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How does mathematical physics differ from physics

  1. Dec 5, 2006 #1

    i'm wanting to start a degree next year in either physics or mathematical physics. The mathematical physics degree is a joint honours degree. I'm just wondering what is the difference between physics and mathematical physics? Is mathematical physics basically just another name for theoretical physics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 5, 2006 #2
    Is there a description of the program on the web?
  4. Dec 5, 2006 #3
    No, i'm looking into a degree at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland... they don't have any specific details about the mathematical phsyics degree. But i'm sure people here will know what its all about...
  5. Dec 5, 2006 #4
    Of course they also have a standard physics degree, but my goal is to become a theoretical physicist, so a question would be... would an undergraduate mathematical physics degree better suit me or a physics degree.
  6. Dec 5, 2006 #5
    yes of course it needs more maths, but it must go deeper than that. There are different approaches to physics... experimental, theoretical, mathematical... i'm not sure how they relate. I would think mathematical physics is even more 'rigorous' than theoretical physics.
  7. Dec 5, 2006 #6
    I think mathematical physics generally means the study of mathematics used in physics from the point of view of mathematics. Dull as dishwater, but that's just me.

    I see that Edinburgh has a BSc in mathematical physics and also one in "Mathematics & Physics", which I suppose have differences in emphasis.
  8. Dec 5, 2006 #7

    Dr Transport

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    A mathematical physicists background has more math than the typical physicist, so they tend to do ta more rigorous type of research proving the existance and uniqueness of the solution of the problem at hand.

    A theoretical physicist may not have as much math background but is more likely to solve the problem specifically. I for example would do a hand waving physical argument to approach and write down the general solution then solve for the specifics, whereas a mathematical physicist would spend time proving that this is the solution in a very general way.
  9. Dec 10, 2006 #8
    If you want to do theory, mathematical physics would be a good option.
  10. Dec 10, 2006 #9

    Dr Transport

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    If you want to do mathematical theory applied to physics, yes, otherwise no. I am a theoretical phycisist and do not use higher math (analysis or abstract algebra) to solve any of my problems.
  11. Dec 10, 2006 #10
    sorry for going off track... but what about geometry (triangles, angles, circles and such) and set theory?

    what are the common mathematics used by theoretical physics?
  12. Dec 10, 2006 #11


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    I'm in fourth year of a maths degree at Nottingham, and mainly taking Math Phys modules. Here, the main difference is that the Math Phys degree is run jointly with the School of Maths, whereas the straight Physics degree is taught independently by the Physics School. Therefore, there is hardly any lab work in the Math Phys degree; this is replaced with more in depth teaching of the basic mathematical concepts (calculus, linear algebra, etc) in the first few year, and in place of third year practical work, modules on quantum theory and relativity are taught in a more mathematical way than in the Physics degree. Obviously, this will differ from university to university (for example modules on relativity may be replaced with particle theoretical modules in universities specialising in that particular field) but I've included a link which may be useful. If you go to this webpage, it gives detailed descriptions of compulsary modules and optional modules for each course, so it may be a good start to comparing the two degrees

  13. Dec 10, 2006 #12

    Dr Transport

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    I wouldn't call geometry and trigonometry higher math. Set theory is used in theoretical physics when working in high energy theory, but if your talking about Galos (sp) and other math theory, no, I haven't seen an application to physics yet. Of course Hilbert said something to the effect that math today is theoretical physics tommorow.

    Common math in physics today, calculus, complex variables, linear algebra, geometry and trigonometry. People use group theory, both point and continuous. I use alot of numerical math to solve problems as do many others.
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