The Critical Point: A Historical Introduction to the Modern Theory of Critical Phenomena

The Critical Point: A Historical Introduction to the Modern Theory of Critical Phenomena

The Critical Point: A Historical Introduction to the Modern Theory of Critical Phenomena

The Critical Point: A Historical Introduction to the Modern Theory of Critical Phenomena

Synopsis

Written in an accessible style, this historical account spanning major developments in physics gives a clear idea of what has been achieved in the area of equilibrium critical phenomena.

Excerpt

This monograph has its origin in a course of graduate lectures on 'Critical Phenomena' which I gave for many years in an Intercollegiate Programme at London University in England, and subsequently at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. The lectures were designed for the general condensed matter physicist, the aim being to provide background and current information on the exciting developments which were taking place. The course started in 1960, and had to be expanded from time to time to take account of important new ideas.

When the renormalization group (RG) burst on the scene in the 1970s it provided a wealth of new opportunities for exploration, and these attracted much new talent and ability into the field. Some took the view that much of the previous work had been made obsolete, and that the ideas of the RG should be introduced at the beginning of the course. This was not the attitude which I adopted. The RG did not provide exact solutions; it made daring and drastic approximations which required justification, and independent alternative assessments of critical behaviour were therefore of vital importance. To me it seemed that the RG had filled the large missing gaps in the previous treatment, and that it enhanced rather than detracted from the value of the work which had preceded it. I therefore did not change my course but added a final section which explained the RG approach, outlined its conclusions and assessed their significance.

In fact there are two alternative methods of teaching a scientific topic which has experienced revolutionary progress. The first ignores history and formulates the subject from first principles in the most logical manner. The second describes experimental data and theoretical ideas as they developed, even though the path is less direct and may involve ad hoc conjectures and blind alleyways. Using the second approach the present monograph aims to present a historical account of the development of a coherent theory of critical pheno-

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