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Frontier of Discovery?

  1. Apr 7, 2012 #1
    Hello all, currently I am a Junior in High-School and I would like to go in to a technical field such as engineering or maybe even become a physicist. My main priority for a job is to work in a field where I have the opportunity to discover something significant and to advance a frontier of science.

    I have ambitious goals but I am not sure how many areas of engineering and physics my goals apply to. For example, if I go in to mechanical engineering, I assume that such a field has already been mostly mapped out in terms of new things to discover or, perhaps, I am just ignorant as to what actually transpires in such a field. I do, however, want to avoid aerospace engineering because that is what my brother is doing.

    What fields of engineering/physics would allow me to participate in making a significant discovery?

    Also I heard that if I get a degree in physics I won't be able to do any physics jobs until I get a masters/doctorate degree. Is this true?

    Finally, for those engineers out there in any field what is your job actually like on a daily basis?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 7, 2012 #2


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    Hey Garmeth and welcome to the forums.

    One thing I would like to point out for 'significant' discoveries is two-fold:

    a) Significant is hard to determine not only as a metric: in other words different people interpret what significant really is. Some people say the number of citations gives this metric for significance but it is really subjective.

    b) People may not consider something significant even when the author is alive: it might end up being rediscovered in another context unknowingly or someone way in the future might be working on something and then he sees your discovery and realizes its significance then.

    What the above is alluding to is that even if you do figure out something signicant then chances are it won't be recognized as such.

    The other important thing is that a lot of significant breakthroughs are occuring with projects involving more and more people from almost disjoint backgrounds in some cases tha complement each other.

    As an indicator take a look at the number of textbooks, journals, and projects that are out there nowadays. Think about for example the human genome project and the number of people and in particular their expertise in comparison with the others.

    If you want an example go to arxiv (google this if you don't know) and just browse through some of the topics to see how many papers there are. Now this is just one source for information. This can give you an idea of how much there is to digest.

    The final thing I want to add is that you need to have an idea of specifically what you want to investigate before you can even begin the process of accumulating knowledge and transforming it into something new. The earlier this is done, the sooner you will begin the process. For a bit of inspiration look at the problems out there: not just the theoretical problems but also the practical problems that people face every day.

    This is a good place to get an idea for these things and remember there are an endless supply for problems. The problem will have some kind of personal connection with you in some way but realize that you will never have trouble finding a problem to work on.

    One metric I would use for how significant a solution would be for a problem is how many people it affects both directly and indirectly. Most people buy for example iPhone's and they have no idea how everything comes together and works but people benefit from this. Same with a lot of things: people drive over bridges but they have no idea how it all works but they still appreciate the fact that they can drive from point A to B and the bridge doesn't collapse.
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