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Physics or Engineering undergraduate major: Interest Fluid Dynamics

  1. May 1, 2013 #1
    Currently I am intended to start next fall as a Physics major at the University of Delaware. My interest lies in Fluid Dynamics particularly in Geophysical Fluid Dynamics. I understand it's really early in my college career and I may change my interest, however I was surprised to find that as a physics undergraduate there are no courses offered in Fluid Dynamics for physics but instead only engineering majors. Aside from Fluid Dynamics, I am far more interested in the physics topics than any engineering topic. My main goal is to continue on to a graduate school for Physical Oceanography, so my question is Fluid Dynamics a physics topic in general or would switching to a engineering field be the only way to experience a undergraduate course in that topic. Also, many individuals seem to believe that an engineering degree is far more "Useful" than compared to a BS in Physics would anyone comfirm or deny this claim. Thank you in advance for any and all opinions given.
     
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  3. May 1, 2013 #2
    You get the physics topics in engineering. Mechanics(dynamics), thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid dynamics. Engineering is an applied science, applied physics if you will. A physics degree is more theoretical, an engineering degree is more practical.
     
  4. May 1, 2013 #3
    The University of Delaware does not offer any physics courses specifically on fluid mechanics (they do not have any researchers in that field), not many university's do I think. But if I'm not mistaken, fluid dynamics is heavily based in Classical Mechanics, and they offer several courses in that. In addition, you can always take electives in the area of your choice, so taking fluid dynamics classes as a physics major is most surely not unheard of.
     
  5. May 1, 2013 #4
    I'm a physics major planning on doing geophysics as well though I started in engineering... I'm interested more in seismology though. We do not have a fluid dynamics course in our physics department but our math department actually has a geophysical fluid dynamics course that is offered for undergrads. I have always thought it was strange that physics majors don't have to take fluid dynamics though. Depending on how many electives you have, you will probably have plenty of room to take some fluids courses from engineering.

    If you do not want to go to grad school (which you will most likely have to do for oceanography) then engineering may be the better choice. If on the other hand, you like research and want an advanced degree in oceanography then I would think physics would give you a broader understanding as well as leave more room for you to take more geology/oceanography classes as an undergrad.
     
  6. May 2, 2013 #5
    Some physics and math departments teach fluid dynamics under a different label, in my case it was "astrophysical fluid dynamics" but it was essentially pure FD taught from Landau's book with only a few problems involving astrophysical flows at times. It might even be labeled as "mechanics of continuous media" or "continuum mechanics" in some departments, look into that.

    FD as taught in engineering depts is pretty different as far as I've seen and (IMO) not as interesting, but if you can take a course that involves computational fluids then I would suggest considering it.

    And in this economic climate, the only reason to insist on a physics degree is because you really enjoy it and seriously want to go to grad school either in physics or a different field. Otherwise you are just setting yourself up for an incredibly difficult and demoralizing job hunting experience.
     
  7. May 2, 2013 #6
    Some physics and math departments teach fluid dynamics under a different label, in my case it was "astrophysical fluid dynamics" but it was essentially pure FD taught from Landau's book with only a few problems involving astrophysical flows at times. It might even be labeled as "mechanics of continuous media" or "continuum mechanics" in some departments, look into that.

    FD as taught in engineering depts is pretty different as far as I've seen and (IMO) not as interesting, but if you can take a course that involves computational fluids then I would suggest considering it.

    And in this economic climate, the only reason to insist on a physics degree is because you really enjoy it and seriously want to go to grad school either in physics or a different field. Otherwise you are just setting yourself up for an incredibly difficult and demoralizing job hunting experience.
     
  8. May 2, 2013 #7

    AlephZero

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    (Theoretical) fluid mechanics is probably one of the branches of mathematical physics worst affected by "spherical cow syndrome". Engineers have to deal with the world as it is, and the real world of fluids has a lot of messy semi-empirical content. The empirical part of engineering fluid mechanics is a decreasing function of time, but it's still a long way from zero.

    Whether you find the practical details more or less interesting that the general theory is your personal decision, of course
     
  9. May 2, 2013 #8

    jasonRF

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    Take a look at the Woods Hole website - see what their staff have degrees in.
    Here is a list of the physical oceonography group:
    http://www.whoi.edu/main/po/people

    there is also an applied ocean physics and engineering group that may also fit the bill. Their group list is
    http://www.whoi.edu/main/aope/people

    In both of those you can select to only see the scientific staff, research staff, etc. I glanced quickly and found lots of undergrad degrees in physics, but (at least for the more applied group) a fair number of civil/environmental/mechanical engineers as well.

    Hopefully a physical oceanographer will read your post and give you more specific advice on choices of major / coursework.

    In any case I'm guessing that if you are interested, you can take the mechanical engineering year-long sequence in fluids as a physics major (the primary question is whether it has a time conflict with required physics classes). Whether or not you want to consider one of the engineering disciplines instead of physics is a very complicated decision only you can make.

    My best advice would be to discus your interests with your faculty advisor when you start in the fall.

    EDIT. I thought I would add a related anecdote. My sophomore year I fell in love with electromagnetic theory, and thought that whatever my major I wanted to eventually do something related to electromagnetics. I had a hard time choosing my major - it was a toss-up between applied physics and electrical engineering (I was in an engineering college - physics was in arts and sciences and would have been hard to switch to). My father, an economist, asked, 'would there be a fundamental difference between the two when it comes to how prepared you would be for your future career goals?" my answer was NO. So he suggested EE since jobs would likely be easier to find. Anecdotal evidence tells me he was correct - when I graduated the applied physics majors I knew had a much harder time finding jobs than the EEs. I went to grad school then went into the workforce - while I use electromagnetics in my job, it is not my specialty, and my EE background is VERY useful to me now!

    best regards,

    jason
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2013
  10. May 2, 2013 #9

    Andy Resnick

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    Unfortunately, very few Physics departments offer any formal coursework in fluid mechanics (as well as related topics for example, continuum mechanics), so I would encourage you to take the courses in whichever department offers it. However, be aware that engineering approaches to fluid mechanics are often very different from scientific approaches, so expect to be somewhat disoriented in an engineering class. You may find that the Math department offers a class covering the relevant material (classical field theory) as an alternative. Or you may be able to lobby someone in the Physics department to teach the class as a 'special topic'.

    Regarding the utility of a BS in Physics vs. Engineering, that *entirely* depends on *you*.
     
  11. May 2, 2013 #10
    Take physics. My graduate studies are in geophysical fluid dynamics ( mantle flow), and my undergrad was physics. My best suggestion is take as much Physics and computer science as humanly possible, including classes in supercomputing and C++.

    Most geophysical fluid dynamics often revolve around solving stokes equation, and using thermal and viscous solvers to push flow. Statistical/Thermal Mechanics and E/M are the two most important classes for actually understanding them.

    In regaurds to research, Computer Science and Math are probably the most important skills to learn then Physics.Just my 2 cents.

    My REU advisor was a mechanical engineer before he became a physical oceanographer, so either way its good.
     
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