The stability of matter

Elliott H. Lieb

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361 Scopus citations


A fundamental paradox of classical physics is why matter, which is held together by Coulomb forces, does not collapse. The resolution is given here in three steps. First, the stability of atom is demonstrated, in the framework of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics. Next the Pauli principle, together with some facts about Thomas-Fermi theory, is shown, to account for the stability (i.e., saturation) of bulk matter. Thomas-Fermi theory is developed in some detail because, as is also pointed out, it is the asymptotically correct picture of heavy atoms and molecules (in the Z→ limit). Finally, a rigorous version of screening is introduced to account for thermodynamic stability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)553-569
Number of pages17
JournalReviews of Modern Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1976

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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