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Applied mechanics vs. engineering physics

  1. Nov 24, 2014 #1
    Hello! I am currently doing my first year in a mechanical engineering degree(which after a few years branches off to applied mechanics), which is a 5 year integrated master's. Since before i applied, I have been uncertain about which study I really want to/should do, and that uncertainty still persist. I think it's a good idea to get some new perspectives on this.

    The problem is mainly between doing a degree in applied mechanics(AM) or engineering physics(EP). At highschool I was very interested in physics-related problems, and I did really well in the subject. Therefore I wanted to continue in a similar direction. I narrowed it down to engineering physics and applied mechanics, and finally chose to aim for applied mechanics.

    The reasons behind this are that:
    - I have the impression that EP graduates often end up in fields unrelated to their degree, such as IT or finance.
    - It seems like AM gives a good backround for doing a p.hd, at something that is fairly fundamental, while still being relevant in industry.

    I could see me pursuing a p.hd. after my masters. Questions like: how does bubbles pop, how does fish swim sound interesting. I also really enjoyed learning some wind turbine theory. As it is the only part of physics I feel I have some insight into, I kind of like the details of fluid mechanics, heat transfer and mechanics as it gives some insight into systems one take for granted until one starts to study them. The thing is that I wonder if EP provides a better backround for specializing in such fields? And even if it does not, what are the big questions in applied mechanics today? What is left to learn? I currently only know that turbulence is is the "last unsolved mystery" of classical mechanics. I have also heard that a degree in AM gives lasting and relevant knowledge to solve the problems of tomorrow. I just wonder how that is, when there is computer software that seem to be able to solve any problems within mechanics today.

    So, as there are very few threads on AM, could someone share their opinion on this degree and what career it may lead to?

    It got a bit long, but I really appreciate any feedback! :)
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 24, 2014 #2

    OldEngr63

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    By all means, stay with Applied Mechanics. This will give you a more "real-world" outlook as opposed to an EP degree. Applied mechanics is an engineering discipline, tied to the real world and the need to understand it. EP, being in the physics department, is a "pursuit of knowledge for its own sake" degree, just as is most of physics. The reason EP graduates wind up in fields far away from their studies is that there are exceedingly few employers who want to pay people simple to pursue knowledge for its own sake. Most employers want something tangible in return for their money, something that they can use to make a product to sell.

    Why do you really care what are the big problems of the day? Are you concerned with your image, or with something that personally interests you? Is you objective fame (the guy who discovered ....), or do you simply want to do something interesting and useful?

    With all the new technologies in space, weaponry, nano-tech, computers, etc., there will never be an end of questions to be answered, although most of them will not make the individual famous, only personally satisfied. Personally, I spend much of my time working in technical areas that are over 100 years old, but there remain unanswered questions to be addressed. In many cases, advances in computation have made it possible for us to make better solutions today than did the early workers who labored with log tables and slide rules.

    As you get into the area, you will become more aware of the interesting questions that are presented. In large part, it is up to you as to what you are interested in. Do you like to work in fluids (as you indicated), or are you also interested in solid mechanics? What about dynamics, vibrations, controls? Are you interested in cars? What about wind power? Are you interested in manufacturing? What about the marine industry? The list goes on and on, but all of these present an endless stream of questions open to someone who knows applied mechanics.
     
  4. Nov 24, 2014 #3
    Why do you really care what are the big problems of the day? Are you concerned with your image, or with something that personally interests you? Is you objective fame (the guy who discovered ....), or do you simply want to do something interesting and useful?

    Interesting question. I think it is a mix. Mostly I ask because I am curious about what is happening in the field. If the problems seem interesting to me, it does at least tell me something about the boundaries and potential of the field if I end up in research. If it is interesting and useful, then I'd be happy to do it for a living is my thought :)

    Do you like to work in fluids (as you indicated), or are you also interested in solid mechanics? What about dynamics, vibrations, controls? Are you interested in cars? What about wind power? Are you interested in manufacturing? What about the marine industry? The list goes on and on, but all of these present an endless stream of questions open to someone who knows applied mechanics.

    I have to answer that mostly out of gut-feeling, as I have only had high school physics. But solid mechanics, dynamics, vibrations, controls, wind power sound good. Marine industry is also great, and it is really big in Norway (where I live). Manufacturing and cars do not inspire me that much.
     
  5. Nov 24, 2014 #4

    OldEngr63

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    You do need to be clear about one thing, I think. Science is about the pursuit of knowledge for it own sake. Science seeks new knowledge, previously unknown. Engineering is about designing, building, operating, and maintaining machines and systems useful for mankind. Engineering is about the application of existing knowledge to solve problems. There is an overlap, but "research" is often associated more with science than with engineering. To be sure, when designing a new machine or system, the engineer is often confronted with a knowledge gap that requires some research, but this is highly focused, directed research, rather than the free ranging research that is typical of physics.
     
  6. Nov 24, 2014 #5
    That's not necessarily true of your characterization of engineering physics degree programs. Michigan's Applied Physics program for instance is in the engineering department. Wisconsin's Engineering Physics program is part of its Nuclear Engineering Department. EP isn't knowledge for its own sake across the board, it's actually typically engineering research that is at the interface between physics and engineering and requires more of a melding between the two than the typical engineering approach.
     
  7. Nov 24, 2014 #6
    Hmm... I am aware of that difference between science and engineering, but I would maybe believe that the distinction between them is a bit more floating. Electrical engineers have for example been doing quite fundamental research that have been awarded the nobel prize in physics. Engineering physics has some element of engineering in it and applied mechanics is, from what I have understood, going deeper into mechanics than typical EP courses. I believe both can apply for some of the same p.hd programs related to mechanics as well. I was also looking a bit around and I saw that many positions in nanomechanics or biomechanics require a strong backround in mechanics or physics.
     
  8. Dec 3, 2014 #7
    Hello- I'm happy you are curious and interested in what used to be nerdy subjects and are now very cool. If I had the understanding of science and engineering that you seem to, I would explore Maker sites like Instructibles or others where people are spending time doing projects that interest them, are enjoyable, AND could potentially benefit others. Very open source, STEM-y and encouraging in helping sort out your passion.
     
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