Theoretical physics is a branch of physics that employs mathematical models and abstractions of physical objects and systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. This is in contrast to experimental physics, which uses experimental tools to probe these phenomena.
A physical theory is a model of physical events. It is judged by the extent to which its predictions agree with empirical observations. The quality of a physical theory is also judged on its ability to make new predictions which can be verified by new observations. A physical theory differs from a mathematical theorem in that while both are based on some form of axioms, judgment of mathematical applicability is not based on agreement with any experimental results. A physical theory similarly differs from a mathematical theory, in the sense that the word “theory” has a different meaning in mathematical terms.[b]
A physical theory involves one or more relationships between various measurable quantities. Archimedes realized that a ship floats by displacing its mass of water, Pythagoras understood the relation between the length of a vibrating string and the musical tone it produces. Other examples include entropy as a measure of the uncertainty regarding the positions and motions of unseen particles and the quantum mechanical idea that (action and) energy are not continuously variable.
Physical theories become accepted if they are able to make correct predictions and no (or few) incorrect ones. The theory should have, at least as a secondary objective, a certain economy and elegance (compare to mathematical beauty), a notion sometimes called “Occams razor” after the 13th-century English philosopher William of Occam (or Ockham), in which the simpler of two theories that describe the same matter just as adequately is preferred (but conceptual simplicity may mean mathematical complexity). They are also more likely to be accepted if they connect a wide range of phenomena. Testing the consequences of a theory is part of the scientific method.
What does a theoretical physicist do?
What does a theoretical physicist do?
The responsibilities of theoretical physicists vary greatly. However, they often conduct research and develop calculations for a wide variety of theories and concepts. Unlike other fields of physics, theoretical physicists spend little or no time conducting physical experiments. Instead, they devote most of their efforts toward developing theories through mathematical calculation and field research in an attempt to expand knowledge in the scientific community and contribute to the advancement of society.
Common duties of theoretical physicists may be to:
What is a theoretical physicist?
A theoretical physicist is a scientist who uses mathematics, calculations, chemistry, biology and a series of theories to understand the complex workings of the universe and the interactions between matter and energy. They often attempt to understand areas that scientists are not currently capable of traveling to for exploration and data collection, such as the deep reaches of outer space and the ocean floor. Some of the most common theories studied by theoretical physicists include:
Benefits of being a theoretical physicist
There are several benefits and rewarding aspects of being a theoretical physicist, including:
Contributing to the scientific community
Theoretical physicists make important contributions to the advancement of our communities by furthering our understanding of nature and the complex relationship between matter and energy. The individuals working in this field have the opportunity to provide valuable knowledge and advancement to several types of industries, including:
Exploring the mysteries of the universe
Those working in theoretical physics are pioneers in understanding the mysteries and intricacies of our universe. A career as a theoretical physicist is an exciting opportunity to make groundbreaking discoveries and answer questions yet to be addressed by the scientific community. A career in this field could bring daily discoveries about our existence and the world around us.
Lack of fund-seeking
Because theoretical physicists conduct most of their research through calculations, study and discussion, there is rarely a need to seek funding for physical experiments. Seeking this type of funding can be a long, complex task for scientists and researchers in other fields and lack of funding can result in costly delays. A career as a theoretical physicist requires little effort in this area, allowing individuals in this profession to spend more of their time and resources on pursuing their important objectives.
Theoretical physicist work environment
Typically, theoretical physicists work in office, laboratory or academic settings. These individuals may work at universities, laboratories, development facilities or government agencies. Work weeks for theoretical physicists are typically 40 hours and take place during regular business hours, though some overtime is possible depending on workload. Sometimes travel may be necessary for events such as conferences, meetings, seminars and expeditions.
Requirements for becoming a theoretical physicist
The requirements for theoretical physicists vary depending on the position and scale of work. Common requirements include:
Theoretical physics degree programs of all levels typically include courses on complex physics principles such as quantum mechanics, optics, thermodynamics, calculus, statistics, linear algebra and computer science.
Theoretical physicist skills
Successful theoretical physicists often have a combination of the following skills and expertise:
What defines a theoretical physicist?
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What is the difference between a theoretical physicist and a physicist?
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