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How general physics differ from engineering physics

  1. Dec 29, 2009 #1
    I want to know how general physics differ from engineering physics my younger sister want to take engineering physics as her career, i said both are same, but she said different i have challenged her that i will tell the difference by tommorrow can anyone tell me the exact difference of general physics and engineering physics.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 29, 2009 #2
    I'm an Engineering Physics major at the University of Michigan, who was originally going to major in General Physics. The difference in curriculums at my university is thus:

    Engineering Physics students are required to take mechanical engineering, material science engineering, electrical engineering, and many more practical engineering classes(programming etc.). More of less, you take all of the more practical physics classes.

    General Physics has you take a few more 400 level physics classes. These classes are much more theoretical, and will lead you down one of the following tracks: optics and photonics, high energy physics, etc.

    Oh plus being part of the engineering physics program, you don't have to take all the humanities/social science credits. You won't be as well rounded of a student in engineering physics.

    Downside with EP: Because the program covers so many topics, you are not specialized enough to jump right into a career after 4 years. You're more or less obligated to go on to graduate school.
  4. Dec 29, 2009 #3
    I guess Engineering Physics focus more on applications, and helps one to find a job in the Engineering Industry, while General Physics focus more on the theoretical aspects.

    However, do not forget that General Physics also include issues with experiment, and requires one to become an expect on the engineering side.

    To make it simple enough to understand, they are getting harder and harder to distinguish nowadays.

    Hope this helps.
  5. Dec 29, 2009 #4
    I'm an old-timer who studied EE in the 1970s. I don't know if my experience is typical. My answer is only about the subject of electromagnetism. In my EE classes we used rectangular, spherical and cylindrical coordinates with about equal frequency. Later I took three calculus-based classes in the physics department. There we did everything in rectangular coordinates, and we never used the vector operations gradient, divergence and curl. Another difference was, in my EE classes we never heard the term "emf", they just said "voltage."
  6. Dec 29, 2009 #5
    what you exactly mean by applications, you mean engineering related applications?
  7. Dec 30, 2009 #6
    Hi, I'm an Engineering Physics major at McMaster University and here is what I think about the differences between Engineering Physics and General Physics.

    In the first two years, I believe that the curriculum is very similiar because the idea is to build up the physics foundations in fields such as classical mechanics, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics. After some physics foundation is laid down, then these two major begins to differ, and this should probably begin in around year 3 or so.

    Engineering Physics will use their physics knowledge that they learned in their first two years in more engineering/technological courses. These courses include semiconductor technology, photonics, nuclear engineering or more where all these courses will require a significant amount of physics knowledge to complete. Eng Phys will still continue to use physics, but they will not take any pure physics courses because they will use their physics to supplement their Engineering Physics courses.

    General physics on the other hand will continue what they have started and continue to take even more advance courses of what they have already done. It will probably be typical to see general physics students taking 3rd or 4th year of pure analytical mechanics, quantum mechanics and electromagnetics. They will gain a deeper understanding of physics than Engineering Physics but they won't be too confident when applying it to a technologies. An analogy to this would be a having a very strong foundation in electromagnetism but a bit weak in dealing with circuits and analyzing them.

    Anyways, take what I've said with a grain of salt. I've only stated my perception of what seems to be happening at my school so it might not be entirely true. Furthermore, different school does different things and perhaps your school could be very different from mines.
  8. Dec 30, 2009 #7


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  9. Jan 1, 2010 #8
    If you take upper div EM classes, there'll be extensive use of vector calculus.
  10. Jan 1, 2010 #9
    I'm an engineering physics major as well. At my school the difference is down to electives.

    In general physics the core classes are E&M I/II, QM I/II, classical mechanics, thermo/statistical mechanics and 4 physics labs. After that the rest of the physics classes are electives for physics majors.

    In engineering physics we take the same physics core classes but also the engineering core classes: chemistry of materials, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, circuits, strengths of materials and statics. Then towards your junior/senior year you also specialize in a particular engineering field.

    For instance I'm planning on taking classes on nanotechnology something that having a background in EE and physics wil be useful since it's really a synthesis of both disciplines.

    So in summary where general physics majors would take all the classes like nuclear physics, general relativity, cosmology, optics quantum electronics, or even grad classes -- and engineering physics student would take only the ones that would be beneficial to your specialization and then you would also take engineering classes.
  11. Jan 3, 2010 #10
    When I saw the thread title I thought you were referring to the courses but instead you meant the majors. It seems people have explained the differences between the majors already. Just for the heck of it, I'll mention that the courses at my university differ by math. General Physics I and II are algebra based while Engineering Physics I and II are calculus based.
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