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Mathematical Physics

  1. May 5, 2008 #1
    What precisely is mathematical physics? Also, is it a better field to go into than just math or just physics?

    Sorry if I'am being innaccurate with the "just math or just physics" but I think you guys know what I mean.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 5, 2008 #2
    I took 2 quarters of mathematical physics. In it, we learned various mathematical methods of solving physics problems. So for example, instead of just saying "Let the computer solve it", we actually did it by hand. It wasn't anything ugly, since it was meant to be methods that actually make it easier. So we spent a lot of time on solving harmonic oscillators in various ways.

    I can't say for sure what a career in Math. Phys. would be like, though. Possibly researching ways to analytically solve problems that are "too complicated" to solve at the moment analytically.
  4. May 5, 2008 #3
    Would this be what a prof. of Math. Phys. would be doing? Also, is becoming a prof. the only notible career path you can take with a degree in Math. Phys.?
  5. May 6, 2008 #4


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    i dunno how to differentiate it from "Theoretical Physics". both seem pretty hard-core. John Baez calls himself a Mathematical Physicist.
  6. May 6, 2008 #5
    Traditonally, it is about solving mathematical problems that arise in physics (and are too difficult to be left to the physicist :-) ) - like finding a solution to some PDE, making integral transforms, minimizing some functional,....

    But it can also mean mathematically rigorous study of physical models, which seems pretty interesting to me, but I'm afraid that not much can be gained out of that - or am I wrong?
  7. May 6, 2008 #6
    The way my quantum professor explained it to me: theoretical physicists are physicists, mathematical physicists are mathematicians. My understanding is that mathematical physics is a discipline within math departments. Mathematical physicists would probably be interested in proofs, and in solving problems in mathematics. Theoretical physicists, however, appear to be more interested in getting results that can be empirically tested, and they work fairly closely with experimental physicists. My advisor, for example, is an experimental physicist, but we have a theoretical professor in our group as well, and he's familiar with many of the details of our experiment.

    Well, hope this helps.
  8. May 6, 2008 #7
    With a degree in Math. Phys. is the only notible career path becoming a prof., or are there other worth while career paths with this degree, in terms of pay.
  9. May 6, 2008 #8
    I guess if you have some familiarity with the stuff advanced physicists do, a good analogy is that mathematical physicists are more like string theorists. Theoretical physicists are like model builders.
  10. May 7, 2008 #9
    I have always seen mathematical physics as using the math thats in the theory and manipulating it to tell you the story. String theory was born through this, it was the gamma function from which Euler developed that once manipulated or "read" it show sign that quarks were made from strings!

    So to answer your question, i would say it depends on your intentions. If you want to earn money, then i dont know, its been said on the net that "all the universities are looking for string theorists" but you never no. If your intentions are to make a contribution, then it depends on what you like, if you like mathematical physics, do mathematical physics. If you like pure math, then do pure math. It is a bad idea to work in a field that you are not passionate about, do what you love!
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