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Difference between being a nuclear engineer or a physicist when working on fusion.

  1. Oct 28, 2011 #1
    What are the major differences in the fields of study and work done? I know that generally the vast majority of work done on fusion is by physicists but I also know there are several good nuclear engineering graduate programs which have an option to focus on fusion.
     
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  3. Oct 29, 2011 #2

    Astronuc

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    Re: Difference between being a nuclear engineer or a physicist when working on fusion

    A physics degree is certainly different from a nuclear engineering or any engineering degree. Engineering physics though would overlap both. A physicist may deal more with the underlying/fundamental physics of the fusion process/system, while the engineer may deal more with the application of physics to heat transfer, structural mechanics, energy conversion. However, what one actually does depends on the individual after all.

    As an undergrad, both physics and nuclear engineering may have the same introductory math and science/physics courses. By middle of sophomore year, the programs begin diverging. I would encourage a nuclear engineering student to take as many physics courses as possible.

    In upper levels and grad school students start to specialize in either discipline. Even if one went into fusion, one could specialize in plasma physics, magnetics (EM theory for heating or confinement, or the magnet design), power conversion, instrumentation and control, or radiation effects of materials.

    If in plasma physics, then one would want to take a core of physics courses in plasma physics. Most nuclear engineering programs may have limited selection of fusion engineering courses, as was the case at my school, while others probably teach more in plasma physics, if the program has faculty who specialize in that.
     
  4. Nov 3, 2011 #3
    Re: Difference between being a nuclear engineer or a physicist when working on fusion

    What do you think the timeline will be for fusion research moving from national government labs to the private sector?
     
  5. Nov 4, 2011 #4

    Astronuc

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    Re: Difference between being a nuclear engineer or a physicist when working on fusion

    In the US, General Atomics (GA) is doing fusion research, but they do a lot under government contract. So the research is already in the private sector.

    I was given a projection on fusion yesterday - 50 years, which is up from 20 years when I left grad school, which was up from 10 years when I was an undergrad. As time goes on, the projected time to successful perfect commercially viable fusion seems to increase. :rolleyes:

    I do think that some folks are milking the system.
     
  6. Nov 4, 2011 #5
    Re: Difference between being a nuclear engineer or a physicist when working on fusion

    That is really disappointing. I'm 19 now and would've hoped that this is something that would come to fruition in my 40s. I mean is it possible that this could be a total waste of time?

    EDIT: How do the prospects for (any) thorium based reactor look?
     
  7. Nov 8, 2011 #6
    Re: Difference between being a nuclear engineer or a physicist when working on fusion

    In addition to GA, there are often smaller scale fusion projects in the private sector. Some of them fly under the radar, so unless you know about them, you may not hear about them. General Fusion is one of the ones that gets a lot of press recently; I don't want to broadcast the existence of other projects without their wishes. However, if you search for them, you can probably find them.

    Learning about fusion and fusion-related technology is probably not a waste, regardless of what happens. Let me offer you some perspective, as someone who was once a 19-year-old wanting to work on fusion. I worked with a fusion startup back in the days of the Internet Bubble (right place, right time, wrong project!) from the ages of 20-26. I learned a huge amount of plasma physics, electrodynamics, vacuum technology, electronics, and most importantly, how to do engineering in a practical setting. Working in a small company you have to learn a little bit of everything, which is good for a young guy!

    So eventually, the project didn't meet expectations, and the company went slowly bankrupt. I was a believer in the dream and so I worked for almost a year without pay trying to keep things going. That didn't end well, and I was basically homeless by the end. Nevertheless, with the good experience I had accumulated working on the fusion project I was able to get a great job with a company working with medical physics. And I have a lot of great "back in the day" stories. So my advice is that you should follow your dream while you are young, because you will get more out of following it than you would doing something else more "practical", even if it doesn't pan out the way you'd hoped.

    As far as when fusion will happen... well, if I was more hopeful about it I'd be back working on it. I suspect that something else out of left field will come out and surprise us with a solution to the energy problem long before fusion becomes practicable.

    If you aren't familiar with fusor.net, I recommend checking it out. While a Farnsworth Fusor won't come close to solving the energy problem, it is one of the only reactor designs that's easy enough to build that a 19 year old could do it in their dorm room (don't irradiate your roommates if you do). Its a great step towards a future in fusion, if that's what you want.
     
  8. Nov 11, 2011 #7
    Re: Difference between being a nuclear engineer or a physicist when working on fusion

    Depends on your definition of a waste. It's quite possible, I would say probable, that fusion energy will continue to prove to be so incredibly expensive and difficult that it will never be a viable source of power for civilization. That doesn't mean that we won't continue to learn a great deal about plasmas along the way, however, that helps us understand and control other areas of science and technology.
     
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