Physics in Perspective

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 3–32

What’s in a Name Change?

Solid State Physics, Condensed Matter Physics, and Materials Science

DOI: 10.1007/s00016-014-0151-7

Cite this article as:
Martin, J.D. Phys. Perspect. (2015) 17: 3. doi:10.1007/s00016-014-0151-7


When solid state physics emerged in the 1940s, its name was controversial. By the 1970s, some physicists came to prefer “condensed matter” as a way to identify the discipline of physics examining complex matter. Physicists and historians often gloss this transition as a simple rebranding of a problematically named field, but attention to the motives behind these names reveals telling nuances. “Solid state physics” and “condensed matter physics”—along with “materials science,” which also emerged during the Cold War—were named in accordance with ideological commitments about the identity of physics. Historians, therefore, can profitably understand solid state and condensed matter physics as distinct disciplines. Condensed matter, rather than being continuous with solid state physics, should be considered alongside materials science as an outlet for specific frustrations with the way solid state was organized.


Solid state physics condensed matter physics materials science discipline formation 

Copyright information

© Springer Basel 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lyman Briggs CollegeEast LansingUSA

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