What field should I get into?

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Joined: Wed Dec 16, 2009 12:02 am

What field should I get into?

Postby peppy » Thu Dec 17, 2009 8:12 pm

I have about three fields that I am extremely interested in and would be happy spending years investigating them, but I am having trouble determining the exact field or branch of physics that I should be applying for in order to meet my interests.

Interest 1: One of my main interests is working with nuclear fusion. Particularly, I am interested in being part of the research involved with obtaining the renewable energy resource of nuclear fusion and development of commercial nuclear fusion reactors.

I see Ph.D fields of research in different subjects such as nuclear physics (experimental/theoretical), atomic physics (exp/theory), particle physics (exp/theory), high energy physics (exp/theory)... I am not sure which physics branch category that my interests would fall into.

Interest 2: I am also interested in other fields of physics as well (they may seem a little sci-fi and unrealistic, but very interesting to me). Particularly the quest behind finding the source of gravity, how to manipulate gravity or create artificial gravity or just explore the properties of this major force.

Interest 3: Another huge interest of mine is learning about space/time, like finding and exploring at least one thing on this earth that we can use to manipulate or interact with this space/time fabric. For instance, finding some way to bend and manipulate light like gravity does (bending space/time), but in some small scaled man-made alternative way on earth. I would like to explore or research some applications of theory of doing even the tiniest manipulations.

Again, I am not certain what official program branches Interests 2 and 3 would fall under in a graduate school programs. I'm assuming that they might be part of Quantum Field, which is 1 of the 4 major branches of physics and also the one that I never got to learn about in undergrad school?


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Re: What field should I get into?

Postby surjective » Thu Dec 17, 2009 8:40 pm

Well... branch 1 is an active area of research.

The other 2 are solved. The source of gravity is mass. And everything around you is part of, and interacting with "this space time fabric".

If you want something more exotic, perhaps a literature department or a star trek convention would be a good place to start.

Best of luck!

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Re: What field should I get into?

Postby peppy » Thu Dec 17, 2009 8:58 pm

surjective wrote:Well... branch 1 is an active area of research.

What is the official name of this branch though? Nuclear physics, Atomic Physics, High Energy Physics, Particle Physics (experimental, theoretical), ect...?

Also, does anyone know of some good Ph.D schools that are doing this kind of research (renewable nuclear fusion, fusion reactors)? What about ones that do not require the GRE exam???


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Re: What field should I get into?

Postby dct64xx » Thu Dec 17, 2009 9:18 pm

Fusion research is usually grouped under plasma physics. Not all universities do fusion research, and some do it but not in the physics department (say, the Applied Physics department, or Nuclear Engineering department), so be sure to look beyond just the physics department's website. Only the bigger universities have actual working fusion reactors; smaller departments are usually left to do theory (or maybe plasma experiments). If you haven't seen it, here's a decent resource for learning about fusion and seeing where research is being done: http://fusedweb.llnl.gov/sites.html Also, for what it's worth, some people will say that fusion research is dying and that it will never pan out as an energy source, but I don't see it as being that bad of a field to go into. For one, I think interest will be growing over the next few years, between the NIF and ITER projects. Also, plasmas have a lot of other useful applications, so even if fusion doesn't really work out, it's not like you'd suddenly have a useless specialty. But hey, what do I know?

As for your other two interests: they do seem a bit out there :D. If you are really interested in gravity, you might want to look into general relativity. That always seems to be the field that comes up whenever people talk about wormholes and theoretical warp drives and such, although I've heard no indications that anyone is working on manipulating gravity. I don't know if such a thing is even theoretically possible. But who knows? Can't hurt to look into it. As for your third interest, I really couldn't say. I'm not even sure what area it would fall under.

I'm sorry, I know I talked more about fusion than the other two topics, but that's cause I know much more about fusion.

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Re: What field should I get into?

Postby kroner » Fri Dec 18, 2009 1:45 am

2 and 3 are pretty connected. Gravity can be understood as the deformation of space/time.

A big area of study right now is the quest to reconcile gravity with quantum mechanics. There are different theories being worked on, string theory being a big one. Also quantum loop gravity. There are probably a lot of others too but I don't really know a lot about it. These definitely involve quantum field theory and general relativity. Gravity and space time also play a big role in cosmology if you would like to take a more big picture approach.

I know there's also work being done in mathematical physics on both GR alone and QFT, and probably plenty of nice string theory stuff that uses both as well. That stuff is mostly topology and differential geometry, and some algebraic geometry too.

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Re: What field should I get into?

Postby peppy » Fri Dec 18, 2009 2:42 am

dct64xx wrote:I'm sorry, I know I talked more about fusion than the other two topics, but that's cause I know much more about fusion.

Thanks for the information and the list of schools doing this sstuff, that was exactly what I was looking for! So plasma physics is the formal category I'm looking for then.

I have undergraduate research experience in rebuilding a particle accelerator before I graduated last spring in order to get some experience in nuclear physics. My ultimate interest was to get into renewable energies involved with nuclear fusion and fusion nuclear reactors since it is such an exciting goal to make oil and the fear of running out of energy obsolete some day!

I have a BS in Physics "pure", so would it be easy to get into a Ph.D program in Nuclear Engineering or Applied Physics, even though I don't have an engineering degree?

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