Questions about the intersection between chemistry & physics

In summary, a 32-year-old individual is seeking advice on the possibilities of pursuing their academic and research goals. They are currently enrolled in a Bsc (hons) degree in Natural Sciences with a major in Chemistry and plan to continue into academia and research. While they are enjoying their studies in physical and quantum chemistry, they are interested in the fields of atomic and molecular physics. They are wondering if it is possible to do a chemistry undergrad, physical/theoretical chemistry masters, and a Phd in atomic or molecular physics. The individual is also curious about the potential for a physical chemist to hold a faculty position in atomic physics. The expert summarizer suggests that switching undergrad majors is not necessary and that the focus should be on the area
  • #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:
Physics news on
  • #2
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.

1. What is the difference between chemistry and physics?

The main difference between chemistry and physics is that chemistry deals with the composition, structure, and properties of matter, while physics deals with the fundamental laws of nature and the behavior of matter and energy. In simpler terms, chemistry focuses on what things are made of and how they interact, while physics focuses on why things behave the way they do.

2. How do chemistry and physics intersect?

Chemistry and physics intersect in many ways, as both sciences are closely related and often overlap. For example, chemical reactions are governed by the laws of physics, and the properties of matter studied in chemistry are based on the behavior of atoms and molecules studied in physics. Additionally, many modern technologies, such as materials science and nanotechnology, require knowledge from both chemistry and physics.

3. What are some examples of the intersection between chemistry and physics?

Some examples of the intersection between chemistry and physics include studying the properties of materials, such as their conductivity or melting point, which require an understanding of both the chemical composition and the physical properties of the material. Another example is the study of chemical reactions, which involves understanding the underlying physical processes, such as energy changes and molecular interactions.

4. How do chemistry and physics work together to advance scientific knowledge?

Chemistry and physics work together to advance scientific knowledge by providing complementary perspectives and techniques. For example, physicists may use advanced instruments to study the structure of atoms and molecules, while chemists can use this information to understand the properties and behavior of these substances. Collaborative research between chemists and physicists also allows for a deeper understanding of complex systems and phenomena.

5. Can chemistry and physics be studied separately?

Yes, chemistry and physics can be studied separately, but it is beneficial to have a basic understanding of both subjects to fully comprehend their intersection. Many universities offer degrees in either chemistry or physics, but also offer courses or programs that combine the two disciplines, such as physical chemistry. Ultimately, understanding the connection between chemistry and physics can enhance one's understanding of the natural world and lead to further scientific advancements.

Suggested for: Questions about the intersection between chemistry & physics