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Options to pursue interest in physics (high school student)

  1. Mar 28, 2010 #1
    I'm a high school student from the Netherlands. I'm currently 17 and in my final year of high school. Recently I've become very interested in physics. It really is a new interest among many of my other interests (classical music, literature, even debating and politics), but I would like to learn much more about physics. I read A Brief History of Time a while ago and bought this insanely difficult book called Road to Reality which I wish to understand some time in the future...
    My high school doesn't offer many opportunities and there are few students (close to none) truly interested in physics. A few weeks ago I participated in the Dutch Physics Olympiad (part of IPO)... through preparing myself well (studying problems from past years), I actually managed to end amongst the top-50 and am invited to participate in the next round!
    I'm very excited and really want to learn more about physics. My father is an engineer, so I can discuss many problems with him and prepare myself for the next round together with him. But he knows absolutely nothing about astronomy, cosmology, particle physics, theoretical physics, etc., while these are topics I really would like to learn more about at this moment.

    I do not yet know what I want to study next year... I have a strong interest in science and mathematics but absolutely do not wish to spend weeks in a lab trying to solve a single problem. I dislike environments that are too antisocial and/or competitive. I like teamwork and discussing problems and working with others in a constructive way as well as doing some independent research, as long as there is not too much time pressure and there is a good variety in content. Thus I have no interest in pursuing a career in an overly competitive field in science or engineering. What career options are there in science that do not involve working in a lab or in front of a computer all day long apart from teaching (which at university level is a highly competitive field, isn't it?)?
    I'm also very interested in philosophy and psychology and also consider studying something like neuroscience or cognitive science. Could there be any options in these field that could interest me?

    For now, however, I'm very interested in delving into the world of physics and discovering more and more. I really would like to go to a summer school or something alike where I can meet like-minded people. Does anyone know any summer program where I could learn more (preferably one that is not too far from the Netherlands)?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 28, 2010 #2
    Congratulations and best of luck for the next round!

    A good idea would be to study calculus and also read good popular science expositions of these topics. You could read books by Jayant Narlikar (cosmology), Bryan Greene (String Theory), and the first few sections of Griffiths' book on Elementary Particles (the historical parts, which will certainly be very accessible and inspiring). Perhaps you already know calculus. Then you can work your way through classical and quantum mechanics, electromagnetic theory, statistical mechanics, special and general relativity. After you have some idea of these areas, you can understand many of the basic issues in astrophysics, cosmology and particle physics. It is also important to read about experiments. Reading various Physics Nobel Prize speeches would be a nice thing...it'll keep you entertained and inspired as you wade through the math.

    You have a lot of time before you can make up your mind about what career you wish to pursue. Since you are interested in science, you should definitely study science/engineering. But if you're bent on not studying them, you can also go for science journalism. In science, you will be working on theory, experiment or a combination of them. Unless you do purely computational work, you will be doing a lot of stuff other than sitting in front of a computer all day.

    But there is a lot of time to worry about this...in your final year of undergrad. Right now, enjoy yourself, learn the basics well and (I can't emphasize enough) enjoy science!

    Reading about these fields, talking to active researchers and students and keeping your eyes and ears open about the developments in these areas through the internet will help you enhance your knowledge. Ultimately you are the best judge of what is likely to interest you more.
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