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Geo classes for a physics major?

  1. Jun 16, 2013 #1
    I'm a physics major currently doing an REU in seismology, and I'm really enjoying it. I think I've finally found the field I'd like to pursue in grad school :approve:. I'm definitely planning on going for a geo science minor, but I'm wondering which classes would be useful to me going to grad school for geophysics. I posted this question here because I really want some input from the earth scientists.

    I've currently only taken an intro physical geology class w/ lab. Next semester I'll be taking plate tectonics and planetary science (just for kicks) and plan to take intro geophysics and structural geology at some point. Are there any other fundamental geo classes I should be considering or will I be able to catch up in grad school? How beneficial would it be to tack on an extra year and double major in physics and geology? Any other classes outside of geology that would be useful for seismology (math, cs, physics, engineering)?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 16, 2013 #2
    This may not be a surprise, being a physics major, but..math.. Lots of math. Though probably it would be the same answer if you weren't going for geophysics.

    -Dave K
  4. Jun 16, 2013 #3
    Hopefully I'll have that mostly covered, but any suggestions on specifics? My major requires a math minor which is basically calc I-III, ODE, + 2 upper level electives. I'm planning on taking PDE, matrix theory, and possibly numerical analysis for math. I'm also taking math methods for physics.
  5. Jun 17, 2013 #4
    I only know this second hand from geo-majors as I'm a math major, so I hope somebody else can contribute.

    But your list looks good. You want practical math - you don't want proofs and such. For your upper level electives I'd probably do some probability and statistics.

    These *might* help:

    Mathematical Geosciences
    Mathematical Geophysics

    Though you may not be gearing up for these fields in particular, perhaps these links will give you the idea of what kind of math is being used in geophysics.

    Good luck.
    -Dave K
  6. Jun 17, 2013 #5
    Thanks, I'll take a look at those. I forgot statistics on my list, I'll be taking that next semester.

    Now that I look at it, I'm taking a few more math classes than I need for my degree. Should I consider replacing a few math electives with geology or would math be more beneficial?
  7. Jun 17, 2013 #6
    Well, I'm a math person, and we tend to think in terms of "Learn math first, everything else is just application." So that's my answer. But I would definately get in touch with more geophysics types and see what they think. Possibly the people guiding your REU could give you some info?

    Talk to grad students and see if you can get them to finish the sentence "I wish I had taken more _____."

    -Dave K
  8. Jun 17, 2013 #7
    Hmm for seismology, maybe some classes on inverse theory or optimization? Those would probably be in the applied math department but seem useful. Linear algebra is definitely definitely a must! PDEs are also useful (seismic wave equation etc).

    Also, does anyone have any advice about good computer science classes? I've been coding for 1.5 years (two programming based research projects), and I can hack through code, but it's not very elegant. I really want to take a data structures class, but it's notorious at my university for being 20 hours + per week and I don't know how feasible that is on top of a full physics workload :/
  9. Jun 23, 2013 #8
    Do you want to be a theoretical seismologist -- someone who does mathematics and writes computer code in developing new 'tools' for processing and interpreting data. Or do you want to be an observational seismologist -- someone who works with data, using the tools, and working in collaboration with other geo-types to process and interpret the data... ? Perhaps you are more of an engineer type who prefers to specialise in acquiring the data?

    Do you want to work on global scale seismology, perhaps using normal modes or teleseismic body waves to study the Earth's deep interior, or surface waves or mode converted body waves to study upper mantle structure. Or do you want to work in the oil and gas sector, perhaps using reflected waves from controlled explosions measured on vast arrays of seismometers to image the geology a few km deep, or perhaps use some strategically placed seismometers to listen in to a fracking operation.

    Do you even want to be a seismologist. There are plenty of other geophysical paths. Do you even want to be a "geo". There are plenty of other paths.

    Perhaps you should just do what you find most interesting now. And later you should be set to do something that you know is actually interesting to you. Just a thought.
  10. Jun 23, 2013 #9
    Although I enjoy the math/physics, I'm more interested in the observational side of seismology. I've done some computer modeling in the past and didn't particularly enjoy it; It seemed to be too arbitrary for me and I had a hard time convincing myself that anything I was doing was actually correct. On the other hand, it's been VERY refreshing to work with actual data being gathered from the field. Also, the field work itself is a huge lure for me. I love the outdoors and traveling and have really enjoyed the fieldwork I've done so far.

    As far as which focus within observational seismology interests me most, I don't think I have enough exposure to truly know. In general, using seismic energy to learn about the earth's structure (at all depths) is fascinating to me. Currently, I'm using receiver functions to look at crustal structure of the Illinois Basin and it's extremely interesting. At this point, I'm more interested in the scientific questions than applied or exploration, I know that for sure.

    I know that I want to apply physics to problems in an interdisciplinary setting. My past research experience was in biophysics and I realized that it bored me and wasn't "large scale" enough. I had never taken any earth science until last semester and it just so happened that a seismologist with a PhD in physics was teaching it and really sparked my interest. There is WAY more going on in the earth than I would have ever imaged. You're right though, maybe there are other fields within geophysics that I would enjoy... But because I'd like to learn about earth structure I figure seismology is a good place to start and so far it seems to be a good fit.

    So what is your background/interest in seismology?
  11. Jun 23, 2013 #10
    Receiver functions are pretty cool things. Are you looking at the Moho?

    I did an undergrad in geophysics. Followed by 3 years in seismic industry. Followed by 2.5 years of PhD in seismology. I'm now coming to the end of the PhD in the UK. My focus in the PhD is in imaging the Earth's anisotropic structure, particularly at the edges of the mantle (asthenosphere and D''). Anisotropy betrays convection patterns in the Earth which are otherwise invisible to us.
  12. Jun 23, 2013 #11
    Yup, looking at some oddities in the crustal thickness within the mid continent. I don't know much about anisotropy yet, but I'll be starting a project that deals with it next semester. I'd like to learn more about the deeper structure like that. How do you look at/determine mantle anisotropy? Do you get to do any fieldwork with your project?

    I'd be interested to hear more about your experience with industry and why you decided to go to grad schooll.
  13. Jun 24, 2013 #12
    Lattice preferred orientation and anisotropy! I know the professor who did the experimental studies for that, and when I found out, I was in awe :eek:
  14. Jun 24, 2013 #13
    Great! Do you have an understanding of the geological significance of these oddities? Care to share?

    Keep us informed of what you're up to. I'd certainly be interested in that.

    Shear wave splitting.

    No. But I get to travel to conferences and visit profs abroad to collaborate, and I have been out servicing seismometers in exotic locations as part of wider group collaborations. But I am strictly an "arm chair seismologist".

    Industry was great. In the UK you don't go to grad school. You jump straight into a 3 to 4 year research project. I wanted to try my hand at research. Which will hopefully give me the qualifications to go back into industry with higher prospects for reaching senior advisor / R&D levels.
  15. Jun 24, 2013 #14
    I hate to admit it, but I don't quite grasp all of the geology yet and I'm still learning about the significance but I'll give it my best shot. It's part of a larger, ongoing project called OIINK (http://www.indiana.edu/~oiink/index.php). The big picture is to try to learn more about the structure, formation, and evolution of the North American craton and it's features such as the Illinois basin, Ozark dome, and New Madrid Seismic Zone. Like I said, I'm focusing on imaging the Illinois basin to try to learn more about it's structure compared to the surrounding region and how/why it formed the way it did. Past studies show that the crust goes from being thick in Missouri, to very thin at the southern part of the Illinois Basin. The problem is the basin's geometry is very complex and this apparent thinning could be due to noise from the Basin response (sort of like ringing a bell). Well, fortunately enough the Indiana Geological Survey just finished a VERY elaborate model of the Basin's stratigraphic layers so I'll have that to play with and hopefully I'll be able to deconvolve the basin response. Also, we have brand new seismic data that we just gathered from the field a couple of weeks ago. Another student is also working on a P-wave tomography for the same area so together hopefully we'll be able to get a pretty good idea of what's going on.

    I googled around to learn more about anisotropy/shear wave splitting and it seems really powerful! It looks to be very similar to concepts from optics such as birefringence and polarization so I'll be excited to apply my physics knowledge :)

    So what type of industry were you involved with? What did you do on the job? Did you do field work or mostly behind the computer?
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