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Physics Experimental or theoretical physics?

  1. Dec 28, 2011 #1
    I am currently a high school student who is very interested in all of science in general, but physics in particular is most intriguing to me. While perusing possible careers in physics, I have found that most are split into either experimental or theoretical. I was wondering if you would care to explain the difference between the two, as well as what jobs might be expected in each field. Also, is it really a pressing decision that I need to make soon, or can it be put off until graduate work/dissertations? Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 28, 2011 #2


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    Assuming you're in the US and plan to do the usual 4 year BS, straight to grad school route, you don't really need to figure this out until your third year of undergraduate work at a university. By the first semester of your fourth year, you'll need to apply to graduate programs which, by that point, you want to have a very good idea of exactly what you want to do in graduate school.

    As a simple example, let's say you have an experiment where you have a toy car falling down a ramp. The experimentalist designs the car, sets up the experiment, runs the experiment, and collects the data. The theoretical physicist tries to determine the laws of nature that are responsible for the car moving in the way that it did. It's somewhat simplistic and I think few people can consider themselves purely theorists or purely experimentalists
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