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Physics Jobs as a physics degree for processor developing companies (e.g. Intel)

  1. Apr 4, 2012 #1
    I'm near the end of sophomore year at undergrad as a physics major, and recently, my biggest dream job became combining the two fields I love the most: Physics and Technology. I love technology. I 'm always updated on the newest microprocessor chips and tech news. I go on engadget and other tech review websites multiple times a day. And I find the quantum level microprocessors so fascinating. My question is how much do companies like Intel, Samsung, Qualcomm, etc hire physicists focused on Quantum Physics/Solid State Physics/Microprocessor/Computer Science to develop new microprocessors??? Or do they usually just only hire engineers?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 5, 2012 #2
    Intel hires chemists and physicists to work on semiconductor processes, but mostly at the MS or PHD level. This I know for sure as one Chemistry group at Arizona State University sent several graduates to Intel alone.

    Qualcomm is a design company so probably not. You must realize that no one really designs a commercial processor from scratch. Its built on what was done before and tweaked just a little bit most of the time. Its much more important to then know current technology, rather than the fundamentals. That is because a commercial device is mostly about conforming to international standards, not "what is possible" or even "what works". In addition physicists do not usually have sufficient signal processing background to work on the design of processors.
  4. Apr 5, 2012 #3
    So only really big companies like Intel or Samsung that would actually do research to bring something new to the table would use physicists?
  5. Apr 5, 2012 #4
    They do it. A lot of the physicists that get hired for doing these sorts of things work on solid state materials. Most of the work seems not to involve next year's processors, but to study basic physics so to figure out how to make processors 3-5 years from now, and then there are people in universities whose horizons are ten years+ out.

    Something else that you should look at is hard disk companies. If you look at hard disk there is some really fascinating physics going on there.

    I met one of these people in a weird way. When I was looking for work, I was going through the phone book looking for the number of a company, and when I looked in the yellow pages, there was a entry Physicist with about three or four people. I called him up to find out what exactly he did. It turns out that he was a contract physicist so when a big semiconductor companies needs to work on some physics problem, they call him.
  6. Apr 5, 2012 #5
    Allow me to link to you a page of comic:

    As a physicist, in *today's* industry, you'll likely work on the lowest level of the computer, that is the bottom picture in the comic. You'll either be designing new materials/processes to build individual gates for use in the 2nd picture or you'll be optimizing manufacturing process to mass produce silicon wafers.

    To work on the intermediate levels your best bet would be electrical/computer engineering. Towards the top will be computer science/software engineering. The topmost is, well, game design ;)

    Now if you think of developing new microprocessors as improving instruction sets or architectures, then I don't think any physicist is able to do that without serious re-training. Computer engineering will be most suitable. If you think of it as developing new processes to make better individual elements or to increase the yield in the factories (called fabs) then physics is involved, and so are almost all physical science/engineering. I tell you this because only Intel and IBM routinely ask for graduates from our department, and they hire PhD people from all physical science/engineering as process engineers in their fabs. I also come from the country of the largest manufacturer, so I have lots of friends in fabs.

    Personally, I hate the thought of working in the fab where the only thing you can *own* is a process/machine in manufacturing, which is what an Intel PhD hiring rep told me. I'd much rather *own* a piece of code being a game programmer. But that's my opinion.

    I must emphasize that this is *today's* industry. There does not exist a quantum computer industry today, and it's very difficult to predict when you'll have one.
  7. Apr 5, 2012 #6
    Large semiconductor manufacturers would be hiring physicists, as well as chemists, chemical engineers, electrical engineers and materials scientists, to work on device physics, devices physical design, process engineering, QC and metrology in both experimental and computational labs... more experimental.

    They would not be hiring them for improving instruction sets or any sort of hardware level coding. That's pure electrical engineering (as distinct from "new" electrical engineering which focuses on materials science of electronics). Anything above that level is software and CS. You can get into the software level as a physics major, but that'd be for your computer programming skills, not for your knowledge of quantum/thermo/EM/mechanics.
  8. Apr 5, 2012 #7
    Computational theorists would have some experience in that area. Something that should come out of this conversation is that a "physicist" isn't a single job and someone that has a lot of experience/knowledge in one area could be totally useless in another.
  9. Apr 6, 2012 #8
    Can somebody guide me with B.Eng in "Engineering Physics" degree.

    -Is it a good degree
    -What are the job aspects ?
    -What masters should be done/ or possible

    -Any advice/suggestions/ do you know someone with "Engineering Physics / Read something about it ?
  10. Apr 7, 2012 #9
    could doesn't mean would though. they can hire a BS level EE that has specific experience in this and are cheaper.
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