Not so long ago, two large and quite old fields in physics, string theory and condensed matter physics, were more or less at the opposite ends of the physics building. During the 40 or so years of its history, string theory has developed into a high art of “mathematical machine building”, propelled forwards by the internal powers of mathematics as inspired by physics. Yet, it has suffered greatly for the shortcoming that its theoretical answers are always beyond the reach of experimental machinery. Modern condensed matter physics is in the opposite corner. It has been propelled forwards by continuously improving experiments, which have delivered one serendipitous discovery after another during the last few decades. However, its interpretational framework rests by and large on equations developed 40 years or so ago. There has been an increasing sense that it is these that fall short in trying to explain the strongly interacting quantum many-body systems as realised by electrons in high-Tc superconductors and other unconventional materials.
All this changed dramatically in 2007 when physicists started to feed condensed matter questions to the most powerful mathematical machine of string theory: the holographic duality in the title of the book, also known as the “anti-de Sitter/ conformal field theory” (AdS/CFT) correspondence. This book introduces the explosion of answers that has followed since then.
The first (Jan) and last (Koenraad) of this book's authors are from such opposite corners. As soon as the seminal work of Herzog, Kovtun, Sachdev and Son in 2007 showed that these two subjects have dealings with each other, Jan and Koenraad recognised the potential and met up, almost literally half-way up the stairs. As has been characteristic for the development at large, it took us remarkably little effort to get on speaking terms, despite our superficially very different backgrounds. Shrouded by differences in language, string theory and condensed matter had already been on a collision course for a while, meeting each other on the common ground of quantum criticality/conformal field theory.