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Deciding Between Physics or Nuclear Physics

  1. May 21, 2015 #1
    I just returned to college to finish my degree in Physics! My advisor and I have been talking about how by the Spring semester, I should have a general idea about which track to go in the Physics program.

    My options are the pure physics track or the nuclear physics track. We've gone over the courses for both tracks so I understand how my education would play out, but I am curious as to which track would be best.

    I do plan on grad school after graduating, as my main interests lie in astrophysics, cosmology, and particle physics. From what I understand, nuclear physics seems to be closer to what I am looking for rather than general physics since a lot of the sub-fields I am interested in can/do operate on the subatomic level. On the other hand, the general physics track includes series classes that focus on both theoretical and experimental physics.

    Thoughts on which track would be best?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 21, 2015 #2


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    I'm afraid that because the programs are specific for your school, without knowing any details, it's a bit hard to say which would be better. I would have to assume that a nuclear track will also include a lot of theoretical and experimental physics, right? What do you do that's "extra" in nuclear that you wouldn't in physics? Do you miss out on anything important if you do nuclear (e.g. thermo?).

    I'm really curious, I haven't come across a college with a nuclear physics specific program, do you mind sharing what it is?

    For getting into grad school, the specific program isn't going to matter too much, so much as (a) your marks, (b) your undergrad research and (c) your letters of recommendation.
  4. May 23, 2015 #3

    The nuclear physics program looks like this:

    Major Concentration: Introduction to Nuclear Sciences
    Introduction to Nuclear Measurements
    Applications of Nuclear Sciences
    Electronics I
    Theoretical Mechanics
    Modern Physics
    Electromagnetic Theory I
    Thermal Physics
    Advanced Laboratory

    Then you have to choose at least two courses from these:
    Electronics II
    Computational Physics Electromagnetic Theory II Mathematical Methods of Physics
    Quantum Mechanics

    Both require Undergrad Research. The main General Physics tracks includes all of the above, minus the three courses that deal with nuclear physics. So in the list where a nuclear physics major would have to choose two more courses, general physics track takes all of them. Hope that makes sense!

    I wouldn't think I would miss anything important if I went nuclear, it's so hard to decide which is best!

    Thank you for your response as well! What you said about grad school is reassuring.
  5. May 23, 2015 #4
    Are you interested in experimental or theoretical physics in your areas of interest?
  6. May 23, 2015 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    I don't understand how a course purporting to be in nuclear physics can not have QM as a requirement.
  7. May 23, 2015 #6


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    I suspect the nuclear sciences concentration is aimed at people who want to go into medical physics (radiology etc.).

    For grad school in the areas that you're interested in, I think you should go with the general physics track. It includes all the "core four" courses that grad schools look for: Classical mechanics, QM, E&M, and thermal; and some lab work. If you're interested in one or more of the nuclear courses, and can fit them in, take them as additional electives.
  8. May 23, 2015 #7
    Gleem- I am leaning more towards theoretical but I am still open to learning about experimental as well!

    Vanadium- I was curious about this as well. I really want to take QM!

    Jtbell- Thank you for the advice, that sounds like the best option. You are right that the nuclear track could be for medical physics. Part of my university is a medical college, and also the person who started the nuclear track sends a lot of his students to intern at a nuclear lab.
  9. May 23, 2015 #8


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    You'll probably be more likely to make a long-term career in nuclear medicine than in astrophysics, cosmology, or particle physics which usually require snagging one of the scarce tenure-track academic research positions after a postdoc or two. If you're interested at all in the medical physics route, it might be a good idea to keep it open by taking appropriate courses.
  10. May 24, 2015 #9
    I also see a nuclear physics track at this level puzzling. Certainly your preferences and theoretical leaning suggests the general physics track. I personally think the nuclear track is aimed more at nuclear power/nuclear structure research and not medical physics. There is some application of nuc physics in cosmology with regard to the study of the origin and abundance of the elements.

    In any event make sure you take quantum mechanics. You might check out this program http://physics.nd.edu/research/research-groups/nuclear-physics-group/
    Last edited: May 24, 2015
  11. Jun 18, 2015 #10
    After everything you guys have mentioned, (the ND graduate Physics program looks incredible gleem), I've decided to stick with the general physics track. I spoke with the professor who is in charge of the nuclear physics aspect and he said that it's definitely for nuclear power/resources. That's not really something I'm interested in.

    So I've made my decision and I'm very excited about it! While my greatest passion lies in Astrophysics, I'm open to other fields as well!
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