Friday, March 02, 2007

Squalid State Gets Respect

The most recent issue of Nature has an interesting editorial praising recent accomplishments of solid state physicists (who once were referred to by the supposedly 'better' theoretical physicists as investigating the 'squalid state'). The editorial nicely links the anniversary of high Tc superconductivity (20 yrs), BCS theory (50 yrs), with advances being made in understanding the behavior of nanoscale materials including the discovery of unusual electronic and mechanical properties in graphene — individual crystalline layers of carbon only one atom thick.

As the editorial notes, research done by solid state physicists, now at the nanoscale, has already revolutionized modern economies and societies. Developments in fields like nanoelectronics were used by policy makers 8-9 years ago to get approval for government nano funding. However, the focus on these applications and the research behind them has been lost in some quarters of the nano-enterprise, as focus shifted to nanoparticles and nanoHEE (health, enviro, ethics). Nonetheless, as Nature editorialized, "solid-state physicists will carry on unobtrusively changing our lives."


  1. I had very little respect for quantum dots until I saw a talk by Jerry Larue in the Wodtke lab and read some papers about their utility in biosensors. I still think that carbon nanotubes are a massive sink for money that would be better spent elsewhere. Solid state physics is a substantial component of materials science. I would call it a most important parent discipline.

  2. Solid state physics and materials science have very different intellectual pedigrees. While we may see them as related today, this is merely the current state of things and is ahistorical. For background on SSP, see:

    Spencer Weart. "The Solid Community." In Out of the Crystal Maze: Chapters from the History of Solid-State Physics, edited by Lillian Hoddeson, Ernest Braun, Jurgen Teichmann and Spencer Weart, 617-669. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.