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What makes these two seemingly identical topics separate? What does each field more focus on, like do chemical physics researchers study more the atomic/molecular interactions while the physical chememists study more macroscopic properties? I assume they have quite a bit of overlap.

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You are of course right, there is a lot of overlap. There are also the scientific publication series ChemPhysChem and Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics amongst others, that deal mainly with subjects from the both areas.

In principle they are most likely dealing with almost the same subjects. And you often find physicists working in chemistry and vice versa. However, there is a little difference in the general approach to problems.
Physical chemistry usually approaches the problems at hand from a chemist's point of view, focussing (initially) mainly on macroscopic properties of an ensemble and use physical laws to determine them. It is often considered the parent field for many other subjects, like physical organic chemistry, chemical kinetics, and spectroscopy, among others. Most common publication titles are Zeitschrift für physikalische Chemie and The Journal of Physical Chemistry A, B, C, and letters. And many others...
Chemical physics on the other hand studies chemical ensembles and reactions from a physicist's point of view. They focus more or less, like you assumed, on ions, atoms, clusters, surfaces, free radicals, and molecules interacting with each other. This does include, but is not limited to, the study of solvation effects and single entities like quantum dots. Here are fewer specialist titles, like The Journal of Chemical Physics and Chemical Physics Letters. Of course publications are often widely accepted also in other journals of neighbouring areas. (Sometimes it is also treated as a subfield of physical chemistry.)

In modern times the various fields are not separated by a sharp line, they most likely blur into each other. You could probably ask the same question for Biochemistry and Chemical Biology, or Computational Chemistry and Quantum Chemistry, or Polymer Chemistry and Material Sciences. And there are more. Interdisciplinary cooperation is encouraged by many researchers and institutions, it is important not to care too much about the labels anymore.

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protected by Community Jan 8 at 13:15

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