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Programs How much physics does EE contain?

  1. Mar 17, 2016 #1
    Sorry in advance for the long winded question;

    I really want to take physics. I love the theories and different ways to approach things, and the way it opens your eyes in a way that you can never see the world the same again. I am sure many people here understand this passion and interest. And I am sure some opted for Engineering instead as way to still have some physics, but learn more of a "trade" application which would result in better chances for employment.

    I have already been in the industry as an Electronic Technician for 13 years. I have been building and desining my own guitar amplifier circuits from the ground up for a decade, and I have always been tinkering and building anything I need at my house, like furniture, home theater speaker enclosures, designing my own speaker enclosures of different difficulty levels such as "tapped horn" designs.

    To me it would make sense to enter into EE and bring something new to the table. However, looking at different programs from different universities, and I don't see nearly as many physics subjects as I thought would be present.. like quantum mechanics, special relativity, general relativity, optics, electromagnetism, vibrations and waves etc.. Maybe I am just not understanding some of the course titles in the EE programs, which encompass many of these subjects but not necessarily in the same way?

    I was looking into Engineering Physics, but then apparently there is this "brace yourself" amount of work above and beyond the standard EE program. I guess I would like to know if EE does have a substantial portion of physics, but maybe shift the depth toward a few different concepts?

    Thank you
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 17, 2016 #2
    It can range from "a sufficient amount" to "none at all."

    EE is an extraordinarily large discipline. Some areas require absolutely no physics. Some only require a little background knowledge to do the design. Some require as much physics as a physics undergraduate would have to know (and possibly some grad-level courses).

    I don't imagine any electrical engineer will need to know general relativity in the near future. Special relativity would be useful for a few specialized purposes, like the Doppler effect, but not to a huge extent.

    Specializations like communications, digital circuit design, signal processing, etc. probably involve much less physics than you'd expect. If you'd want physics, you'd want to look into areas like semiconductor device physics, electromagnetics/antennas/RF engineering, or optics.

    I'm a junior undergrad EE major, so I can speak regarding undergraduate coursework. I took two calculus-based General physics classes. That was the extent of my physics education from the physics department (though I did take extra for fun, but I'm merely talking about required courses). In EE, I've taken a course in electromagnetics and a course in semiconductor devices, both of which can be physics heavy.

    From what I see, a lot of the really physics-heavy stuff happens at the graduate level if you wanted to go with that route. I've seen departments that do tons of work on electromagnetics (computational, antennas, theory, etc.), optics (you may want to look up quantum optics) and photonics, and semiconductor device physics.
  4. Mar 17, 2016 #3
    Thank you very much for your input, you answered my question very efficiently. I think from here I should probably speak with people from those departments and see what they have to say about it.

  5. Mar 17, 2016 #4
    Of course I must stress that the ultimate goal is design, so there's a fundamental difference between the types of problems many physicists work on and the type electrical engineers work on. There probably isn't as big of a difference in industry, though.

    Nothing's stopping an electrical engineer from learning high-level physics either, though.
  6. Mar 17, 2016 #5


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    Look into engineering physics programs. Should still be accredited as an engineering profession, but typically have more room for upper division physics classes.

    Make sure you check the school of choice program, sometimes there are lots of variance in this major.
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