which, when incorporated in the crystal, releases a mobile conduction electron into the crystal lattice. An extrinsic semiconductor which has been doped with electron donor atoms is called an n-type semiconductor, because the majority of charge carriers in the crystal are negative electrons. An electron acceptor dopant is an atom which accepts an electron from the lattice, creating a vacancy where an electron should be called a hole which can move through the crystal like a positively charged particle. An extrinsic semiconductor which has been doped with electron acceptor atoms is called a p-type semiconductor, because the majority of charge carriers in the crystal are positive holes.

In solid-state physics, heavy fermion materials are a specific type of intermetallic compound, containing elements with 4f or 5f electrons in unfilled electron bands. Electrons are one type of fermion, and when they are found in such materials, they are sometimes referred to as heavy electrons. Heavy fermion materials have a low-temperature specific heat whose linear term is up to 1000 times larger than the value expected from the free electron model. The properties of the heavy fermion compounds often derive from the partly filled f-orbitals of rare-earth or actinide ions, which behave like localized magnetic moments. The name "heavy fermion" comes from the fact that the fermion behaves as if it has an effective mass greater than its rest mass. In the case of electrons, below a characteristic temperature (typically 10 K), the conduction electrons in these metallic compounds behave as if they had an effective mass up to 1000 times the free particle mass. This large effective mass is also reflected in a large contribution to the resistivity from electron-electron scattering via the Kadowaki–Woods ratio. Heavy fermion behavior has been found in a broad variety of states including metallic, superconducting, insulating and magnetic states. Characteristic examples are CeCu6, CeAl3, CeCu2Si2, YbAl3, UBe13 and UPt3.

Mesoscopic physics

Mesoscopic physics is a subdiscipline of condensed matter physics that deals with materials of an intermediate length. The scale of these materials can be described as being between the nanoscale size of a quantity of atoms and of materials measuring micrometres. The lower limit can also be defined as being the size of individual atoms. At the micrometre level are bulk materials. Both mesoscopic and macroscopic objects contain a large number of atoms. Whereas average properties derived from its constituent materials describe macroscopic objects, as they usually obey the laws of classical mechanics, a mesoscopic object, by contrast, is affected by fluctuations around the average, and is subject to quantum mechanics.

Paracrystalline materials are defined as having short- and medium-range ordering in their lattice but lacking crystal-like long-range ordering at least in one direction.

This glossary of physics is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to physics, its sub-disciplines, and related fields, including mechanics, materials science, nuclear physics, particle physics, and thermodynamics.


  1. 1 2 Martin, Joseph D. (2015). "What's in a Name Change? Solid State Physics, Condensed Matter Physics, and Materials Science". Physics in Perspective. 17 (1): 3–32. Bibcode:2015PhP....17....3M. doi:10.1007/s00016-014-0151-7.
  2. Hoddeson, Lillian; et al. (1992). Out of the Crystal Maze: Chapters from The History of Solid State Physics. Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780195053296.
  3. Hoffmann, Dieter (2013). "Fifty Years of Physica Status Solidi in Historical Perspective". Physica Status Solidi B. 250 (4): 871–887. Bibcode:2013PSSBR.250..871H. doi:10.1002/pssb.201340126.

Further reading