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Aspiring to Theoretical Physics as an Undergraduate

  1. Sep 4, 2014 #1
    I am currently enrolled at a US university as an undergrad physics major, and my interest is in theoretical particle physics/quantum mechanics. I am wondering if for the sake of theoretical physics it would be wise to dual-major in mathematics as well at the slight expense of some of the other physics courses I would take that separate the curriculum of the BA and BS physics degrees offered here. I guess the essence of what I want to know is how much math do I need to get a full understanding of the topics I would like to work in?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 4, 2014 #2
    A lot of math, however the math department tends to treat things as pure math so it might be better to take a few more physics classes and skip a couple extra that might be required for a math major (like taking Real Analysis 2 will gobble up a ton of time and not be particularly critical for you, etc.).
  4. Sep 5, 2014 #3
    Theoretical physics could mean a lot of things. If you are a theoretical biophysicist, the culture hasn't adopted much pure mathematics and so it will be useless to you.

    If you work on quantum gravity, my impression is that many groups have adopted quite a bit of pure mathematics.
  5. Sep 5, 2014 #4


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    I'm a grad student in condensed matter theory and I double majored in math and physics as an undergrad. I dont regret taking any math class and I often wish I knew more math. However, I'd advise being extremely careful sacrificing physics courses to take more math. Take physics courses with higher priority.
  6. Sep 5, 2014 #5
    Check the math major requirements at your uni. You might have to take some classes you might have no interest in whatsoever (number theory, advanced statistics, etc). In that case it probably doesn't make a lot of sense to do a math major if your motivation is just to be better at physics. (Maybe it well help for applications? I can't tell.)
  7. Sep 5, 2014 #6
    This question will be easy to answer once the OP clarifies what s/he wants to study.

    There are probably more, but the fields of physics which seem heavily interfaced with pure mathematics at present are string theory/LQG/other quantum gravity approaches(I think string theory people have even started whole new areas of study in pure mathematics),topological matter (which can get very esoteric, try reading one of Witten's papers on the topic; topological quantum computing also seems to hinge upon the application of sophisticated pure mathematics), and to a lesser extent classical gravity.

    Unless I've missed something, if the OP is interested in anything else, his/her mileage out of such courses will probably be quite a bit lower.
  8. Sep 7, 2014 #7


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    I don't really think you should be majoring in something just because it may be required for something in the future.

    Anyway, there are lots of physics majors who go to graduate school in some theoretical area of physics and don't have a math major.
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