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Physics No career with physics

  1. Nov 12, 2008 #1
    Dear all,
    This fall I finished my favorite - physics college and all is bright. Although, I got an idea for early bragging about how bad it is :-) My professor of class methodology (how to lecture at school) says physics is for nothing. It has no use any longer except as a historical thing used to teach at school. Technology already accepted and used all things that physics has to offer, not including few leading edge innovations in just a few countries/places. I suspect he's an alcoholic and I don't foresee any global crisis including economic. Anyhow, if anyone wants to comment?

    I'd like to say that I distinctively remember in the era of Maxwell that they claimed all that exists was already discovered in physics.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 12, 2008 #2
    For the most part I believe this is true. With regards to current modern technology there really isn't a whole lot else that physics can do since most usable physical phenomenon has already been discovered and modeled. For example, we have just about hit the wall with semi-conductors, optics, and electromagnetism. Now is sort of the time of the engineer to take over and use these new found laws of physics to develop and improve technology.

    That isn't to say that there still isn't work to be done. For example, sustainable fusion has yet to be accomplished, and there is still a lot of work to be done in photovoltaics. Physics is still a needed field of science, although I would agree with your professor that a lot of the research being performed today is completely useless.
  4. Nov 12, 2008 #3
    Well good, I'm pleased that I wrote such a bad post so I can correct it. For example, a good career in my opinion can be made by implementing mathematics via programming in Matlab for use in areas of statistics and analysis. It sounds smart eh? I can't get certified for that though. Still I think it is completely wrong what that man said. There is endless play to be done with simple elements. Its mathematically there.
  5. Nov 12, 2008 #4


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    Oh dear... have you looked into, say, Journal of Applied Physics lately?

    I can rattle off quite a few things that are still at the physics research front that have direct impact on just the world of technology alone: spintronics, carbon nanotubes, graphene, 1D conductors, etc. I mean, have you even looked at this week's Nature, for example? What do you think is the implication of the ability to have a complete control of a quantum dot using optical pulses? These are not some esoteric exercises with no direct ramifications in terms of applications.

    No agency will fund "useless" research. Try getting some money for doing that if you can. You simply cannot guarantee that every single line of pursuit will end up with something useful, but if you don't try it, you just don't know. So no one start off wanting to use useless research. Anyone who thinks that he/she can predict that such a line of research is "useless" should get out of physics and go work for the psychic hot line as a career.

  6. Nov 12, 2008 #5


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    This (the idea in the original post) sounds like the kind of talk that comes from a person who doesn't have any ideas of his or her own. As you already pointed out, people have been making similar claims for years. I'm sure there were students of Aristotle who believed they had discovered everything worth discovering and their function was simply going to be to pass that information on to the next generation.
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2008
  7. Nov 12, 2008 #6
    What utter, execrable rubbish.
  8. Nov 12, 2008 #7
    How can you even consider the research going on today as being useless...? There are so many technologies being researched with so many amazing possibilities for the future. Forgive me if i am wrong but I believe technology has been developing at an exponential rate not a diminishing one..

    I think if anything, the potential for useful research and applications has only gotten ever greater as we discovery more and more physical phenomena
  9. Nov 12, 2008 #8
    I guess I just have my own unique definition of physicist. I consider things such as nano-tubes and graphene to fall under material science and material engineering. I see physicists as people that discover the laws of nature, not use those laws in order to develop technology. But for example research such as combining newtonian mechanics with special relativity or developing a big bang model: http://web.mit.edu/physics/research/areasofresearch/astrophysics/theoretical_astrophysics.html

    Maybe I'm just arrogant but is research such as this going to help fix the energy crisis, cure diseases, or put a man on mars? I'm not saying pursuing such things should not be done, but how is it going to benefit society or in other words be "useful"?
  10. Nov 12, 2008 #9


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    Maybe you should look at the American Physical Society, and see that the LARGEST division there is the division of Condensed matter/material science! This means that the largest number of practicing physicist (and this ratio is consistent in Europe and Asia) are in the field of Condensed matter/material science! I'd like to see you tell Robert Laughlin, Phil Anderson, etc. that they are not really physicists (even though they won the Nobel Prize in physics) just because they don't work in some esoteric areas that YOU defined as being physics!

    You have too many things left to learn. I suggest you go easy on your own "world view" till you learn a bit more, unless you are willing to look foolish.

  11. Nov 12, 2008 #10
    Got to agree with Zapper. The company I work for does femtosecond laser micromachining and laser waveguide writing...There's some pretty hardcore condensed matter/mat sci related physics right there. There's a reason why almost half the employees are physicists.
  12. Nov 12, 2008 #11
    I never said they weren't. I just stated when I think of a physicist I think of a scientist that practices physics in its purest form such as Brogli or Heisenberg. Thats it. It doesn't mean it is suppose to be everyone else's definition and I only stated that so we are not considering the gray area where physicists, engineers, and chemist can all perform similar work. Following this logic, I think of topics such as special relativity, quantum chromodynamics, cosmology, etc. as topics only studied by physicists. These areas are not esoteric and I consider them to be an example of physics in its purest form.

    So back to the topic. Carbon nano-tube technology and laser micro machining will involve scientists and engineers from almost all disciplines of science and not physics alone. The example I gave is work being done by physicists and only physicists. I know I'm arrogant and have a lot to learn, so can you tell me how can the example I gave be considered "useful" and those topics be researched under a non-academic career?
  13. Nov 12, 2008 #12


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    But this is silly and unnecessary. Why? Because you have no idea that what is being studied in, say, a magnetic spin system, can actually be of a FUNDAMENTAL value to our basic understanding of the universe. For example, the study of spontaneous broken symmetry is now VERY big in all of physics. They give Nobel Prize for those this year. Yet, look at one of the earliest pioneer of broken symmetry principle - Phil Anderson! He was studying some condensed matter system and formulated such theory that is now adopted in elementary particle, field theory, etc.

    Another example? Look at where Peter Higgs got the idea for the Higgs mechanism! It was "hijacked" right out of Nambu's analogy of the BCS theory of superconductivity. Yes, from a condensed matter theory!


    Or would you like to hear about the Kondo effect in materials with magnetic impurities that exhibits the first example of "asymptotic freedom" BEFORE it was formulated for the quarks?

    The imprint from the advances in condensed matter physics permeate all over physics, and it provides some of the most fundamental understanding of the universe as anything you can throw at. Just because you are not aware of it does not mean that it doesn't exist, and doesn't mean that it has the same level of fundamental understanding as all of those fields you mentioned. And I haven't even gotten yet to the idea of emergence phenomena that people like Anderson, Laughlin, David Pines, etc. are all proposing that in essence strikes down the philosophical idea of reductionism that is being sold as the "TOE". It goes straight to a different world view on how we should understand the world we live in.

    If that is now important, fundamental stuff, than nothing is!

  14. Nov 12, 2008 #13
    Well, I can't argue with that. But you still haven't really answered my question. I wont argue that a TOE isn't important, because it obviously is. However lets say that the Higgs Mechanism does actually exist and the founding of its existence is because of a condensed matter theory. Is this really going to change anything? Is it going to improve the quality of life for people around the world, or more realistically in a wealthy first world country? Will it give us the ability to achieve things that will define our existence as human beings other than gathering another piece of knowledge about the universe? These aren't rhetorical questions, I really don't know.

    Again, how can a model of the big bang and relating newtonian mechanics to SRT be considered useful?

    Is there a name for this? I would like to read about it.
  15. Nov 12, 2008 #14
    In order to do cutting edge research in Materials Science you need to be a physicist. However, condensed matter physics isn't a pure branch of physics like quantum mechanics. It's an area of applied physics. I think giann_tee's professor was trying to convey that we are at the point where there are no significant discovery's in the areas of pure-physics and that studying pure physics was a waste of time. I'm pretty sure that poor attitude towards pure physics was the alcohol talking.

  16. Nov 12, 2008 #15
    While I'm at it, I'm surprised the mods have allowed this

    to pass without any apparent comment. Statements like this achieve little else than to make you appear cretinous. Alcoholism is a serious illness and not one to be taken lightly. I suggest you try imagining what it's like to be an alcoholic before so casually throwing such airheaded remarks around.
  17. Nov 12, 2008 #16
    Over here we consider Material Scientist as Engineers, sometimes we just call them Material Engineers, that has a good knowledge of both Chemistry and Engineering fundamentals, not to say Physics doesn't play a major role in it. I know it does but it doesn't really require the super duper crazy physics as in people that are studying in Physics.
  18. Nov 12, 2008 #17
    Just understand that your definition of physics cuts out 50-66% of the entire group of people who work in physics and call themselves physicists. Your definition of physics is the one people get from reading Brian Greene novels, not one that actually has any place in the discipline or any discussion of it.

    The truth is almost nobody works on the stuff you call physics. As long as you understand you're using the word differently than most of the people who actually work in the field, I guess you can define it as you like.

    People like Fert get their work trivialized by the media when they win the Nobel; somehow it gets boiled down into making a better ipod. Have you actually heard him speak? His work is real physics. It happens to be both deep and practical.

    Also, everything Zz said.
  19. Nov 12, 2008 #18
    No, I'm using that definition subjectively for this thread alone. People do work on the things that I called physics, I posted examples of research being done at MIT. I know that physics covers a lot of areas including the ones ZZ mentioned, I wasn't born yesterday. However, given the context of the thread, I don't believe you should consider fields of science and research that are interdisciplinary. If you do, then technically you can not completely classify that field as physics even though physicists may be performing their work in it. The OP stated;

    He did not state;

  20. Nov 13, 2008 #19
    The bottom line is that no one knows what bits of information will be useful in the future. That's why it's all important and it all needs to be protected and extended.

    To think that you know otherwise is a clear sign of ignorance.
  21. Nov 13, 2008 #20


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    This is completely false. Superconductivity in the cuprates and now, the iron-arsenide compound is pure NEW physics. Fractional quantum hall effect is purely NEW physics. Spin-charge separation is purely NEW physics. Quantum spin liquid is purely NEW physics! Need I go on?

    People seem to be equating "applied" with "not fundamental". I've already given pertinent examples to totally falsify such a notion. Each one of those produced a new physics that became a bedrock of many other physics. In fact, it is what attracted many people to the field. It has each feet in both aspects - application and basic knowledge of physics. Unlike high energy/astronomy/etc, we seldom have to SELL the importance of condensed matter as far as having practical implications. However, the bonus here being that we can also point out why it is also a study of basic knowledge since it deals with how "correlated systems" behave. There are no clearer demonstration of the basic validity of quantum mechanics and special relativity than from condensed matter experiments (read Carver Mead's article on collective electrodynamics if you don't believe me). And one can easily point to the fundamental concept of quantum phase transition. Where do you think quantum phase transition is manifested in the clearest form? At the Tevatron or some neutron star? Think again!

    Furthermore, one should look at where the accepted values of "e" and "h" came from. As Laughlin said in his Nobel prize speech, once you point out that these values were derived out of condensed matter experiments, then the whole argument that condensed matter/emergent phenomena aren't fundamental goes moot.

    Last edited: Nov 13, 2008
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