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Is there the chance to invent the Warpdrive some day?

  1. Sep 24, 2007 #1
    Is there the chance to invent the "Warpdrive" some day?

    I'm currently in the situation to decide. Whether to start studying or to start a carreer of different nature (in this case re-joining the army).
    If ever I decide to study physics I am not planning to use it on becoming a teacher or something. If I wouldnt get a position somewhere at active research I'd be lost. I'ver heard of people studying physics and whatnot but abandonning it all after having obtained the doctorate. I can easily imagine why they did so.
    I want to invent something grand. Sounds stupid, but I know if someone has got the capabilities it's me then. If I will do research on something it will be something in the realms of space technology.
    Can I have a prospect of whether this is a hope?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 25, 2007 #2

    Chris Hillman

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    Warp drive?--- Watch out! Speculative propulsion schemes? --- Caution!

    So "warp drive" was just an example of "something which would be grand"?

    From your goal to "invent something grand" I would guess you might be more interested in engineering than physics. With a military background something like aerospace engineering or robotics might be a natural choice. In the right engineering program a determined and intelligent student could pick up quite a bit of physics, I think.

    Just make sure you never forget that the goal of engineering is roughly speaking to "invent grandeur" (devices which work) while the goal of of physics is roughly speaking to "discover grandeur" (laws of nature which agree with experiment). Engineering and fundamental physics at the frontiers of current scientific knowledge tend not to mix very well at all, in fact engineers who think they are equipped to do fundamental research in physics often seem to become cranks. You don't want to "do a Shawyer"!

    BTW, "warp drive" is used as a technical term in a buncha physics papers (see the gr-qc section of the arXiv) from about five years ago, referring to a class of "toy models" (Lorentzian manifolds but not "solutions of the Einstein field equation" as they are sometimes mislabeled). The consensus which emerged is that superluminal warp bubbles are probably physically impossible, although there are a few holdouts. The Belgian industrialist Walter de Brouwer has been interested in this topic for a number of years, in fact he has hired Sergei Krasnikov, one of the dissidents I just mentioned. Despite this, it seems fair to say that "inventing warp drive" would be a terribly risky career goal.

    (Future comments on the future of warp drive should go to General Discussion--- the OP's choice of example was unfortunate, but let's try to stay on track in this thread. Ditto for comments on my example--- only one of many recent examples I could have chosen--- of an engineer who came to grief with a speculative propulsion scheme.)
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2007
  4. Sep 25, 2007 #3
    Besides, what would you do with a warp drive if you didn't have transparent aluminum to build the critical bits of your ship?
  5. Sep 25, 2007 #4


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    Very nice comments by Chris. Welcome to the PF, ManDay. No matter what path you chose to follow next, the PF will serve as a good resource.

    I agree with Chris that you should consider Engineering as at least the starting path. At many 4-year colleges, the first two years of the Engineering and Physics degree programs are very similar, and you probably won't have to declare (chose) one or the other until you enter Upper Division in your 3rd year. That way, you will have a couple of years to see which you enjoy the most, and which suits your future goals the best. I can honestly see you going either way -- the choice was a very close one for me as well, and I chose Engineering for financial reasons.

    Don't ever lose sight of your dreams and aspirations. But be sure to set strong long-term goals (like your first patent, working at the first startup, etc.), and then set realistic but challenging shorter-term goals (like a BSEE, etc.), and work hard toward meeting those shorter-term goals. One of the best terms I've heard for this approach to work is to strive to be a "goal-oriented acheiver". If you consistently are a goal-oriented achiever, who consistently sets higher and higher goals and works hard toward them, then you will do very well in life. You almost certainly won't be the inventor of a warp drive, but you could very well be the inventor of some new biomedical device that saves thousands of lives a year, or a new communication technology that is used by millions and millions of people, or ______________________ (you fill in the blank)....
  6. Sep 25, 2007 #5
    I'd say it's more like one year. Doing Engineering Science at UCSD, I only was required to take three quarters of physics.
  7. Sep 26, 2007 #6


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    Yeah, but I took all the lower division Physics electives that I could, which is probably what stretched it to two years. My undergrad was at UC Davis, so the curriculum of UCSD is probably similar.
  8. Sep 26, 2007 #7
    Thank you for your help and guidance. I read your articles and I'll read them over again and again, even though I don't fully understand the "Shawyer-Part" I think I've got the essence of what you mean.
    I don't understand much of physics of mathematics yet (yet I probably understand more than other people who were my situation) so it's sort of frustrating to me, reading articles and all that I definitly want to understand but can't. I hope all this gets solved with studying.
    You say Engineering and I go for Engineerung. Aerospace Technoligy for sure. Is there any thing left I've got to decide beside that I know which direction it goes?
    What can I do to gain as much knowledge of (quantum)physics (and if possible current research like the string theories or at least the background of those) and mathematics?

    All the best - many thanks again!
  9. Sep 28, 2007 #8
    Take a quantum physics course at a university. If you can't, check out a beginner book (these are easier to self-study from) or several and study on your own. As an Aerospace Engineering (or any major for that matter) you can always take a course in physics if you want. String theory,etc requires a heavy background of physics. Peter Woit said you need a ph.d in theoretical physics to understand it.
  10. Sep 28, 2007 #9
    Okay. Even tho I will never agree on a statement such as "it takes a doctorate to understand it" ;)
    I recently spoke to a Dr. Phys. and he suggested to study engineering as well if I plan to do something "practically".

    PS: I just bought some book about the SST among some other rather popular scientific books regarding QFT etc. I'll have a deeper look at in some weeks.
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2007
  11. Sep 28, 2007 #10

    Chris Hillman

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    Uh oh!

    Caution: if anything, Woit didn't go far enough. It would probably be fair to say that mastering string theory requires in essence both a Ph.D. in math and a Ph.D. in physics. So forget about studying string theory, and take comfort in the fact that even its advocates mostly now agree that it is far from a sure bet for the intended purpose, although there is no question that the underlying mathematics is of interest to mathematicians and will no doubt be put to good use by them in many places, perhaps including physics.

    You probably can't do both due to limitations of time and energy. Even if you wanted to: either of these career paths would deserve your full attention, I think, so IMO you should choose one.

    If you wind up majoring in engineering, to avoid "doing a Shawyer", you need only know your limitations. Unfortunately, to recognize how little math/physics you know requires knowing a great of math/physics, so the safest thing for engineers is to simply avoid attempting to do theoretical physics, especially fundamental physics--- this never seems to lead to good results. If you ever need theoretical physics to complete a project, hire someone trained as a theoretical physicist who has a track record of working well with engineers.

    The supersonic transport project? This raises one point against aerospace engineering and "defence work": this career path leads straight to the Land of Heartbreak :wink:
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2007
  12. Sep 28, 2007 #11
    Uhm.. no. SST was ment to say Superstringtheory. Anyway, you give the impression that what you are trying to say is that understanding the SST (nothing with supersonic) is rather impossible.
    How can you say that? Who were the people who developed all this? Were they GODs? No, I dont think so.
    I'm intrested in all kind of science that has to do with mathematics or physics. I can hardly decide whether I want to study math, physics or engineering.

    just tell me: Is "Doing a Shawyer" equal to "doing **** in the realms of theoretical physics since you are an engineer"?
    Probably because I watched just way too much Star Trek I cant rid of idea that you need to utilize fundamental physics to gain great achievments in engineering. Isn't that true? I really don't want to become an engineer to get hired by Airbus to invent a brand new kind of comfortable passenger seat for the bussiness class of the A580.
  13. Sep 28, 2007 #12

    Chris Hillman

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    Shooting the messenger?

    Not at all. I said that it really requires in effect doing a Ph.D. in math and a Ph.D. in physics. I implied that IMO, for the foreseeable future, string theory is more likely to be of interest to ambitious pure mathematicians than to physicists. Wise physicists recognize that (seemingly) untestable theories cannot provide a solid foundation for the physics of the 21st century. (Needless to say, should someone figure out a way to experimentally test string theory in the next decade, my judgement would change. But at present this is, as far as I can see, unlikely.)

    Well, many would say that the person who has made the greatest contributions to this area is Ed Witten, who is certainly human, but his intellect is simply extraordinary even at the Nobel Prize level. Are you unaware that he has been awarded the Fields Medal for his many important contributions to pure mathematics? I trust you know that the Fields Medal is (very roughly) the "mathematical equivalent" of winning four Nobel Prizes. Even Einstein could have won at most five Nobel Prizes (in physics), by most counts.

    This is the first I heard that studying math is on the table. If your interests are really so catholic, by all means study math. You can in fact study the mathematics of string theory in many math departments, while working toward a Ph.D. in math. Just be aware that at some point you really need to focus. For much good career advice for prospective mathematicians from another Fields Medalist, see http://terrytao.wordpress.com/career-advice/

    Maybe you should see http://gregegan.customer.netspace.net.au/SCIENCE/Cavity/Cavity.html
    and the comments from John Baez and others which I already cited, in order to appreciate the astounding silliness of Shawyer's claims. An engineer "commits a shawyerism" when he fails to recognize his limits and assumes that his background in engineering neccessarily enables him to succeed in doing theoretical physics, and then commits an error like overlooking the conservation of momentum.

    Some great inventions have involved "new physics" (of the day). Others have not. Engineers can try to exploit well-tested theories in physics, or even (though this is much more risky) less well-tested physical theories, but I was arguing that they would be most unwise to attempt to invent their own physical theories. They simply aren't trained to do that. There are of course mathematically-minded engineers who develop mathematical theories for analyzing particular problems. But this is simply to say that an engineer can wear a hat labeled "applied mathematician".

    Oh dear. Well, in that case, your career goals may be unrealistic, but messengers who bring that kind of message tend to be received badly, don't they? Just remember this: you did ask for advice. You didn't say: "don't tell me anything I need to know but don't want to hear".

    Grand inventions are of course still possible and no doubt some will occur during the course of the new century. But this requires luck as well as solid preparation and hard work. The advice I offered was intended both to minimize your chances of professional failure, and to maximize your chances of success, but IMO no-one could possibly offer good advice on how to "achieve some grand invention". It's something to hope for but hardly something you can plan for. Do you see the distinction?

    Do you have a strongbox where you keep your passport and other essential documents? Please consider printing out this exchange and keeping it there. In twenty years, if PF still exists, post explaining how you view it with two decades of hindsight.

    OK, I'm putting you in my PF "Ignore List" now that I know you do not wish to receive advice/comments from me and I'll bow out of this thread here.
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2007
  14. Sep 28, 2007 #13
    What the... ? What have I done wrong? Did I offend you in any kind of way. Really, I never intended to! I read your whole post and I was shocked reading a "I put you on my Ignore-List now"!
    I appreciate your comments and help, I really do! And I really take them serious.
    >> Just remember this: you did ask for advice. You didn't say: "don't tell me anything I need to know but don't want to hear".
    What? Has my last sentence been that much an insult to you? I ask you to forgive me - I want to be told as much as possible.

    If you just were so kind and take me off your ignore-list again. Can you explain why you suggest that I study math instead of physics or areospace tecs engineering?
    PS: Did you notice that I'm not a professional? I don't understand as much of physics as you do.
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2007
  15. Sep 29, 2007 #14
    I hear you. If you want to get into the frontiers of engineering then master your material in college. As far as needing a firm grasp of physics, that depends on the engineering project. Some projects require advanced physics, for some you just need to know the physics equations. For example, if I'm correct, mechanical engineers that work on refrigerators haven't taken SM/Thermo, but rather "engineering thermodynamics", a field that is not at all as rigorous and fundamental as physics taught SM/Thermo.
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2007
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