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Theoretical vs Experimental physics

  1. Dec 8, 2011 #1
    whats the big difference to between a theoretical physicists and a experimental physicist? do they have or need different skills? would it be possible to become both?
     
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  3. Dec 8, 2011 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Experimental physics costs more. Yes, it is possible to be both.
     
  4. Dec 21, 2011 #3
    Team Sheldon vs. Team Leonard
     
  5. Dec 22, 2011 #4

    e.bar.goum

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    Well, one does theory and the other does experiments? The answer is in your question.

    And yes, there exist people who do/have done both
     
  6. Dec 22, 2011 #5

    f95toli

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    There are experimentalists that do theory, but I can't think of a single theorist who does experiments (which doesn't mean that they don't exist, but it is certainly rare).

    The main difference is obviously that experimentalists mainly do experimental work (but also analyse data, build models etc.); another difference is that experimentalists have to know a fair bit about engineering. How much depends on the field you are in and what you are doing, and you rarely need the "deep" knowledge that a "real" engineer would have.

    One neat thing about having a degree in physics is that you have the necessary background to learn just about anything in engineering, this means that if you discover that you need to learn more about something in order to perform an experiment you can usually just pick up a book, one can often reach the "tinkering level" in just a few days.

    Note that I wouldn't worry about the difference until you reach the PhD level.
     
  7. Dec 22, 2011 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    Hinchliffe, Bjorken, Page, Hill, Halzen. These are just off the top of my head.
     
  8. Dec 22, 2011 #7

    f95toli

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    I must admit I don't recognize either of those names. Which field?
    In my field (condensed matter/device physics) the barriers between experimentalists and theorists are quite high; basically because you need a lot of practical knowledge to do any experiments. I guess it might be different in say astronomy, particle physics or even crystallography where people often use facilities and the "experimental" bit essentially comes down to thinking of new experiments and analysing data. (and less with say being able to change oil in vacuum pumps, design a circuit, troubleshooting ground-loops or transfer liquid helium; which tends to be a large part of the day-to-day work in my field).
    Hence, in practice you usually have a situation where an experimental groups collaborate with one or more theory groups.
     
  9. Dec 22, 2011 #8

    cmb

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    :biggrin:
    I expect the theoretical physicist believes that, in theory, there is no significant difference, whereas the practical physicist thinks that view is practically nonsense!
     
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