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Physical Chemistry vs. Chemical Physics?

  1. Jun 10, 2003 #1
    I've yet to clearly understand the difference between these two disciplines, and I was wondering if anyone else had any insights. I first thought they were one and the same, but they are certainly used as different terms in most universities. I've come to understand it as a difference of scales. When one is performing analyses on only a few molecules or atoms, such as electronic or molecular structure calculations and density functional theory calculations, I view that as chemical physics (particularly if quantum mechanics is used). On a more macroscopic scale where one is looking at bulk thermodynamic properties I view that as physical chemistry. Reaction kinetics and statistical thermodynamics are kind of in the middle of these two. That's just my guess though. Any thoughts?
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 10, 2003
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 10, 2003 #2


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    A chemical physicist is a physicist first and a bad chemist second; a physical chemist is a chemist first and a lousy physicist second. The scale of problems/sizes of systems being studied/analyzed has very little to do with the distinction --- p-chem is physics from a chemist's viewpoint, and chemphys is chemistry from a physicist's viewpoint. The problems can be identical, the methods can be identical, and the results can be identical, but the interpretations seldom present even a superficial resemblance.
  4. Jun 10, 2003 #3
    excellent point. i agree totally.
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