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What's the Difference B/n Applied vs. Pure Maths?

  1. Jun 11, 2013 #1
    What's the Difference B/n Applied vs. "Pure" Maths?

    Hello. I'm a soon-to-be new university student and am taking this summer to learn all I can about various subjects, majors, and career opportunities.

    I've been reading up a little bit this week on math majors and have come across what seems to be a distinction between "applied" and "pure" math. I'm wondering if anyone might know what these two terms are referring to and why there is this distinction?

    And, lastly, if a person goes to college to study math, would their degree literally say "pure math" or "applied math," or would it just be a math degree? I never realized there was this difference until now.

    Oh, and one last thing. Is there any difference in terms of which is harder and also which one is best for using in real life?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 11, 2013 #2


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    Hey AAAmelia and welcome to the forums.

    It is hard to pin-point the exact differences but in general applied mathematics is stuff that is used for applied purposes (science, engineering, modeling, prediction/fore-casting) while pure is not used for applied purposes.

    Typically what happens is that pure mathematicians prove things and the applied people take the proofs and use the results to do whatever it is they need to do.

    In short, pure mathematicians build the tools and the applied people use them for real life purposes.

    The distinction though is not as clear cut because there is over-lap and applied mathematicians do create new mathematics out of the needs of their work and this is why I say it isn't as clear cut as this.

    In terms of what is harder, I would learn towards pure mathematics but it depends on you as well.

    In my country, you have to study pure mathematics, applied mathematics, and statistics in a math degree. You can specialize in either (or get a double major), but you still need familiarity of all three areas at some level.

    The degree name depends on the university: some may call it a science degree, others a math degree. This doesn't matter though because names are names.

    The reason for the distinction is just the use: pure mathematicians and applied mathematicians focus on different things and have different priorities and goals in mind.

    The pure mathematician cares more about the mathematics being right and working: the applied mathematician is going to care more about the ability to predict/fore-cast or explain some real life phenomena.

    The person that makes the hammer doesn't care about building the house: that's the carpenters job and as long as the hammer works, the carpenter doesn't care about how the hammer was made either.
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