Tuesday, January 13, 2009

50 Years of Condensed Matter Physics in The Physical Review Letters

I've only recently finished reading this GLORIOUS article by Marvin Cohen on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Physical Review Letters. Writing on the condensed matter physics aspect of this journal, he not only traced its history, but also articulated its importance despite being the "silent majority" in the world of physics.

The transistor was a hard act to follow. The 1956 Nobel Prize for the invention of the transistor signified more than just the development of a device. It helped usher in a new era in which our understanding of materials using both basic and applied science was to have a renaissance. In 1958, when Physical Review Letters was born, solid state/condensed matter physics (CMP) began its growth spurt that continues to this day. This field is now the largest branch of physics, yet it is probably fair to say that its practitioners can be viewed as the silent majority. The media emphasize astronomy, particle physics, and biology far more than CMP. Part of the reason for that emphasis is the public’s desire to know how it all began, how atomic bombs work, and how living things function. The considerable interest in computers and devices does shine light on some CMP topics and, now and then, discoveries such as high temperature superconductivity or Bose-Einstein condensation do get coverage, but anything involving Einstein is news.

Perhaps a lack of media attention isn’t so important when considering that, over the past 50 years, 21 Physics Nobel Prizes were awarded to the silent majority working in CMP and associated fields, like optics and instrumentation, and that four Chemistry Nobel Prizes were awarded for subjects in CMP. The breakthroughs were both basic and applied, reflecting the view of CMP researchers that many advances in the field are truly fundamental and that the applied research in their field has changed society.

He has stated better than I ever could on not only the importance of this often-overlooked field, but also how its influences is central to many other field of physics and directly to how we live today.

A highly recommended article for you to read. Don't miss it!


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