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Engineering that deals with modern physics

  1. Jul 28, 2014 #1
    Hello everyone,
    I'm currently an undergraduate student who just completed his first year in mechanical engineering. The reason I'm making this thread is because I'm not satisfied with learning classical physics. I'd also like to learn and apply modern physics as well. Because of my dissatisfaction I've been wanting to switch to another field. Which engineering deals most closely with modern physics that can help my thirst for knowledge?
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 29, 2014 #2
    Why not just take some courses in modern physics? Unless you plan on doing research then no jobs I know of will be using modern physics or at least not to a great extent
  4. Jul 29, 2014 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    One option is to study electronics and in particular quantum computing which surely uses modern physics.
  5. Jul 31, 2014 #4
    This is a great idea that I am considering. Ideally though I'm not sure if I can take a double major in both mechanical engineering and physics. Additionally my mechanical engineering program doesn't offer many electives but instead chooses a list of electives that I can choose from. Unfortunately physics isn't one of them. I do plan on going into research though so I was also planning on finishing my bachelors in mechanical engineering and then doing a major in physics. Is this option doable or too difficult due to the difference in content?

    I was worried that this might be the case. I foolishly chose to take mechanical engineering because I was more concerned about job prospects and didn't bother to look at the workload, methods of teaching, and the specific content that is taught in my university. I really should've just gone ahead and move into electrical engineering before I began my term but, since I already finished one year, is it wise for me to attempt to switch now? Or does mechanical engineering still have jobs available that I can take that can get me involved in the application so quantum mechanics?
  6. Jul 31, 2014 #5

    Id just take a minor. A double major between the two is going to be extremely difficult. One option is maybe take a few during the summer. The goal is to graduate, pick one and focus on that.
  7. Aug 2, 2014 #6
    I know your school probably doesn't offer a degree in Engineering Physics or you probably already would have considered it but I think that is exactly what you are looking for.
  8. Aug 2, 2014 #7


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    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    caldweab and jedishrfu have given some good advice.

    What does one mean by modern physics? That is, physics itself is a broad field encompassing a spectrum of scales temporally and spatially, and various states of matter and forms of energy.

    One of the largest areas is condensed matter, which includes solid-state physics.


    There is also nuclear physics, quantum physics, general relativity and special relativity, astrophysics, chemical physics, computational physics, optics, . . . .

    I would recommend exploring various areas in modern physics, and decide which area is of most interest.

    Is one interested in the theoretical or applied aspects of physics, or a combination thereof? I enjoy a combination of both aspects, having worked for a company that aspired to link theory with practice.

    With respect to mechanical engineering, one can certainly apply areas of condensed matter physics into materials, structures and systems. Engineering disciplines, including mechanical, have also evolved along with modern physics. Particular areas include tribology and corrosion, both of which involve surface effects, e.g., surface-to-surface interaction and surface-to-environment interaction.
  9. Aug 5, 2014 #8
    I've heard a lot about engineering physics. I don't have that option at Waterloo but I've been advised by most peers and teachers to avoid it as its job prospects aren't too favorable. Though they are all the same people that advised my to take mechanical as it's safe but now that I'm unsatisfied I guess I might look into an option in physics. I'm not sure how other companies would see this but I'd say they'd consider it as a major in mechanical engineering and a minor in physics? As far as I'm aware Waterloo doesn't provide minors to engineering students.

    The biggest problem that I'm facing is that, because my program doesn't provide much in-depth information on modern physics, I'm not sure which field I would have the greatest compatibility in. I have kept up with recent developments and looked at scholarly articles but I'm not sure what kind of work is put into this research and if I can do well in it. But, as far as I've experienced, I'm really interested in astrophysics, special relativity, general relativity, and quantum physics. My ideal job is essentially helping make the current advances in physics possible but I suppose mechanical wasn't the ideal choice for my naive dream. Unfortunately it appears that my school won't be able to help me switch since every other engineering program is still too full. What can I do at this point to help me realize my aspirations?
  10. Aug 5, 2014 #9


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    Actually, that is not true. The University of Waterloo does provide various "options" in a number of different areas, including both math and "physical sciences" (of which physics is one particular sub-option you can choose), which for all intents and purposes are minors.

    https://uwaterloo.ca/engineering/future-undergraduate-students/undergraduate-programs-options/enriching-your-program-options [Broken]

    BTW, since you are a student at Waterloo, have you thought about switching to systems design engineering? The systems design engineering, as it's been described to me, is often thought of as a more generalist field of engineering which provides a lot of flexibility to its students, so perhaps a systems design engineering major with an option in physical sciences may be especially suited for you. I've known several people who graduated from that program -- all are successful and have had great things to say about the program.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  11. Aug 5, 2014 #10


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    The first two years of any engineering curriculum are virtually identical. I don't think you will miss much jumping from ME to EE.

    That said, it is really, really hard to get a job involving quantum computing at this point. You could probably do it in grad school but there just isn't a lot of widespread industrial activity in the area yet.

    The majority of EE grads end up doing work in systems integration or software. If you think you could enjoy this (and both can be highly satisfying career paths) I would say go for it and try to find a job in quantum computing.
  12. Aug 8, 2014 #11
    I spoke with my guidance counselor and he told me that, because I'm far into my program, I won't be able to switch into another discipline (systems, mechatronics, and electronics) due to them being too full and resources are low. At this point I'm stuck in the mechanical engineering program which kind of sucks since I'm not really enjoying myself and I want to do something more modern and large-scale.

    Though since I'm already here I'm deciding between mechatronics and the physical science options. Ideally I want to work in the aerospace industry on satellites or, if I can dream even further, help develop particle accelerators. Mechatronics would give me valuable knowledge in system design and electrical circuits and controls while the physics option would give me a great foundation in the laws of physics for me to work with. Which of these two options would grant me the most experience to work with and be appealing to an employer? Since the Space industry in Canada is rather lackluster, will I need to move to US?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  13. Aug 8, 2014 #12


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    I'm not an expert in the various options at Waterloo, but from my guess, either option should work. What's probably more important for gaining experience in the aerospace sector is seeking out and finding co-op placements in the aerospace industry or related areas (I would greatly appreciate it if others who are more knowledgeable or experienced on this matter can weigh in).

    On that note, the space industry may be lackluster in Canada, but there are opportunities available for aerospace work here on aircraft design and the like. Canada is after all the home of Bombardier, one of the leading manufacturers of aircraft, and there are other firms that are involved in various aspects of aerospace.
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