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Graduate school specialty

  1. Apr 9, 2008 #1

    I'm currently a double major in aerospace engineering and math. I'll be graduating within the next couple years and I know I will be applying to graduate programs in computational/applied math.

    For graduate school, I want to branch out of purely mechanical problems and go into areas which also involve more advanced physics; such as electromagnetism or quantum mechanics. In other words, I want to work in a field which involves (for example) things moving dynamically, as well as interacting through electromagnetic or other fundamental effects. I only know of a few fields like this, such as plasma physics, but I'm sure there are a lot of others.

    So, basically, my question is like this: considering my interests, what kind of subjects would people recommend? Is plasma physics very interesting? If I wanted to start self-studying to learn plasma physics, what kind of books should I go through? (first, text on electrodynamics, then move on to actual plasma physics text?)

    Thanks in advance for anyone's input...
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 9, 2008 #2
    You should look into taking some of the upper level physics courses (if you have the time- you are already double majoring). Your math and engineering background shouldn't leave you too farm behind compared to the physics majors. Or even take some EE courses for the electrodynamics stuff.

    Have you learned electrostatics yet? If so, move onto the undergraduate electrodynamics text that your school uses for their physics classes.

    If I may ask, it seems like your interests lie outside your current major... why not just switch to applied math and take some upper level physics classes?
  4. Apr 9, 2008 #3
    your math major should leave you well qualified to succeed in upper division physics classes. You should see if you can pencil an upper division E&M class into your schedule. If you have taken the intro year of physics and you are well into a math major then I think you should be able to handle E&M. In my opinion it is the math ha hold people back, not the physics concepts.

    I would not plan to attend grad school for applied math in E&M or QM w/o havin taken the upper division classes in hose subjects. Though that being said I'm sure you could take those classes whilst in grad school. As far as the math goes, make sure you are solid in DE, PDE, Linear Algebra and Vector Calc
  5. Apr 9, 2008 #4
    Why'd you do aerospace undergrad and not physics?
  6. Apr 9, 2008 #5
    Well, I am already really far into aerospace engineering, so it seems like it would be messed up for me to drop that major. I mean I've probably already taken about 3/4 of the aerospace courses I need to get that degree. However, I do have to admit that the idea of just taking math and physics until I graduate (about 2 more semesters) would probably fit my interests best... so that's just a bit of a hard decision. Also, for graduate school, and maybe for personal development, I think it might be better to have two degrees in two areas rather than one degree, with a bunch of courses kind of scattered on the side. That's a theoretical education argument so I'm not really sure either way.

    When I started out, I figured going into engineering would allow my work to be more practical. That did turn out to be true, but I just realized that aerospace engineering is a little more confined than I'm looking for. I just want to branch out a bit more, I still also like the aerospace subjects quite a bit.

    Anyways, I'm still wondering: what are more fields besides plasma physics that people might recommend for someone of my interests?
  7. Apr 9, 2008 #6


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    I have just the thing for you: accelerator physics.

    One aspect of beam physics, which is part of accelerator physics, involves the study of charge particles as it goes through various structures along a particle accelerator. You study various characteristics of the beam, such as space charge effects, its emittance, its position, its transverse and longitudinal profile, etc.. etc. Having such a code can greatly help in the design of various structures, such as RF cavities, magnets, etc. The computational aspect of beam physics is a large part of accelerator physics.

    The accelerator physics field offers short, ~8-week schools throughout the country (and the world) that carries college credits. It includes computational methods, and you learn various existing packages that are often in used by people in this field. You can find more info on such school (and those offered in Europe and Asia) from this link:


  8. Apr 10, 2008 #7
    Thanks for the recommendation... accelerator physics does sound interesting. Do you think you have any more ideas?
  9. Apr 10, 2008 #8
    If you like quantum mechanics and electrodynamics then materials science is the field for you because it's pretty much quantum, statistical mechanics and e&m. In the theory side it would be computationally intensive, which is what you are looking for right?
  10. Apr 10, 2008 #9
    Yes, I am looking for computational stuff, or at least stuff to which computers can be applied, which is probably just about everything. I've actually taken a course in materials science, but I didn't find it to be as interesting. Also, I think of materials science as being more fundamentally experimental rather than theoretical, but perhaps I'm just looking at it a little bit narrow-mindedly.

    Basically, I'm thinking along the lines of problems which involve 1. motion (e.g. fluid flow, rotation, etc.), AND 2. wave/electromagnetic/quantum/statistical interaction (e.g. radar, acoustics, etc.). But thanks anyways for the suggestion.
  11. Apr 10, 2008 #10
    That course might have thrown you off because there is plenty of theory to be done in materials science. If the class you took was simply taught from the pov of an experimentalist, it might have thrown you off. But ultimately theory and experiment really need to go hand in hand, and condensed matter physics does a better job of keeping the theorists honest than other fields in physics.

    I should point out that the areas that you're interested in are classical and have been mined out fairly extensively and most current research is done by chemical and aerospace engineers using canned software. That's not to discourage you, it's just that the problems that you'll face will be difficult, and it will be hard for you to make your mark.

    Anyway I guess is it magnetohydrodynamics what you want to do? You can also find projects in astrophysics that will make use of that, for example neutron stars will exhibit fluid flow and oscillations/waves, differential rotation, have large magnetic fields, and have a high enough density for you to worry yourself with quantum/stat effects. In fact that covered everything on your list!
  12. Apr 11, 2008 #11
    You might consider atomic and molecular physics, it's got the quantum mechanics and E&M, but is lighter on the statistical mechanics, except for some niche areas like molecular clusters and Bose-Einstein condensation (which are on the border line of atomic/molecular and condensed matter).

    Michael Courtney
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