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Nuke Engineering

  1. Dec 16, 2013 #1
    Can you do nuclear physics research with a degree in nuclear engineering?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 16, 2013 #2
    Typically this is very hard. The foundation of nuclear engineering (especially fission technology) relies on nuclear physics. But this means that nuclear engineers need a 101 class in nuclear physics which is not enough to conduct research in nuclear physics (similar to what is published in a journal such as Phys. Rev. C).

    However, if one really wants to switch to nuclear physics after doing B.Sc. in nuclear engineering, then you can study hard for GRE physics and apply to grad school to do PhD in physics and from there you can start nuclear physics research. But this transition really needs an outstanding student with strong to desire to be a nuclear physicist.

    Surprisingly, the converse (from physics to engineering) is much easier !
  4. Dec 16, 2013 #3
    what if I wanted to go to grad school in nuclear engineering but blend more nuclear physics into it. Could i just take more physics classes?
  5. Dec 16, 2013 #4
    You can blend more "nuclear physics" into nuclear engineering in very limited areas and definitely you can support this by taking more physics classes in grad school. These very limited areas include the cross sections of radiation interactions with matter. But again this is a very tiny fraction of the mainstream nuclear physics research. Others my shed more light on this too.

    From my experience, the part of nuclear engineering that is very open to physics blending is the area of materials under extreme conditions (that is the nuclear reactor conditions). But in this area, the type of physics that we are interested in is condensed matter physics.
  6. Dec 16, 2013 #5
    Is it possible to go to grad school and just study nuclear physics
  7. Dec 16, 2013 #6


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    It is possible, but difficult without taking physics courses. Typically, nuclear engineering programs do have introductory physics requirements, then introductory courses in modern and nuclear physics (may include introductory QM/QP and SR), and radiation/shielding.

    One should take physics courses.

    Yes, but one does a bit more than must nuclear physics in grad school, although one might specialize in nuclear physics.
  8. Dec 16, 2013 #7
    ok I have taken (QM, E&M ,) at the level of griffiths, Thermal, And i have taken what my college calls modern physics where we did basic nuclear and special relativity, and I did some relativity in the second part of E&M. Im a pure math major with a minor in physics. Now knowing that could I go to grad school in nuclear engineering and take more nuclear physics in grad school along with nuclear engineering courses. And possibly do research in both.
    Or Maybe i should finish out a physics degree, but It would save time to finish my math degree.
  9. Dec 17, 2013 #8
    I visited the cal berkeley nuclear engineering department. There is some nuclear physics research going on there because the chair of the department is actually a nuclear physicist from MIT
  10. Dec 17, 2013 #9
    ok cool, Lets say you wanted to make a better fusion reactor it seems like physics research would go hand in hand with that.
  11. Dec 17, 2013 #10


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    The level of physics in a nuclear engineering department depends on the faculty, which may include physicists. At Texas A&M, one could learn about and use a small particle accelerator because one of the profs had a physics/engineering physics background, and he built a small linear accelerator. Otherwise, one had to go through the physics department.

    Many nuclear engineering programs are within engineering departments of other disciplines, e.g., mechanical engineering. Each department may have specialty areas, e.g., materials, radiation, neutronics, thermal-hydraulics, computational methods/physics, . . . depending on the experience of individual faculty.

    Fusion engineering is usually an elective in most NE departments, and usually one would want to do plasma physics if one was serious about fusion. In addition, one would probably want to take related EE courses.
  12. Dec 17, 2013 #11
    There are some physics department which do plasma physics work related to nuclear fusion. Princeton PPPL is probably the most well known. There are also lots of other areas besides plasma physics which will need to be understood to build a real fusion reactor. Probably almost every area of engineering will be put to use in some way building a reactor like ITER. One of the main problems is working on how to reduce plasma wave instabilities in the high temperature DT plasma generated in the tokamak. For that you will need a solid background in E&M in undergrad and lots of plasma physics as a grad student.
  13. Dec 18, 2013 #12
    There are engineers whose research is very physics heavy, but the goals of the research of an engineer and a physicist are different. A nuclear physicist might be studying the interaction of the strong force, a particular atom or isotope of their interest, etc, while the engineer might be working on the reaction rate of neutrons or how to make their nuclear reactors more efficient or how to make better materials for longer lived reactors, things of that nature. The nuclear engineer might do nuclear physics because it is vital to make his engineering product work. The two fields are obvsiously related, if you want 'purity' while also having practical skills you could do experimental nuclear physics in graduate school.

    I'm looking to do experimental plasma physics myself, it's worked on by alot of people, but the main researchers are physicists along with nuclear, electrical, and materials engineers. There are also different venues through which we make fusion reactors (magnetic confinement vs inertial confinement). It's done using plasmas either way so you'd be studying alot of electromagnetism and thermodynamics. According to one professor at U Michigan, plasma diagnostics are the universe in that field and it's what I'm considering doing, you get exposed to a lot of theory but alot of engineering as well. One of the grad students I worked under in plasma physics learned lots of python, fortran, c++, and labview coding for simulations and such, solidworks for making machine parts, and electronics for wiring and such to make her diagnostic. She is a physicist, but as you might guess, her skills are highly varied such that she can do engineering as well.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2013
  14. Dec 19, 2013 #13
    If you're interested in the design of nuclear power systems, know that it is VERY VERY regulated. Any attempt to innovate will be met with strong bureaucratic resistance, no matter what country you live in.

    However, if you're merely interested in nuclear physics research, that's a bit easier to work with as long as you keep your sources and total energies low. Keep that in the back of your mind when you study this stuff...
  15. Dec 20, 2013 #14


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    Don't forget that in typical large-scale research environments (like national labs or companies) a given research team will have as many or more engineers on it than physicists. The focus is on the engineering but you get to learn about and work with a lot of very interesting technology and research questions.
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