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What’s in a Name Change?

Martin, Joseph D.

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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.


Martin, J. D. (2015). What’s in a Name Change?. Physics in Perspective, 17(1), 3-32.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Jan 8, 2015
Publication Date Mar 1, 2015
Deposit Date Sep 18, 2019
Publicly Available Date Sep 27, 2019
Journal Physics in Perspective
Print ISSN 1422-6944
Electronic ISSN 1422-6960
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 17
Issue 1
Pages 3-32


Accepted Journal Article (285 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Physics in Perspective. The final authenticated version is available online at:

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