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Engineering Physics vs. Applied Physics

  1. Aug 15, 2014 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm currently an undergraduate going into my third year enrolled in a 3/2 dual degree physics/engineering program at a state school in Wisconsin. This will be my last year studying physics and I will then transfer over to UW-Madison to study nuclear engineering. I am particularly interested in nuclear reactors, but I love physics and, more broadly, research. Physics is just slightly too academic for me, I want to work on understanding and solving a societal problem to better the world. I'm going on my third year of nuclear physics research as well. That being said I have full intentions on pursuing a PhD.

    My question is, what is really the difference between applied physics and engineering physics? UW-Madison has a solid Nuclear Engineering & Engineering Physics PhD program that I am hoping to pursue if I am not accepted to a school ranked a little higher (MIT, CalTech, Cornell etc.). I quickly read a similar forum on here that mentioned applied physics is "physics in the world" and engineering physics is "applied physics dealing with construction".

    Is this correct? And if so, well, what does that really even mean? What are the main differences in the type of research the positions would do?

    Appreciative of all responses, thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 16, 2014 #2
    Ranked higher? University of Wisconsin is a great school, especially for nuclear engineering. But to answer you question I think you should just stick with nuclear engineering given that you said physics is too academic for you, engineering physics is also an option
  4. Aug 16, 2014 #3


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    From what I see, "applied physics" and "engineering physics" are essentially synonymous.

    from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applied_physics [3]
    Stanford Applied Physics site - http://web.stanford.edu/dept/app-physics/cgi-bin/

    The discussion of applied physics seems similar to that of engineering physics.

    I think every engineer should have a firm grounding in the fundamental physics, and most engineering programs of which I'm aware have students taking the same introductory physics and calculus courses as science/physics students, although there may be different courses at some institutions.

    One can do engineering and not understand what's in the 'black box', but that results in a deficient engineer who may not understand why something goes wrong later on. The best engineers have a fundamental understand of the system on which they work, even down to the atomic level in some cases. Similarly, with computational tools, knowing the mathematics involve in the system of equations (and the solver or solution technique), as opposed to simply entering input and processing the output, makes for a better engineer.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2014
  5. Aug 16, 2014 #4
    Thank you both for the responses.

    Caldweab, I 100% agree it's a great school but I would argue somewhere like MIT would be slightly better. Perhaps I am succumbing to a popular case of referring to its reputation and it wouldn't make much of a difference given I was doing good research. But in any case, thank you, that's kind of what I was thinking.

    Astronuc, I firmly agree with your statement of engineers should learn the physics prior to working on projects, it would seem they only have the skills of operation if they do not. In any case, I was unsure whether or not they were essentially synonymous, thank you for more insight. I suppose the more important thing is what I pursue for projects rather than what my degree says.
  6. Aug 16, 2014 #5


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    There is plenty of research to be done in nuclear engineering and engineering physics with respect to nuclear energy or radiation effects of materials. The latter can be applied to nuclear power, waste storage systems, as well as space craft that must exist in the radiation fields of space. Radiation detection is another area that might be of interest.
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