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Q: theoretical and applied physics

  1. Jun 27, 2010 #1

    this is my first post ,and i hope it is ont the last.

    can i ask you a single question :

    can you tell me the different between studying theoretical physics and

    studying applied physics ?

    thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 27, 2010 #2
    Applied physics and theoretical physics just focuses on different subjects, namely applied focuses on things that are close to applications while theoretical focuses more on subjects from the forefront of concepts.
  4. Jun 27, 2010 #3

    Dr Transport

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    Let's put it in a little different terms,

    Theoretical Physics: Pushing the envelope, i.e. new physics

    Applied Physics: Pick and shovel work to investigate the possibilities
  5. Jun 27, 2010 #4
    But that is what you do when you are done, not what you study during the education. In neither do you study new physics, you just focus on different subjects. Theoretical focuses more on stuff like the standard model, relativity theory, quantum field theory etc, applied focuses more on things like waves, lasers, condensed matter and statistical physics.
  6. Jun 28, 2010 #5
    thank you..

    but i think it's like cars:

    if you learn how to drive the car professionally (this is like applied physics)


    if you learn what inside the car piece by piece and it's not necessary you know how to drive

    this car (this like theoretical physics)
  7. Jun 28, 2010 #6
    If you need an analogy, I guess. I don't see how this is particularly useful, however.

    At what stage in education are you at? At what level are you wondering what the difference is? In undergraduate education, there is almost no difference: the basics are the same in both types.
  8. Jun 28, 2010 #7
    i talk about graduate level:smile:
  9. Jun 28, 2010 #8
    Well, at graduate level the differences starts to become bigger. In applied you actually build stuff that could be useful to mankind in the not so far future while in theoretical you are just working with the theoretical framework and in experimental you test the theoretical framework.

    So theoretical searches for new physics, experimental weeds out what theoretical comes up with and applied bridges the gap between the theoretical forefront and engineering.
  10. Jun 28, 2010 #9
    Could the OP be asking more about 'pure' physics rather than 'theoretical' physics?
  11. Jun 29, 2010 #10
    Define 'pure' physics.
  12. Jun 29, 2010 #11


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    I think this question is based on a misunderstanding.

    One can do theoretical work IN applied physics. There are many theorists in condensed matter physics, which many consider to be "applied physics". Phil Anderson and Bob Laughlin are both theorists in condensed matter physics who have won Nobel Prizes.

    Maybe what you are asking is the differences between theoretical physics and experimental physics. Other than String Theory, both aspects are in practically all the various fields of physics.

  13. Jun 29, 2010 #12
    Physics that does not apparently have immediate applications, but it could be experimental. Like the (fuzzy) difference between pure and applied mathematics.
  14. Jun 29, 2010 #13
    Everybody has they own opinion on questions of definition like this. And so often the opinions betray what kind of physics the person does.

    I would plot experimental vs theoretical on one axis, and applied vs pure on another. This description has regions where people do theory in applied physics and where people to experiments in pure physics, and all the other various combination.
  15. Jun 29, 2010 #14
    I drew out the axes. lol. That's a good way of putting it, though.
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