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Questions about the intersection between chemistry & physics

  1. Dec 11, 2014 #1
    I am in some real need of advice on the possibilities of my future plans.

    A bit of background, 32 years old, went back to undergrad at 30 and currently enrolled in a Bsc (hons) degree in Natural Sciences in the UK with my major subject as Chemistry. Plans to give my full effort to getting into academia and research down the line.

    This semester we really started to get into the nitty gritty of physical chemistry and quantum chemistry. I am absolutely loving it and know its the area I want to pour my heart and soul. My problem is that, it seems all the research problems I find super interesting at this point in my education so far tend to be from the angle of atomic physics or molecular physics. Is it heard of or possible in your opinion for one to do a chemistry undergrad, physical/theoretical chemistry masters and then a Phd in atomic or molecular physics? I understand I am still young at 32, but I would much prefer not to have to add on another year to switch to a physics degree at undergrad. It is a possibility for me to take some final year physics/math courses in my chemistry program such QM & QM mathematical methods.

    I understand there is a lot of collaboration between AMO physics, physical chemistry, chemistry physics and theoretical chemistry. I guess what I truly want to know, is that if I continue on with physical chemistry through to Phd rather than getting onto a physics Phd would that also allow me the opportunity to do research in the above mentioned fields like atomic physics, physical chemistry, molecular chemistry and publish in those respective journals as well as work in either department? I have seen its quite common for physicists to hold faculty positions in either physics or physical chemistry, but does it go both ways? Can a physical chemist hold a faculty position in atomic physics for example?

    Thank you for your advice.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 11, 2014 #2


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    Switching undergrad majors does not seem like a necessity, or even helpful. If you wish to get into academia, the area you write your articles in (typically judged by the journals) would be much more important than what you originally had courses in. I would not worry much about it. If you wish to do molecular or atomic physics, doing so while trained as a chemist is perfectly fine.

    Also note that there is nothing stopping you from doing molecular physics or atomic physics in a chemistry department. When it comes to these intersections of fields, it seems to me like whether one ends up in the physics department or chemistry department is quite random. I have seen both physicists doing hardcore quantum many body theory employed by chemistry departments, and chemists doing inorganic solid state chemistry employed by physics departments. Of course, at some point you have to convince them that what you are doing does relate to what they are interested in, and that you are able to teach some of the courses which need teaching.
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