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Programs Deciding on a PhD, considering Nuclear Physics

  1. Nov 30, 2016 #1
    Greetings to everybody. I'm currently in my 3rd year of pursuing a physics undergrad, and I'm considering where I might want to focus, what field I might want to enter. As the title suggests I'm seriously considering something with regards to nuclear physics. My primary interests lie in space (specifically the exploration thereof) and energy.

    I'm curious from those more experienced, what is the state of nuclear physics in research (what might it entail these days) and the job market? I'd also like to know if there are any particular undergrad electives you recommend as preperation. Or do you have any recommendations for other areas to pursue based on those interests I outlined? Any general recommendations?

    Thank you for any feedback. Honestly I'm trying to soak up every bit of advice I can right now so if you have any other input I welcome it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 2, 2016 #2
    What about these interest you?
  4. Dec 2, 2016 #3
    An excellent question. And the quick answer would be a lot, but I'll try and outline a few specifics. To quote Star Trek, space is a sort of final frontier to me in terms of unexploration. Things like missions to Europa for example have me at the edge of my seat. Plus the history (and future) of the universe is basically written up there which also fascinates me. It's honestly hard to find things that I don't find interesting. I'm also excited for the James Webb telescope. I know propulsion is one of our severe limiting factors in what we can explore in our own solar system and possibly nearby ones in the future. Experimental non-combustion propulsion interests me, for example ion thrust.

    Energy has interested me ever since I took an engineering thermodynamics course, and later a thermal physics course. I'm particularly interested in nuclear energy processes both fusion and fission. I'm interested in how they work both at an atomic and macroscopic scale. I'm also interested in how we can (and in some cases do) use radioactive materials in space.

    I'm sure I could go on, but this has already gotten long enough.
  5. Dec 2, 2016 #4


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    If you are a student at a US institution (you didn't say where you are), then you should already be in either a SPS at your institution, or become a student member of the APS. Now, even without that, you should have at least look at the APS website and the Division of Nuclear Physics. This is because that webpage gives you quite a broad description of what "nuclear physics" is. Your description of it missed quite a huge part of the field that is known as "Nuclear Physics".

    For example, are you aware that facilities such as RHIC at BNL, ATLAS at ANL, the upcoming FRIB at Michigan State University, ALICE at LHC, and CEBAF at JLab, are all particle accelerator/collider/detector facilities that are considered to be running nuclear physics experiments? They look like high energy physics experiments on the outside.

    What this means is that there's a good chance that you will be learning almost the same physics, including elementary particle physics, that HEP majors do. Nuclear physics isn't just fusion/fission, or energy. In fact, a large part of such areas of fusion/fission/energy tend to fall under nuclear engineering.

  6. Dec 2, 2016 #5
    I assume SPS is referring to the Society of Physics Students? If so, our physics club is a member I do believe. I just signed up for a student membership with APS. I'll be keeping an eye on the Division of Nuclear Physics, and I think also the Division of Plasma Physics. At a glance I think Plasma Physics might be more in line with my interests, though I'll have to read up to be sure.

    I didn't know those would be considered Nuclear Physics experiments, even partially. I sort of assumed they fell under elementary particle physics. Very interesting.
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