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A lingering question

  1. May 23, 2014 #1
    The question I have is why do the general public often conflate theoretical particle physics (or, to a somewhat lesser extent, mathematical physics) with theoretical physics in general?

    I knew that theoretical particle physics juggled with fundamental physical questions, but it irks me since I knew that there were theoretical research questions in condensed matter, astrophysics, biophysics and so on, so forth.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 23, 2014 #2


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    That hasn't been my experience.

    I do see laypeople thinking all physicists do theory. The biggest field is experimental condensed matter physics -- and most people have never heard of that.
  4. May 23, 2014 #3


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    I agree with lisab. Most of the general public seems oblivious to physics. Nuclear physics is often equated with nuclear weapons. The rest of the field, particularly particle or high energy physics, and astrophysics seems beyond comprehension. There are certainly folks who pick up some sensational stories of blackholes, wormholes, gamma ray bursts, dark matter/energy, . . . . through various pop sci channels. But the physics seems generally beyond comprehension.

    I don't think condensed matter registers.
  5. May 24, 2014 #4


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    The only condensed matter physics the general public cares about is a discovery that might help them charge their cell phones.
  6. May 27, 2014 #5
    Perhaps we are just not dealing with the same general public... the public I am dealing with seems to accept that there are experimentalists, but even experimentalists seem to perform experiments that are impossibly arcane to the eyes of the general public.
  7. May 28, 2014 #6
    I also agree that it seems the general public mostly think of physicists as just one profession.

    So in my city, there's been a lot of talk about building a new accelerator and neutron source facility. Even though I'm working with quantum information, which is a completely different subject, approximately 100% of my family and relatives that have talked to me about it, have asked if I will be able to work at the new facilities. They just really don't think about different physics as different types of jobs.
  8. May 28, 2014 #7
    Why would the average person need to know the difference? They don't. And why should they?

    I could give you a lengthly screed about advanced topics and different techniques in Software development that you would probably be clueless about....as this isn't your area of expertise. But why should that irk me?
  9. May 28, 2014 #8


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    Read this:

    https://www.physicsforums.com/blog.php?b=3727 [Broken]

    It is not a new misconception.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
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