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Courses String Theory and Theoretical vs. Mathematical Physics

  1. Nov 15, 2016 #1

    I have a question about the the difference between mathematical physics and theoretical physics in general and about the difference between the MSc Theoretical and Mathematical Physics courses at Edinburgh in particular.

    I am planning to apply, however I am not sure which of the two courses to chose.

    I am very interested in learning about advanced quantum theory, quantum field theory and particle physics, general relativity, as well as cosmology. Although I do not know a whole lot about string theory, I can imagine very well being interested in that, as I like the idea of doing some very abstract physics (I am definitely not that into calculating approximations to come up with phenomenological descriptions, but rather into the exact and analytical part), and the goal of unifying gravity with QFT sounds fascinating. However, as I recently found out, this seems to be an area of mathematical physics rather than theoretical physics and I was a bit confused by that. Could someone elaborate on that?

    Generally I have always thought of myself as being more interested in theoretical physics than mathematics (I am not really into pure math, I need to have that connection to real physical problems but I love analytical and mathematical models -> theoretical physics), which led me to believe that I should choose the corresponding course. However I would love to go into research on string theory, as I would love to work on the most fundamental theoretical problems in physics. Was I mistaken to believe that string theory is not a purely mathematical subject? At most universities I know, I have found, string theory is done in the mathematical physics or applied physics groups.

    So to come to my main question: For someone aspiring to get into research on the unification of gravity and QFT, which would be the better field, theoretical or mathematical physics? Does it even matter or is there really no difference when it comes to string theory?
    Finally, which of the two courses mentioned above would be better suited for my goal? Is there anyone who has done one of the two courses who can explain the main differences to me?

    Any help on those questions would be greatly appreciated!


  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 18, 2016 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    I can't answer your question directly but thought you might like to see some sites that talk about the math you would need in order to understand string theory and other topics in theoretical physics:



    and more specifically the list of math courses you would need for string theory:


    Other members here at PF may be able to answer your more detailed questions.

    Have you seen a course syllabus where you can compare an actual list of courses for each degree?

    Or perhaps you can call the university/department and speak with someone who could give you a definitive answer.

    Lastly, from what you've said already it seems that the theoretical physics approach would be best and would include the math needed to understand the subjects. You probably can also tailor things by taking additional math courses to give you a deeper understanding of things.
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