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How research is done

  1. Feb 1, 2009 #1
    Okay, so I'm curious of how modern physics research is done. I know that with particles you would use an accelerator like the LHC when it's up and running and the tevitron at Fermilabs, and I know that for some other stuff you'd make optical devices, but what I'm curious about is how exactly do you do research on stuff like black holes or string theory (not the part involving particles...unless that's the only way...i don't really know)?

    For example: On the cover of Scientific American it said something about naked singularities and how Penrose and Hawking did work on them and how Hawking didn't believe they could exist but now with current research, it might be possible that they do. Now I don't know what a naked singularity is, but I think it's basically like a bad black hole that breaks down the fundamental laws of physics because of something that's similar to dividing by zero (meaning it happens sometimes, but it just shouldn't)

    So what I'm asking is: How exactly would you research that stuff? It's not like you can go out looking for one...

    thank you
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 1, 2009 #2


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    I believe Hawking and Penrose's work was entirely theoretical. They didn't go over to the LHC and run some experiments.

    Also, as we compile more actual observations of astrophysical phenomenon we gain knowledge as to the various processes of the cosmos. In a sense these are the experiments of astrophysics, because they provide the only hard data we have to work with to verify theories.

    It really depends on what you're studying. There are two areas of research: theoretical and experimental. For some things, like you mentioned, it is difficult to see the experimental. For string theory, for example, there are, as of now, no proposed experiments to test anything, so work proceeds entirely in the theoretical realm.
  4. Feb 1, 2009 #3
    I'd imagine the Hawking and Penrose had no other option than to just depend on the math and theory of relativity and stuff, so prolly all theoretical yeah...

    So the only "expiraments" that there are in astrophysics would be "according to my hypothesis, this star/planet/galaxy should do this" then you just wait and see? That's gotta be long and tedious work...what about the computational side of it? Do computational physicists plug in all the related equations to a simulation or program and then see what happens if you put (let's say) a black hole in the middle of a galaxy? I'm very curious as to what kind of graduate work I might do if I were to go into Physics...I enjoy all the theoretical stuff, I'm a very creative person and I really need to do something that can let me just sit and think (Einstein did this, it's called grubeln) So I'm curious of how theoretical research is done excluding the "pictures of space" side and the super collider side. What else is there?

    thank you
  5. Feb 2, 2009 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    Are you asking how scientific research is conducted in general, or how experiments to verify/falsify a very specific hypothesis (existence of naked singularities) is designed?
  6. Feb 2, 2009 #5
    I may only be a senior in high school, but I've taken 6 science classes so I'm pretty aware of how to do research. I'm looking for the latter of your choices, the one about specific research topics in theoretical physics/astrophysics whatever, it just seems that the only way to do that research without looking at space would be a lot of thinking and playing with the math to see what happens
  7. Feb 2, 2009 #6


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    In astronomy, you cannot really wait to see if your predictions are verified. Rather, because we have so many stars/galaxies/whatever to look at in the heavens, we can usually find one at the desired stage of evolution and see whether or not features predicted by the theory actually exist. True, taking measurements of whatever it is is a long and painstaking process, often requiring years of observation. Because all this takes so long and is intensive, most positions in Astronomy, say, are in the field of the actual observation. That is, very few are employed solely as theorists. These positions, while they do exist, are extremely rare and are seeded only to the best of the best.

    Away from astronomy and particle physics, there is a lot of research being done right involving light. Various groups are experimenting with different gas medium cooled to usually extremely low temperatures in order to get light to slow down and, as some have reported, even stop.

    There is also a good deal of research on superconductivity and superfluidity and as to why these effects only appear in cryogenic environments and, specifically, why specific materials appear to have a much higher temperature point up to which these effects are visible.

    Really, if you want to know what's being researched and how, you should go to any university that is strong in physics and look at what their professors are researching. This will give you a taste of what the work is like.
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