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I want to work with Fusion

  1. Oct 10, 2014 #1


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    I am currently in my first year of undergrad taking general science course classes with an undeclared Major. My dream is to work with Nuclear Fusion reactors, and i am at a bit of a loss at choosing Majors. Should I make my concentration "Applied physics specializing in Nuclear Engineering(or nuclear physics)," or just going straight into the Nuclear Engineering program my school offers which i have copy pasted the schools programs details below:
    Nuclear engineering is firmly grounded in the understanding and application of modern physics. It has demonstrated vast potential for growth in power generation, medicine, industrial processes, plasmas, space technologies, and national defense.
    Nuclear engineers at *University* contribute to such advanced technologies as fission and fusion power generators, new medical technologies and procedures, improved food safety, advanced materials processing, advanced imaging, and the safe treatment and disposal of spent nuclear fuel.

    Applied Physics description from school:
    The applied physics plan of study is especially geared toward providing the physics major with specific expertise in preparation for immediate employment in the corporate research world or in government laboratories, or in further graduate study. Students obtain a solid physics background plus significant experience in one or more specialties of their own choosing, selected from a wide range of choices from Purdue's Colleges of Science and Engineering.

    I feel like if i go the Engineers path, i would lose out on some of the research and theory physics offers.
    But if i go the physics route, i would lose out on some huge Engineering concepts. Maybe i could get my BS in the applied physics with a concentration in nuclear engineering(or nuclear physics), then master in nucler engineering, or vice versa.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 11, 2014 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    One could do a double major in physics and nuclear engineering, or major in applied physics with some core nuclear engineering courses, or major in nuclear engineering with some core applied physics courses.

    Fusion reactors for energy production are way out there, if ever. Numerous problems associated with effective confinement and energy production, as well as materials issues, need solving.
  4. Oct 11, 2014 #3
    Are you at Purdue?

    I'm currently a PhD student studying fusion. I did my undergrad at Purdue in Nuclear engineering, but I'm doing my graduate work elsewhere. If you are at Purdue then send Doctor Choi an email (he's in the NE department) and ask if he is willing to sit down and talk to you about fusion.

    An undergraduate degree in either Nuclear Engineering or Physics will prepare you for graduate work in fusion research.
    If you go the NE route, then be sure to take a few extra course in E&M. If you go physics then consider taking a few NE course.

    If you want to research fusion for power applications you'll want to study plasma physics, not nuclear physics.
  5. Oct 13, 2014 #4
    As someone who researched in nuclear fusion for 2 summers I'll give you my thoughts...

    The best thing you can study is Plasma Physics. Plasma Physics is hugely made up of 2 components (Yes, there are others but these are the 2 big ones). They are Nuclear Fusion Applications and Applications to Space since most of space is plasma.

    To study nuclear fusion you want a strong background in E & M, Mechanics, and Plasma Physics and Math. Nuclear Engineering won't really prepare you for Nuclear Fusion Research. From my experiences with a very good Nuclear Engineering department, it is more based around Fission Power and Weapons and the like. Mostly Fission Power at the undergrad level.

    Basic Nuclear Physics will help with Nuclear Fusion power applications of Plasma Physics and I would definitely recommend it. This because Nuclear Reactions are where the power comes, as you certainly know. It is a great addition to the rest of the physics courses you would take as a Physics or Applied Physics student. But learning quantitatively how a fission power plant works for example won't help you with a fusion reactor but it is super interesting - and that was one of the hardest courses I took as an undergrad. Taking more E and M will.

    I would go Applied Physics or some variation of Physics. If you want to do nuclear stuff too, consider a minor in Nuclear Engineering or dual majoring if you wanna be awesome. That is what I did my undergrad in actually - the minor.

    Disclaimer: This is coming from someone who is more interested in the space applications of plasma physics than the fusion ones :). But none the less, I am a first year grad student doing Plasma Physics now.
  6. Oct 13, 2014 #5
    F=qE is right. The main courses you need to take are
    Electricity and Magnetism (2 semesters)
    Classical mechanics (1 or 2 semesters)
    Partial differential equations
    numerical analysis
    Plasma physics

    Fusion involves a lot of different areas of engineering and physics. But the main thing that is stopping tokamak fusion power is turbulence and the propagation of unstable electromagnetic waves in the fusion plasma. So the biggest area of research in MCF fusion I would say is turbulence or edge localized modes. If you want to do ICF you can do plasma physics or laser physics. Also big is the study of materials that can withstand the neutron flux from the fusion reactions. If you want to study that, you'd need to take some mechanics of materials classes and radiation physics/atomic physics.

    Basically whichever program in which you can study the above topics is what you should choose. You can't really go into plasma physics out of undergrad, you need to study plasma physics in graduate school to get a decent job in the field.
  7. Oct 13, 2014 #6
    Yeah I should have mentioned the part about not really getting to do courses in it as an undergrad. Undergrad is a lot of building the background you need to learn about it in grad school.
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