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Courses Physics Minor - Course Selection for ME

  1. Mar 9, 2017 #1

    I'm a Mechanical Engineering major considering a minor in Applied Physics; however, there are so many choices and I like all of them. I was hoping someone could give me some feedback. Perhaps, what physics courses are most relevant for a Mechanical Engineer.

    In my university, New Jersey Institute of Technology, the requirement for an Applied Physics Minor are two prescribed courses and three courses of my choice.

    Here is the list of all those that interest me, along with the description provided in their website:

    1. Astronomy and Astrophysics I. A quantitative introduction to the astronomy of the sun, earth, and solar system, with an emphasis on the physical principles involved. Includes celestial mechanics, planetary atmospheres and the physics of comets, asteroids and meteorites.
    2. Astronomy and Astrophysics II. A quantitative introduction to the astronomy of the stars, the galaxy, and cosmology, with an emphasis on the physical principles involved. Includes stellar interiors, stellar evolution, galactic dynamics, large-scale structure and early history of the universe.
    3. Observational Astronomy. Most class time is spent in an observatory performing observations of celestial objects such as the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, stellar clusters, and galaxies. Experimental projects include charting the skies, asterophotography (film and CCD), measuring masses of planets, rotational period of the Sun, topography of the Moon, H-R diagrams of stellar clusters, etc.
    4. Fundamentals of Optical Imaging. This is a course with both lectures and experiments and the emphasis is on the hands-on experiences. Upon completion of the course, students should not only grasp the basic concepts involved in imaging science, but also be able to work on simple real world imaging systems. The main content of the lecture part of this course can be summarized as the following: Optical sources, detectors and their working mechanism; Image formation and transmission; Optical imaging system and their characteristics; Imaging processing and algorithms. This course is developed in close collaboration with Edmund Optics Inc.
    5. Special Relativity. An introduction to Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity at the advanced undergraduate level. Topics include invariance of the speed of light, relativity of time and space, the Lorentz transformations, space-time diagrams, the twin paradox and time travel, relativistic mechanics, rotating reference frames, laser gyroscopes, superluminal motion, phase and group velocities, and applications in high-energy physics, relativistic engineering, nuclear physics, astrophysics, and cosmology.
    6. General Relativity. An introduction to Einstein's General Theory of Relativity at the advanced undergraduate level. Topics include review of Newton's Theory of Gravitation, review of Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, tensor calculus on both flat and curved manifolds, the covariant derivative, curvature, Einstein's Gravitational Field Equations, the weak-field limit, gravitational radiation, the black hole solution, Hawking radiation, the No-Hair Theorem, cosmology, and a history of the Universe.
    7. Classical Mechanics I. Newtonian mechanics of particles and systems. Lagrange's and Hamilton's approaches. Continuous systems.
    8. Classical Mechanics II. Theory of small oscillations and mechanical waves. Rigid bodies. Topics include stability, linearization methods, forced vibrators and perturbation theory, fluids and mechanics of continuous media.
    9. Electromagnetism I. Electrostatics and magnetostatics, Maxwell's equations with applications, and electrodynamics.
    10. Electromagnetism II. Maxwell's equations with applications and electrodynamics.
    11. Modern Optics. Electromagnetic theory of light, interference, diffraction, polarization, absorption, double refraction, scattering, dispersion, aberration, and an introduction to quantum optics. Other topics include holography, lasers, information retrieval, spatial filtering, and character recognition.
    12. Fluid and Plasma Dynamics. Introduces the basics of plasma physics. Covers the following plasma parameters, single particle motions, plasma as fluid, waves, diffusion and resistivity, equilibrium and instability, kinetic theory, nonlinear effects. Applications in three areas: controlled fusion, astrophysics, and interaction between light and plasma.
    13. Solid State Physics. An introduction to modern concepts of the solid state. Topics include crystal structure and diffraction, crystal binding and elastic properties, thermal properties, dielectric phenomena, band theory of solids and Fermi surfaces, electrical conductors, semiconductors, magnetism, and super-conductivity.
    I'll tell you a little about myself. My dream job involves anything and everything with the development of space exploration. I'd like to work for an organization or company like SpaceX, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Blue Origin, or more recently Moon Express. That is why I am interested in courses 1, 2, and 3, however I feel like I can probably teach myself astronomy and astrophysics and it's probably not going to help me become a better engineer when compared to other courses.

    I went to an advisor before posting this. The first courses she suggested were Classical Mechanics I and II (#7 and #8), but lo-and-behold, she teaches those courses. I know Classical Mechanics makes sense for a Mechanical Engineering major, however I fear that it might just be more of the same thing I've been learning -but presented differently and with different methods. I don't want to feel like I'm repeating a course or relearning something I already know.

    From the courses I have mentioned above, I am considering Electromagnetism I and II (#9 and #10), and Solid State Physics (#13).
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 10, 2017 #2
    This of course partially depends on what you want to do as a MechE, but there was a prior Aerospace Engineer in my class that said they wish they had taken E+M (probably only want I and II for a minor). More than anything these will help you master vector calculus. Fluid and Plasma Dynamics would probably be useful considering you want to work in the Aerospace industry.

    Disclaimer to keep in mind, I'm not an engineer, this is simply based on things my prior A.E. friend has mentioned to me.
  4. Mar 10, 2017 #3
    Depends on what you want to focus on

    If you wanted to do electric propulsion or something to that effect E&M 1&2 plus Plasma Fluid Dynamics would be beyond helpful.
    If you wanted to do something with sensors the E&M's and the Optics courses would work very well.
    If you wanted to do propulsion Plasma Fluid Dynamics would be very useful but I don't think any of the others would help you that much.
    If you wanted to materials the solid state physics would be very useful along with the E&M's.

    I don't see classical mechanics from the physics department being super useful for you since you learn most of that material in your statics, dynamics, vibrations, waves, and mechanics of materials courses; the only thing you don't learn in detail is maybe Euler Angles and the Lagrangian-Hamiltonian formalism.

    ME is a broad field, what do you want do in space?
  5. Mar 11, 2017 #4
    Thank you both for answering!

    Because I have literally no experience in the field, it's hard for me to answer that. I can't exactly visualize what kind of activities I'll be doing as an engineer. With regards to space, I think we should go back to the moon and develop a permanent base since we'll be losing the ISS soon. Lunar Activities include large and wide solar panel installations, sophisticated telescopes to increase our reach into the cosmos, spacecraft manufactured and assembled on the moon with decreased propulsion requirements, etc.

    Therefore, one of the things that interest me as an engineer is to reduce human exposure to radiation. This semester, I'm taking a class called Engineering Materials & Processes by DeGarmo; One of the topics we learned recently include alloys and how different elements and microstructures affect material properties such as hardness, toughness, formability, machinability, etc. I'd like to learn how to make radiation resistant materials to act as shields to humans so they can stay on the moon and work on the moon for months at a time.

    Another thing that interests me includes robotics and material preparation. It's my opinion that, if a base on the moon will ever occur, it will probably start with tele-operated or autonomous robotics mining the moon, processing acquired raw materials, forming them into usable components and tools, and possibly even build entire livable structures. This might be simplified with 3-D printing, but that's besides the point.

    I'm also concerned about the efficiency of current solar panels. I don't know the quality of NASA-grade solar panels, but the ones I've tested while in community college had pathetic efficiencies.

    I also think asteroid mining is a potential lucrative field.

    I realize I probably won't be doing many of these things, if society believes this is important at all, but they are things I would like to get involved with. I think, for this to become reality, a like-minded entrepreneur like Elon Musk would have to show interest and devise a witty way to make this economically feasible. I'd like to think I'll become such a person in the future, or at least, I'll definitely try.
  6. Mar 12, 2017 #5
    With everything you just said, I'd say you could probably remove 1 through 8 from the list.
  7. Mar 23, 2017 #6
    I want to thank you all again for answering. You've been very helpful. I'm not sure whether I should open a new thread or just continue it here but aside from the Applied Physics courses required for my minor, I also need to take two Technical Electives (TE). Below is a list of the TEs that interest me, along with their descriptions as per my institution's official website:

    1. Dynamics of Space Flight. An introduction to the mechanics of space flight. After a brief introduction to the physics of the solar system, the dynamics of space flight are developed from the Newtonian viewpoint. Covers the performance and propulsion methods of rocketry.
    2. Introduction to Aerodynamics. Introduction to the basic principles and properties of fluid flow around immersed bodies. Topics include the kinematics and dynamics of fluid fields, the thin airfoil, finite wing theory, and one-dimensional compressible flow.
    3. Vibration Analysis. An introduction to the fundamental theory of mechanical vibrations. Undamped and damped systems with single and multiple degrees of freedom, transient vibration, vibrations of continuous media, and analog and numerical methods.
    4. Structural Analysis. Fundamentals of structural analysis. Consideration of stresses and deflections of beams as well as the design of beams, columns, trusses, and structural connections of steel, reinforced concrete, and timber structures.
    5. Principles of Tribology. An introduction to the principles of wear resistance of machine parts and tribology. Physical understanding of different mechanisms of wear and friction and methods of increasing durability.
    6. *Industrial Robotics. Robotics in manufacturing systems. The field of robotics is studied with emphasis given to the role of programmable robots in manufacturing. Hands-on experience with hardware and software necessary for various industrial robot systems through laboratory experience.
    7. *Robotics and Programmable Logic Controllers. Introduction to the design and implementation of programmable logic controllers for use in industry in the areas of automotive assembly, pharmaceutical manufacturers, the chemical industry, and others. Includes ladder logic, input/output ports, continuous process control, timing and counting functions, chaining sequences, and digital gate logic.
    8. *Introduction to Robotics and Automation. Introduction to mechanics and control of robotic manipulators. Topics include spatial transformations, kinematics, dynamics, trajectory generation, actuators and control, and relations to product design and flexible automation.
    9. Principles of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration. A course in the fundamentals of air conditioning and refrigeration. Topics covered are psychometrics, cooling and heat load calculations, air distribution systems, duct design, vapor compression and absorption systems, and the principles of cooling towers.
    10. Computer Simulation and Analysis in Mechanical Engineering. This course covers various topics in Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE). The course provides an in-depth understanding and skill of constructing 2-D drawings using well-known commercial CAD package, and integrating 3-D solid modeling techniques into simulation, and analysis animation of new designs using commercial CAD/CAE software. The students will have hands-on experience to analyze Structure, Heat Transfer, and Computational Fluid Dynamics problems by using several different software packages. The course also focuses on CAD Product Data Exchange using both Direct Database conversion and International Standards based conversion methods between major CAD/CAE systems. Typical industrial applications will be illustrated.
    *No particular preference.​

    From the above list, given my ambitions, I'm most interest in #1 Dynamics of Spaceflight and I think #2 Introduction of Aerodynamics is also important. However, from an engineering standpoint, I think I'd be missing out from courses like #3, #4, and #5; they sound very important for an ME. On the other hand, #6, #7, and #8 also interest me because, as I said, I think robotics is key for trailblazing the solar system. In fact, stating the obvious, it is already the principle means by which we explore the universe. Furthermore, robotics ensures/enhances my employability when considering the advent of the automation era. I placed an asterisk (*) on those three courses because I don't know which, if any, I should take. #9 interest me because, clearly, knowing how to regulate and control temperatures within closed habitable structures is critical for any engineer and moreso in space. Finally I like #10 because it sounds like a lot of hands-on experience with hardware and software packages used within industry.

    • I think the most significant questions that would help me in my decision process are:
    • What should I expect to learn on-the-job after training/experience and what should I know before getting the job in the first place?
    • Which courses, if they truly interest me, are better off learnt independently and which ones would be advantageous to take during matriculation?
    • Are any of these courses just renditions of previous courses? If so, perhaps I already know how to perform a "Vibration Analysis", although taking the course would remove the initial learning curve and guesswork.
    Finally, my last question requires a small preamble; if I don't take an Applied Physics Minor and remain strictly a Mechanical Engineering major, I will have to take 4 Technical Electives from the list above. From a professional standpoint, is taking an Applied Physics Minor -taking into account the courses discussed within this forum, worth it? Would I benefit more from taking 4 TEs from the ME list as opposed to 2 from the ME list and 4 from the Applied Physics list? I've been told by a peer that an ME with a minor in Computer Science is more valuable in the coming age, and while what he says may be true, he speaks from a financial standpoint. I'd like to make a decent living in my career, but I didn't choose engineering for the money, I chose it because I want to innovate and do something of worth -I'm not saying CS minors/majors aren't worthy, I'm just saying that my chosen major and prospective minors make personal sense to me.

    I'm not asking for someone to make a decision for me, I just need professional/academic opinions from individuals who went through this or have a more experienced perception. I feel like I can speak for many undergraduate students that we're basically shooting darts in the dark when it comes to career choice and course selection because, unless you have previous experience or some kind of exposure to your chosen field, you really have no idea about what a graduate should be able to do and what skills/knowledge will be naturally developed as a result of your profession.
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