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Electrical Engineers and Nobel Prize.

  1. Sep 24, 2008 #1
    Why is it difficult for an Electrical Engineer to earn a nobel prize in Physics while Physicists get it all?

    Further, what's the difference between experimental physics and engineering?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 24, 2008 #2


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    This is self-evident: Electrical engineers aren't physicists. Physicists win nobel prizes in physics because they are physics.

    Scientists explore and push the boundaries of knowledge to further our understanding of how the universe works. Engineers take that knowledge and apply it to design/build/test/fix real-world device.
  4. Sep 24, 2008 #3
    would you elaborate a bit more on the second one?

    Theoretical physicists do advance our knowledge about universe but experimental physicists only apply the concepts of those theories, right? But, isn't this what engineers do as well?
  5. Sep 24, 2008 #4
    Generally speaking, scientist and physicist research and study to discover and learn for the sake of extending our knowledge.

    Engineers will take that knowledge and apply it to develop a "product".
  6. Sep 25, 2008 #5
    Actual question remains answered:

    What's the difference between "Experimental Physics" and "(different forms of) Engineering"?
  7. Sep 25, 2008 #6


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    Experimental physicists conduct research (experiments) to verify or disprove theories, and to discover new phenomena or behavior. Most theoretical advances come in response to experimental observations that are puzzling or unexplainable by existing theories.

    On the other hand, engineers build devices (usually practical) using well known principles. Parts of engineering are mathematical and creative (think information theory), and some engineering can look like experimental physics (investigations into strength of materials). In other words, sometimes the lines blur. However, most engineers build things (electric toothbrushes, iPods, computers, buildings, bridges, cell phones, space shuttles) and the vast preponderance of engineering is applied.
  8. Sep 25, 2008 #7


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    No. Experimental physicists are still theoretical physicists. They do experiments to test theories. Depending on the area of research, a physicist may look more like a mathematician than an astronomer, but they are still just two parts of the same thing. One cannot exist without the other.

    I realize, in any case, that the distinction between theoretical and experimental physics is pretty lively argument and I blurred the lines a little. Googling turns up lots of hits on that, including a previous thread of ours: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=74280

    I particularly like Dave's post at the end.
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2008
  9. Sep 25, 2008 #8
    In other news, there is a not-insignificant number of Nobel laureates that have at least one degree in EE. There are even a few that had actual EE careers.
  10. Sep 25, 2008 #9
    Many Nobel Prize winners have undergraduate degrees in Electrical Engineering and Ph.Ds in Physics.

    Like the 2000 winner, Herbert Kroemer , is a professor of Electrical Engineering at UCSB.
  11. Sep 26, 2008 #10


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    That is slightly misleading. According to Wikipedia, his PhD was in theoretical physics, not engineering.
  12. Sep 26, 2008 #11


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    Dirac started out as an electrical engineer. The prize was irrelevant to whether he'll be remembered for his contributions to physics.

    Simon van der Meer got an engineering degree.

    Exceptions that prove the rule I suppose.

    But the Nobel-worthy discovery that is my favourite for its mind-blowing simplicity - the hologram - came from Dennis Gabor - who was an engineer at least by profession, if not in practice.
  13. Sep 26, 2008 #12


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    No one said you can't be both at the same time. I'd be curious to know how many have won a Nobel Prize in Physics without any physics degree at all.
  14. Sep 26, 2008 #13
    Here are a few with ONLY Electrical Engineering degrees, and there are MANY with EE degrees with Physics/Mathematics degrees.

    Dennis Gabor - Hungarian inventor of holography, Nobel Laureate.
    John Bardeen - Two Nobel prizes: transistor, superconductivity.
    Sir Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield - Inventor of the world's first computed tomography (CT) scanner, shared a 1979 Nobel prize.
    Jack St. Clair Kilby - Nobel prize: Integrated circuit.
  15. Sep 26, 2008 #14


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    While John Bardeen had a BS and MS in EE, his PhD was in mathematical physics from Princeton.
  16. Sep 27, 2008 #15


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    Supposedly, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji (Nobel Prize for physics, 1997) was once asked if he was more of an experimentalist or a theoretician. His response: "I am a physicist."

    Many of the great ones do well at both.
  17. Sep 27, 2008 #16
    This is an interesting topic. I too was questioning the works of Nobel prizes recently.
  18. Sep 28, 2008 #17


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    Gustav Dahlén received the Nobel Prize in 1912 for his invention of the automatic lighthouse (which btw is quite a clever piece of engineering AND has saved many lifes) although that was controversial even back then.
    Kilby was a controversial choice, there were PLENTY of people who objected (even in Sweden). There have been several prices awarded for inventing scientific equipment (e.g. the bubble chamber) but Kilby is as far as I know the only "commercial" engineer to have received the price in recent years.
    Kilby shared the price with Alferov and Kroemer and selecting them was less controversial, mainly because heterostructures has been a "hot topic" in physics for quite a while.

    Slightly OT but even some physicists that work in very "theoretical" fields have degrees in engineering, e.g. Max Tegmark has a MSc in engineering (well, engineering physics).
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