Fermi Liquid: The Quantum Behavior of Interacting Electrons

What is a Fermi Liquid?

A Fermi liquid is a theoretical model that describes the behavior of interacting electrons in metals and other condensed matter systems at low temperatures. It is based on the concept of quasiparticles, which are excitations that behave like weakly interacting particles despite the strong interactions between the underlying electrons. The Fermi liquid theory, developed by Soviet physicist Lev Landau in the 1950s, provides a framework for understanding the properties of many electronic systems, including their thermodynamic, transport, and magnetic properties. This foundational theory not only revolutionized our understanding of quantum mechanics and solid state physics but continues to influence contemporary research and technology development in areas ranging from semiconductor physics to quantum computing.
Fermi liquid theory gets its name from the way electrons behave under certain conditions. Despite being part of a solid material, these electrons flow and interact with one another in ways that are reminiscent of molecules in a liquid. This fluid-like behavior, combined with the quantum statistical description provided by Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, is why the model is referred to as a 'Fermi liquid'. The electrons in this state are not free-flowing like those in a classical liquid but instead, show collective behaviors that mirror those seen in liquids.

Key Concepts in Fermi Liquid Theory

The Fermi liquid theory is built upon several key concepts:
  • Quasiparticles: In a Fermi liquid, the low-energy excitations of the interacting electron system can be described as quasiparticles. These quasiparticles have similar properties to non-interacting electrons, such as charge, spin, and momentum, but with renormalized values due to the interactions. The quasiparticle concept allows the complex many-body problem to be simplified into a system of weakly interacting particles.
  • Fermi Surface: The Fermi surface is a key concept in Fermi liquid theory. It is the surface in momentum space that separates the occupied and unoccupied electron states at zero temperature. The shape and topology of the Fermi surface play a crucial role in determining the electronic properties of the system, such as the density of states, conductivity, and magnetic susceptibility.
  • Landau Parameters: The interactions between quasiparticles in a Fermi liquid are characterized by a set of parameters known as Landau parameters. These parameters describe the strength and nature of the interactions, such as the effective mass, spin susceptibility, and specific heat. The Landau parameters can be determined experimentally or calculated using many-body techniques, such as perturbation theory or renormalization group methods.

Properties of Fermi Liquids

Fermi liquids exhibit several characteristic properties that distinguish them from other electronic systems:

Specific Heat

The specific heat of a Fermi liquid at low temperatures follows a linear temperature dependence, C ∝ T. This behavior arises from the linear density of states near the Fermi surface and the weak interactions between quasiparticles. The coefficient of the linear term is proportional to the effective mass of the quasiparticles, which can be enhanced compared to the bare electron mass due to interactions.

Electrical Conductivity

The electrical conductivity of a Fermi liquid at low temperatures follows a quadratic temperature dependence, σ ∝ T^(-2). This behavior is a consequence of the quasiparticle scattering rate, which is proportional to the square of the temperature. The coefficient of the quadratic term is related to the Landau parameters and the Fermi surface properties.

Magnetic Susceptibility

The magnetic susceptibility of a Fermi liquid is usually temperature-independent at low temperatures, χ ∝ const. This behavior is known as Pauli paramagnetism and arises from the spin degree of freedom of the quasiparticles. The magnitude of the Pauli susceptibility is determined by the density of states at the Fermi level and the Landau parameters related to spin interactions.

Limitations and Extensions of Fermi Liquid Theory

While Fermi liquid theory successfully describes many electronic systems, it has limitations and breaks down in certain situations:
  • Strongly Correlated Systems: In systems with strong electronic correlations, such as heavy fermion compounds or high-temperature superconductors, the quasiparticle picture may break down, and non-Fermi liquid behavior can emerge. These systems often exhibit unconventional properties, such as non-integer power-law dependences of physical quantities on temperature or frequency.
  • Quantum Critical Points: Near quantum critical points, where a phase transition occurs at zero temperature due to quantum fluctuations, the Fermi liquid theory may not be applicable. The critical fluctuations can lead to a breakdown of the quasiparticle picture and the emergence of novel quantum states, such as non-Fermi liquids or quantum spin liquids.
  • Topological Phases: Fermi liquid theory does not capture the topological properties of certain electronic systems, such as topological insulators or Weyl semimetals. These systems exhibit novel surface states or bulk band crossings that are protected by symmetries and cannot be described within the conventional Fermi liquid framework.
To address these limitations, various extensions and generalizations of Fermi liquid theory have been developed. For example, the marginal Fermi liquid theory has been proposed to describe the non-Fermi liquid behavior observed in high-temperature superconductors. The theory of Fermi liquids has also been extended to incorporate topological properties, leading to the concept of topological Fermi liquids.

Applications and Significance

Fermi liquid theory has been successfully applied to a wide range of electronic systems, including:
  • Metals: Fermi liquid theory provides a framework for understanding the electronic properties of metals, such as their specific heat, conductivity, and magnetic susceptibility. It has been particularly successful in describing the behavior of simple metals, such as alkali and noble metals.
  • Semiconductors: Fermi liquid theory has been extended to describe the behavior of electrons and holes in semiconductors, particularly in doped systems where the carrier density can be controlled. It has been used to understand the transport properties and optical response of semiconductors.
  • Quantum Wells and Quantum Dots: Fermi liquid theory has been applied to study the electronic properties of low-dimensional systems, such as quantum wells and quantum dots. In these systems, the reduced dimensionality and confinement effects can lead to modifications of the Fermi liquid behavior, such as enhanced interactions and quantum size effects.
  • Superconductors: Fermi liquid theory provides a starting point for understanding the normal state properties of superconductors above their critical temperature. The interactions between quasiparticles in the normal state can give rise to the attractive interactions responsible for the formation of Cooper pairs and the onset of superconductivity.
The Fermi liquid theory has had a profound impact on our understanding of electronic systems and has served as a foundation for the development of many other theories in condensed matter physics. It continues to be a valuable tool for interpreting experimental results and guiding the design of new materials with desired electronic properties.

Further Reading

Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter, How do Fermi liquids get heavy and die?