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Physicist vs EE

  1. Dec 10, 2005 #1
    When comparing the two degrees, what important aspects are missing on the physicist side when doing EE work and vice versa?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 10, 2005 #2

    Tom Mattson

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    If you follow the standard curriculum, what the physicist misses are the all-important design courses. Analyzing an existing design is one thing, but creating a new one is quite another, and the engineer is specifically trained to do that, while the physicist is not. Also, the EE takes more courses in the analysis of electronic systems than does the physicist.

    What the EE misses is a thorough, rigorous grounding in theoretical physics. The EE and the physicist typically take two different courses in EM field theory. The EE version focuses on design and completely excludes relativity. The exclusion of SR probably doesn't hurt the ability of the EE to do engineering work, but it could explain why so many anti-relativity crackpots happen to be electrical engineers! Also, the EE misses out on a proper course in quantum theory. He usually gets a suicidal crash course version of it in a course in solid state electronics.
  4. Dec 10, 2005 #3


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    For instance, the formalism of Linear System Theory with its implication to op-amp filter design or digital filter design or communications systems might be missing for the physics graduate. They will have the linear system theory by another name ("Linear Algebra"?), but they probably won't know how to design a Butterworth or Chebyshev filter (or when such a design is called for) or something like that without a lot of reading and self-study.

    i would say that the EE is exposed to SR and QM in the 3rd semester of General Physics (usually the 4th semester of his undergrad curriculum). and there should be enough QM to do the hydrogen atom and learn about energy levels and eventually handwave to the point that he/she can take a solid-state physics or semiconductor physics course where they eventually learn the diode equation and the Eber-Molls equations for the transistor.

    but the EE definitely misses out on some formalisms. i never learned about the Hamiltonian when i was in school. had to read about this myself.
  5. Dec 10, 2005 #4

    Tom Mattson

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    While it's true that some QM and SR is introduced in the 3rd semester, it is also true that the standard approach taken by typical general physics textbooks (Halliday and Resnick, Tipler, Serway, etc...) is insufficient.

    With regard to relativity, the connection between SR and electrodynamics is completely absent. The Lorentz transformation appears to come from nowhere and seems only to exist as a mathematical machine for generating correct answers. Beyond that no explanation of why the Lorentz transformations should be favored over the Galilean transformations is given. No indication is given that the answer historically was found by taking a close look at Maxwell's equations.

    And with regard to quantum theory the situation is even worse. Only the patently unphysical "particle in a box" is worked out explicitly, and even the example you cite (the hydrogen atom) is not there, except superficially. Students are taught how to solve the H-atom problem using the Bohr model, not quantum mechanics. When they do get around to discussing it quantum mechanically they are given only the energy eigenvalues, an expression which appears to come from nowhere and leads only to plug-and-chug problem solving ability.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2005
  6. Dec 11, 2005 #5
    Hmm.. this definitly points me more towards physics than EE. Thanks!
  7. Dec 11, 2005 #6
    Of course, you can always do what I'm doing and go into a physics-intensive area of EE, such as physical and/or quantum electronics.
  8. Dec 11, 2005 #7
    Is this something you do at the graduate level? Did you/Are you taking more physics courses than normal?
  9. Dec 11, 2005 #8
    This is my first year, 2nd semester EE Solid State Physics course, is it going to be hard? Thank you all.

    Quantum mechanics and quantum nature of solids, properties of materials. Band theory in metals and semiconductors. Conduction processes, the p-n junction, transistors and other solid state devices.

    Lect: 3 hrs./Lab: 1 hr.
  10. Dec 11, 2005 #9
    Yes, many people do that kind of thing at the graduate level. (In fact, IMO, the most important EE research occurs in this field.) And yes, I am taking more physics courses than normal. (However, they're pretty much only QM courses.)

    Well, at my school, the equivalent class has somewhat of a reputation as the hardest of the required EE classes. Honestly, however, I didn't find it that difficult.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2005
  11. Dec 12, 2005 #10
    I just took my junior level EE Solid State class and while it wasn't SUPER difficult, it did require a good amount of work. After a while, EVERYTHING starts to look the same.
    I’m finally finished with the course when I take my final on Thursday!
  12. Dec 12, 2005 #11
    Would a physicist be as employable with a masters in EE when compared to someone with an undergrad in EE?

    I guess this may be hard to answer...
  13. Dec 12, 2005 #12
    I would have to think that someone with a bachelors in EE would probably make more money than someone with a masters in physics. I don't really know, that just seem the way it would be. In 2004 EE was the third highest paying undergraduate degree out of every degree offered at most schools. There is a link to the page that has the list of the highest paying starting salaries out of every major offered at most schools in the post titled "Should I change my major to EE?"
    Don't people usually have to get a PhD in order to get a good paying job in physics?
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