How does mathematical physics differ from physics

In summary, the conversation discusses the difference between a degree in physics and mathematical physics, with the latter being more mathematically rigorous. The conversation also explores the common mathematics used in theoretical physics, such as calculus, linear algebra, and group theory. It is mentioned that mathematical physics degrees may have less lab work and instead focus on mathematical concepts, and different universities may have different course offerings in their programs. Set theory is also briefly mentioned as being used in high energy theory.
  • #1
aeroboyo
70
0
hi,

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?
 
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  • #2
Is there a description of the program on the web?
 
  • #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 physics degree. But I'm sure people here will know what its all about...
 
  • #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.
 
  • #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.
 
  • #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.
 
  • #7
A mathematical physicists background has more math than the typical physicist, so they tend to do ta more rigorous type of research proving the existence 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.
 
  • #8
If you want to do theory, mathematical physics would be a good option.
 
  • #9
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.
 
  • #10
Dr Transport said:
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.

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?
 
  • #11
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

http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/physics/courses/ug_courses_list.php
 
  • #12
tim_lou said:
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?

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 a lot of numerical math to solve problems as do many others.
 

Related to How does mathematical physics differ from physics

1. How is mathematical physics different from regular physics?

Mathematical physics is a field that combines mathematical concepts and techniques with the principles of physics to explain natural phenomena. It uses mathematical models and equations to describe and predict physical systems, while traditional physics focuses on observing and understanding the behavior of matter and energy in the physical world.

2. What role does mathematics play in understanding physics?

Mathematics is essential in understanding physics as it provides the language and tools to describe and quantify physical phenomena. The laws and theories of physics are often expressed in mathematical equations, allowing scientists to make precise predictions and calculations.

3. Can mathematical physics be applied to all areas of physics?

Yes, mathematical physics can be applied to all areas of physics. It is used in fields such as quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism to provide a deeper understanding of physical phenomena and make accurate predictions about their behavior.

4. How does mathematical physics contribute to the advancement of science?

Mathematical physics plays a crucial role in the advancement of science by providing a framework for understanding complex physical systems and making predictions about their behavior. It also allows scientists to develop new theories and models to explain previously unexplained phenomena.

5. Is a strong mathematical background necessary to study mathematical physics?

While a strong mathematical background is certainly helpful in studying mathematical physics, it is not necessarily a requirement. Many physicists have a strong intuition for mathematical concepts and are able to apply them effectively without extensive formal training in mathematics.

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