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Condensed-Matter and Materials Physics: The Science of the World Around Us
close interaction between theory and experiment that characterizes CMMP; each informs and guides the other.
Emergent phenomena in condensed-matter and materials physics are those that cannot be understood with models that treat the motions of the individual particles within the material independently. Instead, the essence of emergent phenomena lies in the complex interactions between many particles that result in the diverse behavior and often unpredictable collective motion of many particles. It is wonderful and exciting that the well of such phenomena is infinitely deep; CMMP researchers will never run short of mysteries to solve and phenomena to exploit—they are out there for the inquisitive to find.
Emergent phenomena beautifully illustrate the inseparability of the fundamental and applied research in CMMP. In some cases, the application of an emergent phenomenon is nearly immediate; in other cases it takes decades to occur; and in still others it may never occur. At the same time, technical advances in one area of CMMP can enable the discovery of an exotic phenomenon in a seemingly remote area of the field.
The nation’s CMMP community has historically been extraordinarily successful at discovering, understanding, and applying emergent phenomena. In terms of opportunity, the future is extremely bright. Ever-more-complex materials are being synthesized and ever-more-sophisticated tools are being developed for their study. The explosion of research on nanoscale systems and the rapidly dissolving boundaries between CMMP and other scientific disciplines will surely lead to new vistas in emergent phenomena. The challenge is to make sure that U.S. researchers have access to the best new materials and tools and the time and resources to make the most of them.
The paths between discovery, understanding, and applications of scientific research are obscure and unpredictable. They are full of sharp turns, dead ends, and unexpected forks in the road. But they also can lead to beautiful places that no one knew existed. Robert Frost had it right: It is important to take the road less traveled, for that will make all the difference.