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Is it likely engineers will ever need to go beyond basic QM?

  1. Nov 27, 2013 #1
    It seems the most advanced physics engineers are using is basic quantum mechanics. Is it accurate to say this is the "final frontier" of engineering? The field of particle physics, for example, has been established for nearly 50 years now and there are still no practical uses of the incredible knowledge gained even though the amount of spinoff technologies in experimenting with these particles is countless. General relativity has been around for almost a century, and it has yet to produce any practical applications that directly require knowledge of GR and not corrections that could be approximated anyways.

    Of course, that's not the reason why physicists study these theories, but from the point of view of an engineer, is it safe to say these theories as well as any framework that goes beyond them will always be practically "useless" due to the fact that the energy levels and cosmological scales required to access for the phenomena of these theories to manifest will always be out of the practical reach of engineers?
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  3. Nov 28, 2013 #2
    This question is not really possible to answer, but I would be quite confident in saying that yes, some day engineers will need, for some applications, more advanced physics. Even today engineers who specialize in certain kinds of materials need some understanding of relativistic quantum mechanics to deal with things such as spin-orbit coupling (which, in practice is usually treated a perturbation).

    There's lot of advanced stuff going on with optics that certainly seems like you'd need some QED to really understand. Nuclear engineers may one day see real application for QCD.

    Also, GPS satellites would not work without GR - as far as I know there's no way to get gravitational time dilation out of Newtonian gravity.
  4. Nov 28, 2013 #3


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    Yes, someone's got to build wormholes someday, and it ain't gonna be a theoretician.
  5. Nov 29, 2013 #4
    Do engineers really need to understand quantum field theory (QFT) to design these things, or is it something that really isn't necessary? For example, for most practical applications of transistor (at least from what I can tell from my electronics classes), engineers aren't required at all to learn the quantum physics behind it to make use of transistors in their design/work.

    Engineers would have discovered these effects and made the appropriate corrections even if the physics of what was going on could never be understood without the framework of GR.
  6. Nov 29, 2013 #5


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    Sure, if you are designing circuits that work at modest speeds (say up to 100 MHz) using discrete components.

    But if you are designing a new chip for a mobile phone or computer graphics card, or the next generation of CPU for intel or ARM, that's a different ball game.
  7. Dec 1, 2013 #6
    The only thing that I know of that directly uses GR in everyday life is GPS...
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