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Mathematical Physics vs Theoretical Physics

  1. Apr 18, 2015 #1
    Hello PF, pardon me if this isn't the wrong place but I just had a quick question. So I have always wanted to do Theoretical Physics (particular interests are Quantum Gravity, Cosmology, QFT and Quantum Optics, but those are subject to change), but recently I have started to look into Mathematical Physics. Apart from finding out that Mathematical Physicists work on String Theory and Cosmology, which are my primary interests, I really don't know whether I would be more suited to Mathematical or Theoretical Physics.

    So can someone please describe the work that that Theoretical and Mathematical Physicists do, and what is the difference between them?

    Thanks for any and all replies!
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 18, 2015 #2
    Some universities have a "mathematical physics" research program in the MATH department as as opposed to the physics department. That, I'm guessing, would be the difference. Mathematical physicists are concerned with the mathematical tools needed to do physics, I believe.
  4. Apr 18, 2015 #3
    Another area that could be considered "mathematical physics" might be fluid dynamics and kinetic theory...there is much work being done in math departments on differential equations that are inspired by these fields of physics. See C├ędric Villani, Fields Medalist.
  5. May 1, 2015 #4
    "Mathematical" anything tends to be academics that are more concerned and intrigued by the actual mathematics behind novel problems, not the problems themselves. Theoretical physicists tend to be more concerned with the actual solving of the problem or the formulation of a theory to suggest rather than the beauty of the mathematics which are being used.
  6. May 1, 2015 #5
    I see. So Theoretical would be better for someone who cares about the math more as a means to an end, like if I cared more about the answer than the math behind it?
  7. May 1, 2015 #6
    On a very basic level, yes. Truthfully, there is a lot of collaboration between the fields.

    My best answer is, go the best undergrad program you can get into and ask more educated questions when you are contemplating postgrad options.
  8. May 1, 2015 #7
    Okay, thanks a lot! That helped a bunch.
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