Can an Electrical Engineering Degree Lead to a Career in Astronomy?

In summary, the conversation was about a person who has a Bachelor's degree in Electrical and Communication Engineering but is passionate about astronomy and wants to pursue a Master's degree in the field. They are seeking advice on how to combine their engineering background with their interest in astronomy. The conversation also touched on the importance of instrumentation and signal processing in astronomy research.
  • #1
PhysicoRaj
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Hello PF!

I hope I am posting this in the right place. I have an 'Electrical and Communication Engineering' Bachelor's degree and currently working in the same field since three years. I want to go back to school and earn a Master's degree. Ever since I was a kid, I loved astronomy, space, cosmology and physics in general. I wished to pursue a pure sciences degree in Physics but the circumstances were not favorable and ended up being what I am now. I don't hate my job or field, but there is a gaping hole in my heart and brain that is not filled by this degree or work.

If I go back to school, I want to go as close as possible to my greatest passion, astronomy. I'm at a loss trying to figure out the right path to achieve this. It seems close to impossible to get into a Physics or Astronomy program for my qualifications, unless I go back to do a different Bachelor's. If I stick to engineering, I don't know what track or program would get me closer to astronomy. Aerospace felt like an option, but I'm not sure if there is even better.

I would be grateful to hear your views and advice on this. Astronomy / Astrophysics experts here, do you know what field of 'Electrical Engineering' is the most helpful for experimental research in Astro? If not electrical, do you think I may have to jump to another engineering stream to realize this? Does anyone think I have no option but to go back to a Physics Bachelor's? I am fine with working close with an astro research group as an 'engineer', if not in the same group as a 'researcher' (I hope I sound sensible).

I have studied physics and mechanical engineering on my own to a great extent. Even though I may not have competitive aptitude, I believe I have intuitive understanding and the ability to apply concepts to problem solving.

Thanks in advance for your time to help me; ask me questions if what I wrote doesn't give you enough information.
 
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  • #2
Many universities have Instrumentation groups that work on developing new detectors, signal processing equipment, mechanical control etc for astronomy. You also have specialised institutes such as SRON in the Netherlands.
This is a huge area with specialised conferences, journals etc
 
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  • #3
f95toli said:
Many universities have Instrumentation groups that work on developing new detectors, signal processing equipment, mechanical control etc for astronomy. You also have specialised institutes such as SRON in the Netherlands.
This is a huge area with specialised conferences, journals etc
Thanks, that seems helpful :) I will learn more about this.
 
  • #5
Keith_McClary said:
Is the physics and math here similar to what you have?:

Curriculum: Electronics Engineering

Yes, very similar. I had a few more courses in math (like Fourier analysis, stats and probability) while physics was pretty much same, except optics.
 
  • #6
PhysicoRaj said:
Yes, very similar. I had a few more courses in math (like Fourier analysis, stats and probability) while physics was pretty much same, except optics.
When I google online astrophysics books and online astrophysics courses, I find some "overviews" that include introductions to QM and relativity (at various levels). I think you have most of the prerequisites for those.

I am not am astrophysicist, but it looks to me that MS programs consist of more advanced and specialized courses that fill in the parts glossed over in the "overviews".

This one says: "Students are immediately engaged in original research throughout these two required research courses."🤔
 
  • #7
The last couple of posts or so are not exactly on the "Engineering in Astronomy" idea, but maybe I did not understand the intended focus. The topic shows two main words: Engineering , and Astronomy. Any of us can think a little bit and find a very common and simple example connecting the two main ideas. Recall that Astronomy found a big, big boost when someone learned to make lenses, and build a device to allow him and others to magnify the view or images of distant things like tree, mountain, planets, and the Earth's moon? (Telescrope)
 
  • #8
Keith_McClary said:
When I google online astrophysics books and online astrophysics courses, I find some "overviews" that include introductions to QM and relativity (at various levels). I think you have most of the prerequisites for those.

I am not am astrophysicist, but it looks to me that MS programs consist of more advanced and specialized courses that fill in the parts glossed over in the "overviews".

This one says: "Students are immediately engaged in original research throughout these two required research courses."🤔
You are right. As I wrote in my original post, most programs directly on astronomy are heavy on the physics requirements, which I do not have in my current degree. All knowledge I have is by my own reading which cannot be considered competitive enough for producing original research on the core fields of astronomy.

My only option (which also seems quite feasible) is to pursue an extension of my current field 'as applied' to astronomy. For example I got to know that computer simulations are incredibly useful in astrophysics.

I appreciate your efforts to help me!
 
  • #9
symbolipoint said:
Recall that Astronomy found a big, big boost when someone learned to make lenses, and build a device to allow him and others to magnify the view or images of distant things like tree, mountain, planets, and the Earth's moon?
Nailed it.

I can think of a few crude ideas myself, but being unaware of the current trends in astro research I want to hear from people who are already familiar with it.
 
  • #10
PhysicoRaj said:
computer simulations are incredibly useful in astrophysics.
And, as mentioned above, signal processing. I don't even know if they teach that to physicists!

The recent imaging of a black hole involved so much data that they needed to fly numerous hard drives to a central location.
 
  • #11
Keith_McClary said:
And, as mentioned above, signal processing. I don't even know if they teach that to physicists!

The recent imaging of a black hole involved so much data that they needed to fly numerous hard drives to a central location.
I am thinking Instrumentation and Signal Processing would sum up a big chunk. I heard from a friend that the black hole image required ultra-low-noise sensors which was possible due to a new kind of transistor specifically developed for imaging the black hole. Low noise sensor development might also be a good area?
 
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  • #12
There is no general answer. This is -as I mentioned above- as HUGE field.
There is e.g. always lots of work being done on new detectors for radio astronomy. The "proof-of-principle" work is typically done within a physics department (usually by people with degrees in physics) but once you get to the point where a technology is mature enough to start building practical instruments you typically need a lot of electrical engineering , mechanical engineering, cryogenics (must detectors are cooled), signal processing etc.
These are often large interdisciplinary projects and will involve people with many different background.

The people involved in the more "engineering" focused aspects tend to either work in an instrumentation group at a university (I know of a few such groups here in the UK) and/or dedicated institutes. Examples of the latter here in the UK would be RAL space (or even one of the satellite manufacturers) .

If you have a EE BSc and want to work in this area, a MSc in space engineering would perhaps be a logical next step. Alternatively, a more generic MSc focused on e.g. DSP where you have an opportunity to e.g. do a final project in an instrumentation group might be a somewhat more roundabout way to get into this field.
 
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  • #13
So far post #12 is the best response - not extremely specific but there would be too much to cover.

Just on the surface of the topic, one imagines observing what is seen in the sky at night. But to do MORE with that and do BETTER than that, YOU NEED ALL KINDS OF ENGINEERING. Even if you are a young person who uses an inexpensive small telescope to magnify the view of the moon or some planets, that little telescope is already a great amount of engineering - mechanical devices assemblies, optical things (lenses), others.
 
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  • #14
Thanks everyone. So far it's been very positive that I can relate to astronomy with my field.

f95toli said:
The people involved in the more "engineering" focused aspects tend to either work in an instrumentation group at a university (I know of a few such groups here in the UK) and/or dedicated institutes. Examples of the latter here in the UK would be RAL space (or even one of the satellite manufacturers).

If you have a EE BSc and want to work in this area, a MSc in space engineering would perhaps be a logical next step. Alternatively, a more generic MSc focused on e.g. DSP where you have an opportunity to e.g. do a final project in an instrumentation group might be a somewhat more roundabout way to get into this field.
Makes a ton of sense, thanks.

I understand that on a big picture its quite multi-disciplinary (which I like) and an EE subfield that has multi-disciplinary applications should work quite well for me (if I don't get a space engg program).
If I look at generic EE MSc I think my best areas would be - Systems and Control, DSP and Istrumentation.

If I get the option to choose electives from a physics / astronomy course, what kind of topics should I go for? I am familiar with most physics / basic astronomy topics, but not sure what would be overwhelming on an MSc level for someone who is not a BSc physics but same time the topic also would be relevant for my journey.
 

Related to Can an Electrical Engineering Degree Lead to a Career in Astronomy?

1. What is engineering in astronomy?

Engineering in astronomy is the application of engineering principles and techniques to design, build, and operate instruments and systems used in the study of celestial objects and phenomena. It involves a combination of skills from various engineering disciplines, such as mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering, to develop cutting-edge technology for space exploration and astronomical research.

2. What are some examples of engineering in astronomy?

Some examples of engineering in astronomy include the design and construction of telescopes, spacecraft, and instruments such as cameras, spectrographs, and detectors. Engineers also work on developing precision control systems, communication systems, and data analysis software for astronomical observatories and space missions.

3. How does engineering contribute to advancements in astronomy?

Engineering plays a crucial role in advancing astronomy by providing the tools and technology needed to observe and study the universe. Engineers develop innovative solutions to challenges such as building larger and more powerful telescopes, improving image quality, and increasing the sensitivity of detectors. These advancements allow astronomers to make new discoveries and gain a deeper understanding of the universe.

4. What skills are needed to pursue a career in engineering in astronomy?

To pursue a career in engineering in astronomy, one needs a strong foundation in mathematics, physics, and computer science. In addition, knowledge of engineering principles and techniques, as well as experience with specialized software and tools used in astronomical research, are essential. Good communication skills and the ability to work in a team are also important for success in this field.

5. What are some current challenges faced by engineers in astronomy?

One of the current challenges faced by engineers in astronomy is developing technology that can withstand the harsh conditions of space, such as extreme temperatures, radiation, and microgravity. Another challenge is designing instruments and systems that can collect and process large amounts of data from distant objects in a timely and efficient manner. Additionally, engineers must also consider the cost and sustainability of their designs in the context of limited resources for space exploration.

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