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Are experimentation and theory always two separate jobs?

  1. Feb 24, 2015 #1
    Hello PhysicsForums

    I'm an undergraduate physics major trying to get an idea of what I'm going to be spending the rest of my life doing. I know that physicists are usually split into theorists and experimentalists with the majority being experimentalists. But are the two types always separate? For example, how unusual would it be for an experimentalist in condensed matter to contribute to the development of theories in his/her field through mathematics rather than experimentation?

    Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 24, 2015 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    I'm in experimental HEP. I have co-written two published theory papers, which is approximately 2 more than the average experimenter. It was difficult to make even this level of contribution - there's just not enough time to keep up with the theoretical developments at the level needed to add to them and to be a successful experimenter. I had a good co-author (a theorist).

    These papers were not earth-shattering. They got maybe 70-80 citations each. Both papers addressed a very specific issue, the community reacted, and then moved on.

    Probably not what you wanted to hear.
  4. Feb 24, 2015 #3


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    I say this without evidence, but I think it's more common to see theorists that dabble in experiment than you see the other way around.

    I'm in experimental nuclear physics. In my (largish) research group, we have two theorists who suggest experiments, and pull shifts on the accelerator, but will not tend to participate in experimental design or the analysis of data. They are very helpful when it comes to the interpretation of the data, however. They're kind of experimentalish theorists.
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