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Electrical Engineering to physics--which subfield is best?

  1. Oct 28, 2015 #1
    Hello all

    Anyone who looks at my past postings here can see that I have a lot of interests and a very indecisive personality, which leads to quite a bit of trouble as I think about grad schools, especially now that I'm a junior in EE. So, I'm not necessarily asking because of some commitment to this path, but I am curious to see how I would go about doing it.

    I've looked into the possibility of applying to some applied physics or experimental physics graduate programs. By the end of my degree, I will have had (or might have had) the following courses:

    1. Standard Calculus/ODE/Linear Algebra sequence
    2. Introductory mechanics and EM
    3. 2 semesters of upper-level EM
    4. A modern physics course
    5. 1 or 2 courses in semiconductor devices and physics (engineering-oriented)
    6. (Possible) 1 or 2 semesters of QM
    7. (Possible) 1 semester of classical mechanics
    8. (Possible) 1 semester of thermodynamics
    9. Lots of signal processing and electronics

    So, what I'm wondering is: assuming I am able to develop a sufficient (though not necessarily perfect) physics background (i.e. at least 1 semester of classical mechanics, electrodynamics, thermodynamics, and QM, and maybe more), are there any sub fields of physics where my electrical engineering degree will be considered an asset rather than just a distraction from my physics education? I'm particularly looking for experimental work, where I'm sure my degree will be more useful than, say, cosmology. IAnd is it just as important to look around and try to get some research experience under a physics professor as it is to take these necessary courses?
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  3. Oct 28, 2015 #2


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  4. Oct 28, 2015 #3
    Yes, I have, and it does look like quite an interesting field. My concern is that, and this is only from a shallow search, it feels as if accelerator physics is a bit of a niche field (correct me if I'm wrong though!). I also believe the number of accelerator physics programs is low compared to the big fields (like solid state physics), and where I do see accelerator physics programs are some top-tier schools (in which case I'd have to have a remarkably good application to get into those with an EE degree). Though I'm not necessarily looking for the obvious fields like solid state physics, but also those fields not many people have heard of. Accelerator physics does sound like a good one.

    EDIT. Though, I might add, my school does have a particle accelerator I could potentially get some experience at, if they would allow me.
  5. Oct 29, 2015 #4


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    Here's the problem, and I see this quite often especially with undergraduate and students at levels below this. You are only focusing on the subject matter and where it is applied, rather than focusing on the generalities of the knowledge and the skills that are actually independent of the subject matter. This is the same as focusing on a pulsed-laser deposition (PLD) system that is used to make superconductors, and turning down the offer to learn how to use the PLD system because you don't intend to study superconductors. The PLD system can make countless thin film of very high quality, and this technique is independent of the study of superconductors. It just happened that the system is being used to make superconductors. So rather than focusing on the utility and the usefulness of learning the skill to make thin films using a PLD system, you focused on what it was used for, i.e. to make superconductors.

    You learn about E&M fields, RF systems, etc... etc. in accelerator physics. But RF system is RF system! It can easily be for the generation of microwaves to transmit/relay cellphone signals! You may learn it for accelerator application, but the knowledge and skill you gain are INDEPENDENT of such application!

    And no, I also do not consider it as a "niche" field. CERN has just joined the plasma wakefield accelerator research program, while the ones at UCLA, USC, SLAC, Berkeley are still going strong. And considering the fact that the overwhelming majority of accelerators in the world are in industrial applications (are medical x-ray and airport x-ray scanners "niche" products?), how is this a niche area?

    I know the thread is rather long, but you missed several important parts there, including the fact that in the US, you can get credit for classes at the Particle Accelerator School that is offered each year, even if your own school does not offer such a program.

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