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Physical Chemistry/Chemical Physics and Degree Programs

  1. Jul 13, 2011 #1
    I was wondering what the true difference between Physical Chem and Chemical Physics was.
    And also, I would like to know if anyone knows a good undergrad school for either one?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 15, 2011 #2
    By in large, physical chemists are people who have specialized in chemistry (as an undergraduate) and who deal with certain physical aspects of chemistry, such as spectroscopy, chemical thermodynamics and kinetics, applied quantum chemistry as opposed to synthetic bench chemists who work in wet labs and make drugs and materials be reacting compounds and reagents.
    Chemical physicists are people who have specialized in physics (have an undergraduate degree in physics) and would generally work on somewhat deeper physical aspects of chemistry, for example, develop models for the calculation of electronic structure in molecules and crystals; here the approach is a lot more theoretical: its more or less molecular physics.
    Bear in mind, a chemistry degree is a very experimental subject, with very little to offer someone with a mathematical predisposition. It’s a great degree however, where the emphasis is on a conceptual understanding of the atomic world.
    Generally one doesn’t specialize until PhD level : so a physics BSc for chemical physics, and a chemistry BSc for physical chemistry would be my advice

    cheers and gd luck,

  4. Jul 15, 2011 #3
    Thanks for that clarification!
    Do you know what schools would be good for either one?
    And again thanks for your help!
  5. Jul 15, 2011 #4


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    I'm also not 100% sure about the distinction between chemical physics and physical chemistry (and the former is my actual area of work), but my impression is that chemical physics is mainly concerned with, say, systems of up to around 100 atoms, while physical chemistry is mainly concerned with larger systems.

    One gets this impression when regularly looking at the topics of articles in the Journal of Chemical Physics (which publishes chem phys stuff) and Phys Chem Chem Phys or the Journal of Physical Chemistry A (both of which publish more phys chem stuff). For example, under chemical physics you would find topics like quantum chemistry, spectroscopy, chemical reaction dynamics etc while under physical chemistry you would also find surface chemistry, zeolites, electro chemistry, physical properties of macroscopic samples, and so on.

    Regarding the schools: Find a school which offers good regular chemistry and good regular physics courses, the concrete school propably does not matter much. And then enroll in either physics or chemistry and take some courses of the other one as necessary. You typically specialize only after undergrad, but knowing some general chemistry and physics would certianly be helpful. If you know what you are looking for you can gain a large knowledge in the field before actually starting the PhD. I for example studied physics (with quite some chemistry on the side) with the explicit goal of going into some kind of theoretical chemistry, and this worked out spendidly.
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