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In general, this question is "how much material science does a condensed matter theorist need to know and how do I learn?"

More precisely, as a condensed matter theory PhD student, I am often overwhelmed by the wide variety of chemical formulas that experimentalists trot out for their results. I'm thinking about the cuprates, transition metal dichalcogenides, iron pnictides, SrRu with O$_3$, O$_4$, O$_7$, and many more.

How would a material scientist look at the periodic table and decide what compound will give interesting physics? I know it's difficult to tell crystal structure from a chemical formula, so what do experimentalists looks for?

Some specific examples if someone is willing and able to answer?

-How do you tell Bi$_{1-x}$Sb$_x$ is going to be a topological insulator candidate?

-How do I know what would or wouldn't be a Mott insulator?

-In general, I see a lot of transition metals and rare earth (lanthanides) materials. Is this is as simple as higher orbitals, or what am I missing?

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