quantum theory of matter
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Quantum theory of matter
The microscopic explanation of the properties of condensed matter, that is, solids and liquids, based on the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics. Without the quantum theory, some properties of matter such as magnetism and superconductivity have no explanation at all, while for others only a phenomenological description can be obtained. With the theory, it is at least possible to comprehend what is needed to approach a complete understanding.
The theoretical problem of condensed matter—large aggregates of elementary particles with mutual interactions—is the quantum-mechanical many-body problem: an enormous number, of order 1023, of constituent particles in the presence of a heat bath and interacting with each other according to quantum-mechanical laws. What makes the quantum physics of matter different from the traditional quantum theory of elementary particles is that the fundamental constituents (electrons and ions) and their interactions (Coulomb interactions) are known but the solutions of the appropriate quantum-mechanical equations are not. This situation is not due to the lack of a sufficiently large computer, but is caused by the fact that totally new structures, such as crystals, magnets, ferroelectrics, superconductors, liquid crystals, and glasses, appear out of the complexity of the interactions among the many constituents. The consequence is that entirely new conceptual approaches are required to construct predictive theories of matter. The usual technique for approaching the quantum many-body problem for a condensed-matter system is to try to reduce the huge number of variables (degrees of freedom) to a number which is more manageable but still can describe the essential physics of the phenomena being studied. See Crystal, Ferroelectrics, Magnetic materials, Quantum mechanics, Solid-state physics, Superconductivity