Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024

Module PHYS4271: Condensed Matter Physics 4

Department: Physics

PHYS4271: Condensed Matter Physics 4

Type Open Level 4 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • Foundations of Physics 3A (PHYS3621) AND Foundations of Physics 3B (PHYS3631)


  • Foundations of Physics 4B (PHYS4261) if Foundations of Physics 3B (PHYS3631) was not taken in Year 3

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • PHYS3??1 Condensed Matter Physics 3


  • This module is designed primarily for students studying Department of Physics or Natural Sciences degree programmes.
  • It illustrates the relevant physics utilised in modern condensed matter physics based on scale, symmetry and the structure of matter and contains both material on "hard" condensed matter and an introduction to topics in soft matter physics.
  • It develops transferable skills in researching a topic at an advanced level and making a written presentation on the findings.


  • Symmetry structure and excitations: Overview of energy, length and time scales in different areas of CMP. Comparison of hard CMP and soft CMP. Cohesion in solids. Introduction to symmetry and its influence on physical properties. The symmetry of crystals. Measuring structure using diffraction. Elementary excitations from a ground state: single particles and collective excitations in solids. Phonons in a system with a two atom basis: acoustic and optic branches. Anharmonic effects, soft modes. Measuring excitations using scattering and spectroscopy.
  • Introduction to soft matter physics: Introduction to soft matter physics and its basic phenomenology. Polymer physics and scaling. Liquid crystals. Free energies. Diffusion (Einstein diffusion coefficients, Peclet number and Fick’s laws). Elasticity of solids.
  • Broken symmetry: Symmetry breaking at phase transitions as a method of classifying the phenomena studied in CMP. Phase transitions and critical exponents. Excitations in a broken symmetry system. Generalised rigidity and order. Topological defects. How other systems fit into this framework: superconductors and superfluids; classical examples (binary fluids, polymers, liquid crystals etc.); weak interactions in the standard model, cosmological examples. Other topological objects: vortices, monopoles, skyrmions (in outline). Applications of broken symmetry systems.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Having studied this module, students will have an understanding of the themes of modern condensed matter research, and an appreciation of role of scales, symmetry and the structure of matter. They will have become familiar with the physics of a number of examples taken from across the subject.
  • They will understand the elements of soft matter structure, its dynamics, elasticity and phase transitions.
  • They will understand the notion of broken symmetry and its consequences and an appreciation of the classification of phenomena in solids that this allows.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • In addition to the acquisition of subject knowledge, students will be able to apply the principles of physics to the solution of complex problems.
  • They will know how to produce a well-structured solution, with clearly-explained reasoning and appropriate presentation.
Key Skills:
  • Students will have developed skills in researching a topic at an advanced level and making a written presentation.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching will be by lectures and workshops.
  • The lectures provide the means to give a concise, focused presentation of the subject matter of the module. The lecture material will be defined by, and explicitly linked to, the contents of the recommended textbooks for the module, thus making clear where students can begin private study. When appropriate, the lectures will also be supported by the distribution of written material, or by information and relevant links online.
  • Regular problem exercises and workshops will give students the chance to develop their theoretical understanding and problem solving skills.
  • Students will be able to obtain further help in their studies by approaching their lecturers, either after lectures or at other mutually convenient times.
  • Lecturers will provide a list of advanced topics related to the module content. Students will be required to research one of these topics in depth and write a dissertation on it. Some guidance on the research and feedback on the dissertation will be provided by the lecturer.
  • Student performance will be summatively assessed through an open-book examination and a dissertation and formatively assessed through problem exercises and a progress test. The open-book examination will provide the means for students to demonstrate the acquisition of subject knowledge and the development of their problem-solving skills. The dissertation will provide the means for students to demonstrate skills in researching a topic at an advanced level and making a written presentation.
  • The problem exercises and progress test provide opportunities for feedback, for students to gauge their progress and for staff to monitor progress throughout the duration of the module.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 39 2 per week 1 Hour 39
Workshops 17 Weekly 1 Hour 17
Preparation and Reading 144
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Open-book examination Component Weighting: 80%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Open-book examination 100% None
Component: Dissertation Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Dissertation 1500 words 100% None

Formative Assessment:

Problem exercises and self-assessment; one progress test, workshops and problems solved therein.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University