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Areas of study & Career opportunities

  1. Jan 28, 2008 #1

    I'm currently a sophomore in high school and have recently become very interested in physics. I do have a respectable number of questions, in which I apologize for any of those who will be reiterating what has been said in previous topics; however I've yet to find any threads which have given me direct answers to what I'm looking for.

    I love astronomy. The beauty and elegance of the universe (no reference to Greene's book intended) is just spectacular. For this reason, the prospect of being an "astrophysicist" obviously sounds rather appealing. Question is: what exactly is (or is it are?) astrophysics?

    Secondly, what all is there to theoretical physics? I know of superstring theory being labeled as theoretical physics; but what else does the field entail?

    Thirdly, what are the career opportunities available for these fields? If I were to be employed at a university, what else is there other than just teaching (which is far from an attractive thought)? What sort of research facilities/government organizations/etc would be in sight (and, more importantly, what in the heck will I be doing)?

    Responses are highly appreciated.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 28, 2008 #2
    Astrophysics: physics on a length scale greater that 10^8 m. (That's the diameter of the earth.)

    As for theoretical physics - well, string theory and particle physics get all the press - but there's really a lot more to it than that. Theoretical physicists also work on predicting the behaviour of slightly larger systems:

    - superconductivity (modeling the underlying physics of materials which carry electric current without resistance at low temperatures)

    - quantum computing (designing a computer - and algorithms - which use the property of "spin" rather than charge)

    - "many-body" systems (exactly what it sounds like - a physics problem with lots of bodies). I bet you can write down the equations of motion for two gas molecules in a box - but can you write down the equations of motion for 10^23 gas molecules? And what do the macroscopic ideas of "pressure" or "temperature" have to do with the momentum of each molecule? And what happens if the molecules are the size of sand grains?

    - "soft" matter (predicting how proteins fold, predicting how crystals form from polymers, explaining how biological molecules behave at different temperatures)

    Anyways, there are lots of cool experiments out there, so don't limit yourself to just theoretical physics!
  4. Jan 28, 2008 #3
    That's an interesting way to describe it. I've never heard it said that way before, but it's true.

    Career opportunities are diverse. To get an idea of what a researcher in astrophysics does, I recommend reading some of the interviews here: http://www.astromiror.org/research.html#astro. If you're interested in working at a college or university, you can read some of the interviews here: http://www.astromiror.org/faculty.html. That will give you some idea of what's involved in those career paths and who is hiring.
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