The culture of physics research differs from most sciences in the separation of theory and experiment. Since the twentieth century, most individual physicists have specialized in either theoretical physics or experimental physics. The great Italian physicist Enrico Fermi (1901–1954), who made fundamental contributions to both theory and experimentation in thermonuclear physics, was a notable exception. In contrast, almost all the successful theorists in biology and chemistry have also been experimentalists, although this is changing as of late. Theorists essay to develop mathematical models that both concord with existing experiments and successfully predict future results, while experimentalists devise and perform experiments to test theoretical predictions and explore new phenomena. Although theory and experiment are developed separately, they are strongly dependent upon each other. Progress in physics often comes about when experimentalists make a discovery that existing theories cannot explain, or when new theories generate experimentally testable predictions. Theorists working intimately with experimentalists often employ phenomenology.
Theoretical physics is intimately related to mathematics, which provides the language of physical theories, and large areas of mathematics, such as calculus, have been invented specifically to solve problems in physics. Theorists haw also rely on numerical analysis and computer simulations, which play an ever richer role in the formulation of physical models. The fields of mathematical and computational physics are active areas of research. Theoretical physics has historically rested on philosophy and metaphysics; electromagnetism was unified this way. Thus physicists haw speculate with multidimensional spaces and parallel universes, and from this, hypothesize theories. Experimental physics informs, and is informed by, engineering and technology. Experimental physicists participating in basic research design and perform experiments with equipment such as particle accelerators and lasers, whereas those participating in applied research often work in industry, developing technologies such as magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) and transistors. Feynman has noted that experimentalists haw essay areas which are not well explored by theorists.
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