1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Math Mathematicians in Military

  1. Jun 1, 2009 #1
    Hey all,

    I've made a thread before asking for jobs for pure mathematicians in the defense industry. I was told that I could work for the Canadian equivalent of the NSA.

    I don't think I would like to work for the NSA. I was wondering if there are jobs in the military for pure mathematicians to actually work on developing weapons?

    And if so, how would I go about getting set on this career path?

    Thanks a bunch!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 1, 2009 #2

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    Usually, the military does rather little in the development of weapons. It's defense contractors that do that.
  4. Jun 1, 2009 #3
    Do they usually hire pure mathematicians? If they do, what are their jobs?
  5. Jun 1, 2009 #4
    The various research labs are what you want to look into. Canadians have their own versions of the Amy Rsearch Lab etc.

    Mathematicians would work on analytical solutions to various problems and/or do computer modelling.

    Von Newmann worked for/at BRL
  6. Jun 1, 2009 #5
    Would it be advisable for me to study applied mathematics then? Or maybe even mathematical physics?
  7. Jun 1, 2009 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Cryptography and creating algorithms for analyzing data (meaning everything from internet trafic to radar/sonar echoes) are two examples that come to mind.
  8. Jun 1, 2009 #7
    Forgive me if I sounded like I was a mathematician. My PhD is in physics, not math.

    I feel that any of those options would be equally viable for a position in a military research lab. If you want a hard answer, you should try to contact a person who already works for a canadian research lab and get their guidance. How old are you?

    They probably have summer programs available if you are young, internships if you are in college and post-docs if you are in grad school.
  9. Jun 1, 2009 #8
    I was hoping for something more involved with weapons.
  10. Jun 1, 2009 #9
    What do you mean by "involved with weapons". Does it have to be designing bigger, better bullets, or could it be somethin along the lines of a rail gun, or an area denial system?
  11. Jun 1, 2009 #10

    This is what I'm looking for.

    By the way, I'm 19 years old, turning 20 in November.
  12. Jun 1, 2009 #11


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Then you should study engineering, not math.

    Intelligence agencies such as the NSA are generally speaking never directly involved in developing weapons (although they can of course fund R&D); that is almost exclusively done by defence contractors.
  13. Jun 2, 2009 #12
    The only problem with studying engineering is that I wouldn't enjoy it at all.

    I only want to study maths, so I was hoping that mathematicians can have a career in weapons development, even if it's just dealing with the math side of things (solving equations etc )
  14. Jun 2, 2009 #13
    I would think that the military would have a high demand for mathematicians since they have a lot of trouble counting things, like WMDs for example.

    Seriously though, if you want to work on military development then engineering is the way to go. Thats not to say that you can't do it with a math degree but its going to be much more difficult finding a job.

    Why not a hybrid of the two? A couple of the math professors at my school got their degrees in ME. They mostly do work in mathematical analysis and numerical methods. (FEM, FDM, etc).
  15. Jun 3, 2009 #14
    In the US the Army Research Lab, NRL, and ARL are working on things such as directed energy weapons, rail guns etc.

    They ARE employing mathematicians. Contact your Canadian analogue.
  16. Jun 3, 2009 #15
    Hi JG89, to develop weapons, you need to have some knowledge and insight in physics and engineering. If you only know how to solve equations, it would be very hard for you to have the career you want IMHO, because you need to know how to model the physics and the system response.

    What kind of mathematics do you like? pure/abstract or applied? Why exactly do you think you wouldn't enjoy studying engineering? There are many engineering fields related to defense that are very mathematical (in the applied sense), such as Aerodynamics, Computational Fluid Mechanics used in the design of aircrafts; Guidance and Navigation which require you to know the equation of motion, Kalman filtering and estimation theory; Computational Electromagnetics for radar/antenna design; and of course control theory which can be extremely abstract. But I just can't think of one thing that you don't need some knowledge of physics/engineering.
  17. Jun 3, 2009 #16
    To be honest, I haven't been exposed to that much mathematics. I have worked through a good amount of single-variable analysis and a decent amount of linear algebra. I really enjoy analysis though...

    What if, when choosing my classes, I pick a lot of applied math courses? Some physics interests me, but I'm worried about taking university physics classes because I only did physics up to grade 11 and I doubt I'm keen enough to study physics on my own. If I studied it from a mathematical point of a view though, that would be interesting. Would this do?
  18. Jun 3, 2009 #17
    I think you should overcome your fear of physics classes, if you are smart enough to do abstract math, physics shouldn't be like a monster you think it is.
    Knowing mathematics is a really good thing, but that alone wouldn't be enough in the defense industry. You will be asked to solve problems that come from real engineering systems on a daily basis. Plus, you need to communicate with your managers and customers from the military. It wouldn't help much if you can only talk to them about manifolds and tangent spaces.
  19. Jun 4, 2009 #18

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    Just to set the scale, the US Naval Research Lab was (and I think still is) the largest military research laboratory. They have 120 uniformed personnel. That's all.
  20. Jun 5, 2009 #19
  21. Aug 24, 2009 #20
    Bumping this thread...

    I've contacted various weapon contractors. I was advised by someone (not from the company) to do my undergraduate in applied maths with a concentration in electrical engineering, and then do a PhD in engineering.

    Would the company even care about the electives that I take for my undergraduate? Because the engineering courses I am taking will be electives...
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook