The matter surrounding us seems prosaic because we are so used to it. But if you take a closer look at common materials such as soot, rust or oxidised copper, you’ll find some unsuspected treasures. From solids and liquids to glass and polymers, researchers are fascinated by all kinds of matter, especially when they can exploit their properties to develop new applications.
These properties are often derived from the crystalline structure of materials: in other words, the regular or not-so-regular organisation of the atoms they are made up of. The nature of the existing electronic connections between these atoms is also of crucial importance, explaining an array of phenomena that have revolutionised the field over the past two decades: superconductivity at high critical temperatures, for example, ferroelectricity, magnetism and quantified conductivity.
The physics of quantum matter is undoubtedly the field of physics that currently employs the most researchers and produces the results likely to be of the greatest interest to industry and the economy.