In contrast to experimental physics, theoretical physics develops mathematical models to predict outcomes of experiments and to explain natural phenomena. Whenever possible, experimental methods are used to probe the predictions made.
There are many different parts of theoretical physics, most of which invented during the 20th century and still dynamically developing. The more precisely a theory created in theoretical physics is capable to predict the outcome of particular tailored experiments or to explain observed natural phenomena, the more accepted it is by theoretical physicists.
Besides predicting experiments and explaining nature, most theories developed in theoretical physics have quite significant consequences for the technical developments made in recent years with applications in engineering, material sciences, chemistry, medicine or even computation, notably:
- Special Relativity – e.g. with applications to “correct” calculations needed by the Global Positioning System (GPS);
- General Relativity – e.g. with its applications to use nuclear power, its predictions of the existence of black holes and our understanding of the life-cycle of stars like our Sun;
- Quantum Mechanics – e.g. its applications in emerging nano-technologies or with its predictions of the existence of antimatter (and its use in medical imaging techniques (Positron emission tomography (PET)),
- Cosmology – e.g. with its explanations of the development of the universe and how we understand (or still do not fully understand) natural phenomena like galaxies, stars, matter, and time;
Most theoretical physicists are confident to find a theory capable to unify all these partial theories and explain all natural phenomena and provide the foundation of future technologies. If such a “theory of everything” will ever be discovered, remains to be seen. The goal, however is what theoretical physics and its parts makes so exciting for scientists and even for non-scientists.
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