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PX385-15 Condensed Matter Physics

Undergraduate Level 3
Module leader
Rachel Edwards
Credit value
Module duration
10 weeks
100% exam
Study location
University of Warwick main campus, Coventry
Introductory description

Condensed matter is matter in which particles have come together to form solids or fluids or (in nuclei and some stars) nuclear matter. These are systems with large numbers of particles interacting with each other. Of course we can't solve the full equations of motion for all these particles. Instead we construct and solve quantum and statistical mechanical models of their behaviour and test the predictions they make against experiment. In other words, we do physics.

The module covers models of the energy levels of the electrons and ions in crystals, how these explain some of the materials' properties and how we measure them. One interesting aspect we will touch on is the role of collective excitations (where large numbers of the particles act in "unison"). These are behind such phenomena as magnetic ordering, superconductivity and the quantized Hall resistance observed in 2D semiconductors.

Module web page

Module aims

To provide an understanding of phenomena in condensed matter, both from an experimental and theoretical perspective.

Outline syllabus

This is an indicative module outline only to give an indication of the sort of topics that may be covered. Actual sessions held may differ.

  1. How materials behave.
    Types of bonding (ionic, covalent etc.); the periodic table; one dimensional models of solids;
    crystal structures, defects & disorder; thermal vibrations; how to measure crystal structure.

  2. Free electrons.
    Free electron model; ground state, Fermi energy, transport properties; Wiedemann-Franz law;
    Peltier effect; where this breaks down.

  3. Band structure.
    Nearly free electron model: the effect of a periodic potential; Bloch’s theorem; scattering; band
    gaps; metal, insulator or semiconductor; density of levels; tight binding model. Moving beyond
    1D: Brillouin zones and Fermi surfaces; real metals; electrons in magnetic fields; how to measure
    the Fermi surface, and it is important (de Haas van Alphen, cyclotron resonance, etc.)

  4. Semiconductors in more detail.
    Effective mass; impurities in semiconductors; holes; designing band gaps; Hall effect; p-n
    junctions; other applications, such as LEDs, lasers, solar cells.

  5. Magnetism & magnetic order.
    Origins of magnetic behaviour; paramagnetism and magnetic resonance measurements;
    diamagnetism; magnetic ordering such as ferromagnetism and antiferromagnetism;
    Curie temperature; domains, hysteresis; applications - magnetic memory, refrigeration, single
    molecule magnets & quantum computation…

  6. Other Topics.
    Superconductivity; low dimensional systems (2DEG, quantum Hall effect, quasi-1D and 2D
    systems); insulators; glasses.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Describe the quantum and statistical mechanics of condensed matter
  • Solve quantum and statistical mechanical models to determine properties of condensed matter systems
  • Discuss the role of the microscopic structure in determining the properties of macroscopic samples
  • Explain magnetic and conductivity phenomena, and how to measure these experimentally
Indicative reading list

The Oxford Solid State Basics, Steven H Simon, OUP 2013

View reading list on Talis Aspire

Subject specific skills

Knowledge of mathematics and physics. Skills in modelling, reasoning, thinking.

Transferable skills

Analytical, communication, problem-solving, self-study

Study time

Type Required
Lectures 30 sessions of 1 hour (20%)
Private study 120 hours (80%)
Total 150 hours
Private study description

Working through lecture notes, solving problems, wider reading, discussing with others taking the module, revising for exam, practising on past exam papers


No further costs have been identified for this module.

You must pass all assessment components to pass the module.

Assessment group B1
Weighting Study time
3 hour online examination (April) 100%

Answer 3 questions from 4

  • Online examination: No Answerbook required
Feedback on assessment

Personal tutor, group feedback

Past exam papers for PX385


This module is Option list A for:

  • Year 3 of UPXA-F304 Undergraduate Physics (BSc MPhys)
  • Year 3 of UPXA-F300 Undergraduate Physics (BSc)
  • Year 3 of UPXA-F303 Undergraduate Physics (MPhys)
  • Year 4 of UPXA-F301 Undergraduate Physics (with Intercalated Year)

This module is Option list B for:

  • Year 3 of UPXA-FG33 Undergraduate Mathematics and Physics (BSc MMathPhys)
  • Year 3 of UPXA-GF13 Undergraduate Mathematics and Physics (BSc)
  • Year 3 of UPXA-FG31 Undergraduate Mathematics and Physics (MMathPhys)
  • Year 4 of UPXA-GF14 Undergraduate Mathematics and Physics (with Intercalated Year)
  • Year 3 of UPXA-F304 Undergraduate Physics (BSc MPhys)
  • Year 3 of UPXA-F303 Undergraduate Physics (MPhys)