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i'm someway through a degree to become a theorist and i read this article about the worst jobs in science, saying theoretical physicist is one of them, mostly because of string theory being an endless maze of trying to find a falsifiable test for the idea. i was thinking that a theorist doesn't really have to work in string theory right? then i wondered what other topics there are.. so i'm askin anybody who knows here, what other things can a theorist work on?

I've heard of things like condensed matter physics, particle physics theory, .. which sound quite significantly less depressing than what people make string theory out to be like lol

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From the context I am assuming that "theorist" is supposed to mean a theoretical physicist (wouldn't be sure how one could be "someway through a degree to become a theorist" otherwise). Pretty much all areas of physics, as well as some interdisciplinary fields, have theoretical physicists working in them. Looking at the theory departments of universities' physics faculties will give you examples. Some examples coming to my mind at the moment: biophysics, solid state physics, particle and astrophysics, polymer physics, phase transitions, non-linear dynamics, neurophysics, econophysics, physical chemistry. And I am pretty sure the nuclear physicists and optics guys also have theoretical physicists. Just don't happen to know anyone personally.

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ah thanks, those do sorta make the options seem a lot more open than just 'string theory or bust' xD

and yeah i meant there that im entering the second year of a 4 year theoretical physics degree in a few months time.

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There is a lot more than just string theory, though it is true that string theory is well represented. Timo has given you a list of examples.

 

 

And I am pretty sure the nuclear physicists and optics guys also have theoretical physicists.

Indeed they do. People study quantum optics and cavity QED, for example. Nuclear physics is a very big topic theoretically. I know a few people who are interested in the boundary between nulclear physics and particle physics. In short they are looking at effective models based on QCD and how to use them in nuclear physics.

Edited by ajb
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Maybe you could tell more about what topics you like? Something related with particles and strings, or not?

 

Some theories would be very useful in mundane domains:

- The perception of sound, especially non-periodic. We have nearly nothing. This can only improve.

- Galling. We have absolutely nothing workable.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galling

About every "knowledge" in this field is wrong (including the linked Wiki...) for lack of experimental data. This must really be undertaken from zero, forgetting the existing nonsense, and looking for elementary tendencies. Even simple laws would be very helpful to mechanical designers, who are presently misled by universal errors.

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I've worked with emag, condensed matter and biophysics theorists. Pretty sure every area has some theorist, most have a mix. Some disciplines have a tendency to have research groups that are mostly experimentalist or theorist (astro has a reputation for this).

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@ajb nuclear physics is a big topic? i always just thought of it as a bunch of nuclear reactions you have to memorize :S

 

@enthalpy well i was hoping on doing something at least partly related to unifying quantum mechanics and gravity, though nuclear and condensed matter seem .. sort of interesting too, perhaps i could do a bit of both :/ black holes also sound rather interesting. QCD, QED and stuff like that look interesting mainly because they look really mathsy, and i've found quantum mechanics to be so weird and wonderful xD nice to have all this choice available though

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@ajb nuclear physics is a big topic? i always just thought of it as a bunch of nuclear reactions you have to memorize :S

The topic covers a lot and there are many people working on the theoretical side.

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Maybe you could be interested by that one? More astronomy, and more model than fundamental theory - but I suspect it can change many things in astronomy and isn't very difficult.

 

Present models want all elements and isotopes to stay mixed when a cloud of matter collapses to form a galaxy, a globular cluster, a stellar system... But these models presuppose that the virial theorem applies, then "deduce" the equilibrium...

 

My back-of-envelope calculation tells that gravitation's differential effect on just one neutron or proton more in a nucleus is worth hundreds of times kT, so that the segregation of elements and isotopes must happen provided it has enough time during some period of the cloud's evolution - rather early, when the mean free path makes an interesting portion of the cloud's size.

http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?p=3439127#post3439127

http://saposjoint.net/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=21&t=2778

http://www.chemicalforums.com/index.php?topic=64466.msg233020#msg233020

I suppose most of the project is to find where and when the proper conditions exist, and then find patience to explain that the common assumption is wrong.

 

Already known observatios go in my direction, for instance oxygen disappears early from the visible part of a newborn stellar system and reappears once thestar gets visible.

 

Then you could look at the many consequences of isotopic segregation on existing astronomical models of many things, because presently they suppose no segregation, and deduce evolution histories from the observed isotopes abundances.

Edited by Enthalpy
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You do not to have to go into physics of course after your degree. What else interests you? For example I understand the financial sectors still look for bright graduates in theoretical physics and mathematics.

 

Most of the theorists I have known have been part of experimental research groups and by and large not in those areas we normally associate with theoretical physics like cosmology, particle physics and so on. They have been theorists in atomic physics, condensed matter physics, laser physics and so on.

 

So it's far from true that theorists only work at the edges of physics in fields like string theory. Theorists bring very necessary skills in mathematical techniques, computing and understand the underlying physics to an experimental research group. The theorists very often set the direction of the research too.

 

So, in your position I might look at what areas are currently topical and being funded in your country. Discover which are the most successful research groups. Maybe apply to do a PhD with a theoretical bias in one of those successful groups. Also think about the areas of physics that interest you apart from the standard ones you've mentioned.

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Still away from QM+gravity unification and from QCD, sorry for that...

 

Electric insulation by vacuum isn't well understood nor modelled. It would be very important since many devices use it presently: breakers and safety components in high-voltage technology - but even phenomenological models are not satisfactory because they still ignore what is important in the breakdown.

 

The state of the art is still to observe the effect of rugosity, cleanliness, atomic number, electron work function, and seek correlations - figure that. As a result, no-one can tell which distance is needed for what voltage - possibly the distance isn't the important thing.

 

This research needs people with open mind and broad scientific culture who won't jump immediately on Fowler-Nordheim, because cosmic rays, radioactivity, atomic diffusion, trace impurities or idontknowwhat must be more important and still hasn't been found. It must also be done at a laboratory in order to check quickly any theory.

 

I know all books and courses describe QM+gravity unification as the ultimate goal, but many thousand people have pursued it for decades, making one's success less likely - and it wouldn't even change people's live before half a century. As opposed, there are many topics that need theories and where success is more probable; the segregation of elements and isotopes (if true!) would change much of astronomy within few years; galling and vacuum insulation would quickly change the knowledge of engineers and the daily life objects they design. There would be more topics like that.


[...] what areas are currently topical and being funded in your country. [...]

 

In his country or an other one, since research is international today.

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You do not to have to go into physics of course after your degree.

 

Agreed you would have far better pay and job security if you bacame a plumber and kept the theoretical physics as a hobby.

 

If you must stick with physics then one growth area for the future is the manipulation of microscopic entities.

This has applications in biology, chemistry, materials science, micromachinery as well as physics and the potential for you to create a company and reap the benefit if you discover anything.

 

go well with your career.

 

:)

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@enthalpy astronomy does sound rather interesting, structure in the universe is a fascinating topic imo, nice to see the complex processes that happened in the stars that gave rise to us and pretty much everything else known. however i was hoping on being the type of physicist that tries to construct or add to theories and things, as opposed to one who uses the existing ideas about relativity and things to investigate things in the universe, though that doesn't sound like a bad idea tbh. also the electric insulation would probably require me to know lots about electronics which i find really unpleasant lol.

 

@griffon i'm very set on doing something within physics, most likely the theory side of things. i personally think its a shame that there are physicists who turn into bankers xD but.. tis not up to me to choose their interests.

also yeah, thanks for the advice, i was considering doing a PhD after the degree, though i've heard its not particularly enjoyable, its probably worth it.

 

@studiot well im not going into physics for the pay or the job security xD and yeah i've heard things like nanotechnology have lots of new applications and things, including the invisibility cloak materials. and ty hehe

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You do not to have to go into physics of course after your degree.

And of course, most graduates do not stay in physics.

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