It has been about a hundred years since the atomic nature of matter began to be generally accepted. By the late 1920s, atomic theory was well established, and quantum theory had explained many properties of atoms in gases. The interpretation of the sharp lines in atomic optical spectra could be explained in terms of transitions between electronic energy levels. The application of interacting atoms in solids appeared straightforward in principle, and although quantum theory answered many fundamental questions about condensed matter, theoretical applications were mostly appropriate for idealized models of solids. Because the optical spectra of solids had broad structure, explaining their origin in terms of electronic transitions was more difficult than for the case of atoms. It was not until the 1960s that accurate electronic band structures could be calculated for bulk materials. Basic and applied research involving semiconductors, superconductors, and nanostructured materials has guided the application of quantum theory to condensed matter. These are areas where the use of quantum theory has been central in explaining and predicting properties and has even led to the discovery of new materials.
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