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Nuclear Engineer Looking into High Energy Physics Detectors

  1. Oct 14, 2014 #1
    So I am a senior nuclear engineer with a good GPA and I've actually taken some extra math (PDEs) and physics (nuclear physics and astrophysics) courses over the years.

    I am extremely interested in detection in general. I have worked at a national lab designing and building neutron detectors and labs in my school doing certain types of radiation detection so I am very familiar with how radiation detectors work and are used.

    I am wondering what path I could take in grad school so that I could someday design, test and build large scale detectors for high energy physics experiments? Examples of such detectors would be ATLAS, CMS, ALICE, PHENIX and STAR.

    These are obviously very prestigious physics experiments but I am curious if its just physicists that design these detectors and then get the electrical engineers and such to construct them or is there room in there fr someone who has a more hand on approach to designing detectors. Would a masters in physics be a must or could I continue nuclear engineering under someone/some program that could have applications to these types of physics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 14, 2014 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    Those experiments are designed by physics PhD's - and a great many of them - not nuclear engineers (or a single nuclear engineer). There are EE's and ME's involved in the construction - after all, you don't want your nice pretty detector falling apart. Also, at these scales, the experiments tend to be rather conservative with their technologies: you don't want to risk everything on an untried technology.
  4. Oct 14, 2014 #3


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    In my experience (I work at a National Lab designing electronics for radiation detectors and image sensors) the experiments are completely designed by Physics PhDs, but the detectors themselves are designed by very large teams including Physicists, EEs, Mech. Es, and I actually have worked with a Nuclear Engineering Postdoc on Liquid Argon Detectors for Double Beta-Decay searches.

    Some of my colleagues worked on ATLAS, CMS, and STAR. At least at my institution more engineers worked on the detector project than physicsts or postdocs. That said, the specs are worked out by physicists and there are loads of different tasks to be done so there is a lot of collaboration between a lot of people.

    As for education (I'm talking about detector development and instrumentation, because that's what I know), there are some MS-level engineers but a small majority of the engineers here have PhDs. Most of the younger engineers have PhDs so that's the trend, I guess.

    It's much easier to get into this line of work as an engineer because the pay is so much lower than industry. Therefore only people who love the work apply.
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