Solid-state physics

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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 the theoretical basis of materials science. It also has direct applications, for example in the technology of transistors and semiconductors.

Contents

Background

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).

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

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.

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