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Fusion and Renewable Energy Education Paths

  1. Dec 18, 2014 #1
    My counselors, advisers, and teachers are tired of me so I've come here for some help. I've been interested in renewable energy since I was much younger, but was wondering what kind of path one goes down to dive into becoming a part of the research involved in figuring out our problems with energy. For my background, I'm an American student who's finished his AP Physics 1, 2, and C:Mechanics courses, and am psyched to take my C:E&M in the spring. I love the theory behind physics and am actually thinking of pursuing physics despite the bleak outlook of employment, but it's my understanding that if I want to be a part of energy research I should pursue nuclear engineering (for something like fusion) or electrical engineering. Fusion interests me more than anything, and I've been talking with schools about their nuclear engineering and physics programs. I need another set of opinions though. In your experience who is more likely to be employed as a researcher in new ways of creating usable energy, and what is the most in demand engineer or physicist in these fields?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 19, 2014 #2

    berkeman

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    Staff: Mentor

    I'm biased, but I would recommend EE. It gives you lots of flexibility, and helps give you the tools that you would use in working in R&D on renewable energy technologies and the Smart Grid. If you go the nuclear route, I would think that any energy R&D work you would do would be with fission.
     
  4. Dec 19, 2014 #3
    You'll find fusion research mostly being performed in physics and nuclear engineering departments, with the odd EE department also involved; for instance University of Wisconsin Madison's EE, NE, and physics all do some form of fusion research. A big problem with fusion (the magnetic confinement kind anyway) is materials longevity, that can definitely be approached from a nuclear engineer's perspective; they are not necessarily pigeon holed to fission, but that is where most of the NE research is in. EE might be the most general purpose of the 3 options since they could do solar, wind, as well as Smart Grid. If fusion is your main interest I would go to a school doing active plasma physics research with and get into doing undergrad research in that area as soon as you can.
     
  5. Dec 19, 2014 #4
    I agree with clope023. Plasma physics is basically the main area of study for magnetic confinement. If you like your fluid mechanics and E&M courses then you will like plasma physics. If that's not your thing, basically every area of engineering has applications in fusion in some way. If you simply want to contribute to the overall fusion effort, you could do with a background in electrical, mechanical, nuclear, or even aerospace engineering. There are a lot of problems in magnetic confinement fusion that aren't plasma related...i.e. radiation transport, tritium breeding, neutron shielding, materials that wont melt the first time they flip the switch on ITER, etc... If ITER works then fusion should have a very good job prospects looking into the future, since they will be building multiple copies of DEMO.

    Alternatively, if you like lasers you could do ICF. But you'll essentially be a tool for the US Gov. :P
     
  6. Dec 19, 2014 #5
    It's not just a matter of me liking it. I love everything I've done in physics to date, but the lack of jobs for physics PhDs is worrisome. I don't just want to learn the stuff and not be able to use it as I see fit. Hence my interest in engineering. The colleges I'm in talks with all have plasma physics and proper engineering programs, and the freshman course load is basically the same no matter what. So there's certainly no rush. I'm more concerned that if I decide I want to do engineering a year into a physics program that I won't have my freshman engineering courses out of the way and I'll be behind.
     
  7. Dec 26, 2014 #6
    IMHO, there is a worse job market for people with PhDs focused in pure fusion research than Physics PhDs. There isn't a huge amount of domestic funding in Fusion research that doesn't relate to defense applications.
     
  8. Dec 27, 2014 #7
    Meh. I guess anyone who goes into a physics/fusion PhD probably knows this, and still does it because it's something they love and believe in and all that junk. My plan is to either go to Europe or just get a job as a software engineer if I can't get an academic position.
     
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