Condensed matter physics is the field of physics that deals with the macroscopic and microscopic physical properties of matter, especially the solid and liquid phases which arise from electromagnetic forces between atoms. More generally, the subject deals with “condensed” phases of matter: systems of many constituents with strong interactions between them. More exotic condensed phases include the superconducting phase exhibited by certain materials at low temperature, the ferromagnetic and antiferromagnetic phases of spins on crystal lattices of atoms, and the Bose–Einstein condensate found in ultracold atomic systems. Condensed matter physicists seek to understand the behavior of these phases by experiments to measure various material properties, and by applying the physical laws of quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, statistical mechanics, and other theories to develop mathematical models.
The diversity of systems and phenomena available for study makes condensed matter physics the most active field of contemporary physics: one third of all American physicists self-identify as condensed matter physicists, and the Division of Condensed Matter Physics is the largest division at the American Physical Society. The field overlaps with chemistry, materials science, engineering and nanotechnology, and relates closely to atomic physics and biophysics. The theoretical physics of condensed matter shares important concepts and methods with that of particle physics and nuclear physics.
A variety of topics in physics such as crystallography, metallurgy, elasticity, magnetism, etc., were treated as distinct areas until the 1940s, when they were grouped together as solid state physics. Around the 1960s, the study of physical properties of liquids was added to this list, forming the basis for the more comprehensive specialty of condensed matter physics. The Bell Telephone Laboratories was one of the first institutes to conduct a research program in condensed matter physics.