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Condensed Matter Phyisics draws on concepts from many areas covered in the first two years of the physics degree: mechanics, thermodynamics, quantum physics, statistical physics all contribute to the range of properties that make solids and liquids distinct. The Condensed Matter modules cover electronic and structural aspects of condensed matter along with mechanical, electronic and magnetic phenomena. A range of experimental techniques used in condensed matter physics are introduced as we go along, with an emphasis on x-ray diffraction, including a practical exercise.

We offer four modules at Year-3 level in this subject area. One of these, ph324 Concepts in Condensed Matter
is a core module in sem.1 that will explain the main ideas and phenomena within the field and give context for more detailed study. Students without a specialisation in a different area of physics take ph335 Condensed Matter - Structure Determination
in parallel, a module which emphasises experimental techniques used to study the structure and properties of solids. In sem.2, we offer the module ph338 Materials Physics
which highlights the properties and function of a number of different material classes, while the parallel module ph336 Semiconductor Technology
focuses on electronic structure and semiconductor devices.


ph335 - Structure Determination

  1. Microscopy techniques
  2. Crystallography
  3. X-ray and neutron scattering
    • Scattering theory
    • X-ray and neutron diffraction
    • Bragg peaks and pair distribution functions
    • Instrumentation and optics
    • Small-angle scattering
  4. Defects and disorder
    • Point defects, defect equilibria, diffusion
    • Dislocations and their motion, material strength
    • Stacking faults
    • Amorphous structures, glass transition, calorimetry
    • Quasicrystals
    • Measuring defects and disorder by diffraction

ph338 - Materials Physics

  1. Soft Matter
    (by Chris Finlayson)
  2. Superconductors
    (by Chris Finlayson)
  3. Nanomaterials
    (by Chris Finlayson)
  4. Phase transitions

ph336 - Semiconductor Technology

  1. Semiconductor interfaces
    (by Andrew Evans)
  2. Semiconductor devices
    (by Dave Langstaff)


There will be five worksheets, some online assessments, an essay, a practical write-up (see below) and three exams. In addition, there will be weekly revision quiz questions: on Blackboard
(Aber only) for my sections of these modules, for which some credit will be given towards the problem sheets. The table indicates the approximate timescales (details on Blackboard) and topics covered in each assessment:

mid sem.1 ph32415%problem sheetElectronic structure
mid sem.1 ph33515%problem sheetMicroscopy, crystallography
late sem.1 ph32415%problem sheetCrystal structures, lattice dynamics, magnetic properties
late sem.1 ph33515%practical write-upDiffraction
January ph32470%exam
January ph33570%exam
throughout sem.2ph33650%online assessments
mid sem.2 ph33815%problem sheetSoft matter, superconductors
late sem.2 ph33815%problem sheetPhase transitions, nanomaterials
late sem.2 ph33650%essay
May ph33870%exam

Diffraction practical

The practical takes place in the Materials Physics laboratory, which is located at the top of the stairs at the far end of the robotics shed (next to the mechanical workshop). You can work in groups of three on an experiment of your choice - for options, see link below.

Further reading

These recommendations are for my parts of the Condensed Matter modules. The first two texts will also be relevant to the sections taught by others, but there will be other specialist texts for those sections, too.

The classic text in this field is Charles Kittel
's Introduction to Solid State Physics
. There are a number of copies of different vintage in the library, any of which will do nicely. There is a recent edition available, but the additions are at the boundaries of the course content. [Primo]

Richard Tilley
's Understanding Solids
is another general book on the topic and includes a large number of self test exercises with solutions. In addition to the hardcopies in the library, the full text
is also available online via AU institutional subscription. [Primo]

Martin Dove
's Structure and Dynamics
is very good and detailed on things like phase transitions, crystallography and order parameter theory. In these areas, it goes well beyond the lecture but doesn't cover all of the remaining topics. [Primo]

Finally, for the more engineering-minded, JC Anderson, KD Leaver, RD Rawlings and JM Alexander
's Materials Science
is a good addition that will take you beyond the immediate course content. [Primo]

To get started, let's define the field of Condensed Matter physics and highlight some important topics within it.