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I want to be an Electrical Scientist

  1. Feb 26, 2013 #1
    Edit: I suppose this should be in the Academic Guidance section, sorry!

    To be a little more specific, I want to be a physicist focusing on electricity, but I want to study practical applications and I do not want to wander through equation after equation. :)

    I am currently a freshman at high school with a GPA of 3.96 (I think it might be a tad lower right now, like 3.95-3.90). I love experimenting with electricity and I hope to one day find more practical applications for the stuff.

    After my sophomore year I will enter running start and I will graduate with an AA as well as my high school diploma. From there I hope to get into a college, here is where I need help.

    I want to get to get a Ph.D or equivalent degree in either Electrical Engineering or Physics. I don't want to be a concrete engineer, per se, but a research scientists studying electricity. I however, want to develop practical things, so I don't want to do most of what the physicists do now with all the math (I am speaking as far as career in concerned, I am willing to do plenty of math in courses and such).

    To clarify, I love math and I am good at it, but I don't want to do a whole bunch of math describing reality, then a bunch of math on that math, and then talk about the math. I want to instead experiment to find ways which electricity would benefit humanity and then invent based on my finding. Of course math in some sort is inevitable, I have no problem applying some theory to help to the job...


    My problem here is that an electrical engineer is not a research scientist, and a physicist is not so much of an experimenter as much of a mathematician doing math about reality. So my problem here is that I want to become someone in the middle, but I can only go to one or the other.

    Say I go to Harvey Mudd and get a degree in Engineering there. Afterwords I will have a ton of knowledge on engineering but a paltry amount done in physics, so would I really be able to get start a course in another college for physics for instance if I only have done a bunch of engineering? I don't think so, but I don't know.

    Any other colleges that would suit me? Preferably a small one as they treat their undergrads a bit better. After I get a bachelors in the smaller one I want to then switch to a bigger one to get the masters.

    Am I making any sense at all?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 26, 2013 #2


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    Look into engineering physics. Also, there are many electrical engineers that have research focused jobs.
  4. Feb 26, 2013 #3
    I'm an electrical engineer who does research. Not in electricity exactly, but in semiconductor circuits (which obviously process electricity). The properties of electricity have been pretty well worked out for a long, long time, so I'm not aware of people studying it directly, except for maybe some exotic effects.

    At any rate, two pieces of advice: 1. If you want to do research, you need a Ph.D. 2. Your idea of a small teaching university is good! Harvey Mudd is EXCELLENT and so is Cal Poly SLO (I assume you're in California). You'll be well prepared for graduate school.

    Also, don't be so sure you know what you want to do until you start taking some classes. I thought I wanted to do software until I took my first semiconductor device physics course and I was hooked!
  5. Feb 26, 2013 #4


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    You are going to find that there is no "research" being done on basic electricity, That field was pretty much finished by Maxwell in 1867. So what you want is engineering, how to use the results of the work by the physicists. Also if you want to do research in any field you will need to learn to deal with equations. That is fundamental to physics and engineering. If you really want to get into a research position the best thing you can do at your age is to learn math. Get all of the math your school has to offer it is essential to any scientific or engineering field. You cannot do any "real" physics without math, just the way it is.
  6. Feb 26, 2013 #5
    From what I gather, you really like the subject of electricity & magnetism in a broad sense. There are tons of things you may be interested in. The first that come to mind are:

    Accelerator physics. Accelerator/synchrotron facilities are chock full of both electrical engineers and physics phds. I think that's about as "pure" as research in EM gets.

    Computational electromagnetics research: something that is done in industry, search youtube for Northrop Grumman, I recall seeing a video where they described some of the work they did on EM waves on aircraft structures (evading radar systems, stealth aircrafts, etc.)

    Solar/stellar magnetic fields are a big topic of research in astrophysics and there is an important instrumental/observational component to this. An understanding of the underlying electrodynamics is far from "complete" in this sense.

    I do recall seeing a documentary on TV where research electrical engineers at a university were creating artificial lightning and discharging it into tree trunks in a lab setting as a forensic tool, among other things. Looked pretty spectacular.
  7. Feb 26, 2013 #6
    Engineering Physics seems to be EXACTLY the margin I'm looking for, thanks!

    Thanks, I don't expect a guarantee for Harvey Mudd, as they seem really picky on SAT/ACT scores (which I have yet to take, so time to practice!), but I really hope I can get in. ;)

    Oh, and I actually live in Washington ATM, but I'm moving to Cali for obvious reasons once I finish high school a few other things.

    Well, yes. As long ago Maxwell did finish it, but there are many ways those equations can be utilized and probably ways which we haven't fully explored yet. So yes, in a way, I will really be doing engineering work, but I want to approach it from a perspective of thought-experiment/theory>physical experiment to confirm/deny>practical applications. Maybe that's really how most engineers do it, I'm ignorant here. :p

    Two things I want to study are atmospheric electricity and the what it has to do with the Earth's magnetic field. I want to study the action of lightning and it effects on the Earth and atmosphere, very interesting stuff. :)

    Really, I'm spread out, like you said, in a broad sense. I want to do the electrical engineering portion, but I also want to study electricity in nature and stuff...

    Maybe there needs to be a new science--Electrical science. :)
  8. Feb 26, 2013 #7
    As others have said, electricity is pretty much fully understood. The more general field however is electromagnetics, and there is still a lot of interesting stuff being done, especially in applied physics/engineering.

    To add to Lavabug's post:

    RF Engineering is the general field of engineering devices which utilize electromagnetic waves. Accelerator physics is an extremely interesting use of RF engineering. Other interesting RF engineering pursuits are antenna and wireless system design, including the design of satellite/spacecraft communication systems. Metamaterials is also an emerging field for developing new electromagnetic materials such as invisibility cloaks.

    Of course where there are high powered electromagnetic fields there are plasmas! So other electromagnetics applications are things such as fusion energy, plasma wakefield accelerators, space propulsion (ie. VASIMR) etc.

    If you want to study any of these things, then engineering physics is perfect. Either that or take a physics degree and supplement it with electrical engineering courses or take an electrical engineering degree and supplement it with physics courses.
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