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Acta Cryst. (1994). A50, 796-797

Out of the crystal maze. Chapters from the history of solid-state physics

Edited by L. Hoddeson, E. Braun, J. Teichmann and S. Weart

Pp. xxiii + 697. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992
Price £50.00. ISBN 0-19-505329-X

Physicists engaged in the study of quantum mechanics, relativity or nuclear physics were members of well defined scientific disciplines from the moment that these ideas appeared on the scientific horizon. The history of these fields of study has been recorded in numerous books, but a comprehensive historical treatment of solid-state physics is lacking. Unlike the previously mentioned topics, the lack of cohesiveness and the breadth of the subject of the physics of the solid state present a formidable obstacle to such an undertaking. The present volume is an outgrowth of an international effort to rectify this omission, involving English, US, German and French science historians, with assistance from Italian and Japanese colleagues. It is the story of the emergence of a science whose unifying theme is the understanding of real solids, and of its practitioners, many of whom were active in industrial laboratories and were therefore relegated to second-class status in the professional physics societies of those days, dominated as they were by academic physicists. It is difficult to pinpoint the emergence of the field but unquestionably the discovery, in 1912, of X-ray diffraction must be considered a keystone in its development. Interestingly enough, this discovery, which played such a vital part in the understanding of solids, developed an identity of its own, unlike some of the other early separate topics such as the physics of metals and of textiles, semiconductor physics etc., all of which eventually merged into the broad field of the physics of the solid state. This history stops at 1960 because the authors felt that at that point in the development of the field a plateau had been reached, so many phenomena having been placed on a firm footing. The phrase `condensed-matter physics' never makes an appearance.

The volume is divided into nine chapters. Chapter 1 deals with the major scientific and social developments, beginning with the discoveries of the late 19th century. Crystallographers will be especially interested in the description of the Laue experiment, the beginnings of structure determination and applications to powder diffraction. Chapter 2 presents an overview of the development of the quantum-mechanical electron theory of metals during the years 1926-1933. This topic is further developed in Chapter 3 for the period 1933-1960. Chapter 4 delves into the development of defects of all types in ionic crystals, while Chapter 5 deals with investigations of the mechanical properties of solids and their interpretation on the basis of dislocation theory. Chapters 6, 7 and 8 deal with magnetism, semiconductor physics and collective phenomena, respectively. Chapter 9 is entitled The solid community and is a fascinating tale of how the solid-state community emerged as a unified discipline from the confluence of a great many separate scientific endeavors devoted to the study of solids. Reading this chapter brings to mind the daily newspaper descriptions of the political compromises and horse-trading that are required in a democracy to achieve a political objective. The establishment of a Division of Solid-State Physics in the American Physical Society (APS) involved many similar efforts to convince the traditionalists in the physics community to support the establishment of divisions in APS and to persuade them that this would not constitute a `balkanization of physics'. On the contrary, its creation pre-empted the establishment of many societies that would otherwise have come into existence, because APS was not serving their active constituencies. Thus, the Optical Society of America and the American Vacuum Society were early outgrowths of such a perception by the physicists working in these fields. The creation of special interest groups (SIGs) in the American Crystallographic Association serves that same purpose today.

Crystallographers will be especially interested in the emergence of the American Crystallographic Association (ACA) from the merger of the American Society for X-ray and Electron Diffraction (ASXRED), founded by Maurice Huggins, and the Crystallographic Society of America (CSA), formed through the initiative of Martin Buerger. Similar developments occurred in England, with the formation of the X-ray Analysis Group within the Institute of Physics. The giants in the field, Ewald, Bragg and others, foresaw the need for an international organization, which led eventually to the formation of the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr) and its international journal Acta Crystallographica. Thus, ironically, the seminal discovery of X-ray diffraction, which laid the foundation for solid-state physics, has led to the development of a separate discipline. The story is well known and many books on this topic have been written (see, for example, Crystallography in North America) but Spencer Weart, of the History Center of the American Institute of Physics, brings a new perspective to this story by integrating it into the development of solid-state physics.

The chapters provide a most readable nonmathematical overview of the development of the various fields of solid-state physics, suited to the nonspecialist. It is not a book to pick up and read in one sitting; it is best enjoyed during moments of leisure when a chapter, or parts of several chapters, can be read just for the joy of learning more about one's science than appears in the technical journals. The many photographs definitely add to this enjoyment. Parts of this volume, designated as assigned reading, would add materially to the education of undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the usual academic courses. Indeed, there are many fascinating nuggets that an instructor could introduce into a course on solid-state physics to give life to the names that students encounter during their years of study. The book contains very extensive notes and references at the end of each chapter. It is a volume well worth having on one's bookshelf.

Hugo Steinfink

Department of Chemical Engineering
Materials Science and Engineering
University of Texas
Austin
TX 78712
USA


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