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Simulations and Experimental Physics

  1. May 25, 2017 #1
    I'm an undergrad trying to figure out what career I want to pursue. I consider myself very good at math and physics and enjoy them, however I know that I definitely do not want to go into purely theoretical physics.

    I have been thinking about what I want to do for a while now and it occurred to me that simulations of high level math/physics may be a good fit. However, I still enjoy building/tinkering with stuff. Hence I am wondering if anyone knows of careers that involve both doing simulations and designing stuff.

    My initial thoughts were particle accelerators and fission reactors. However I am not sure of the extent to which the simulations folks in these fields actually get to help design stuff (i.e. do they get stuck doing nothing except programming?). Does anyone have any insight?

    Also if anyone simulations people from different fields are here feel free to comment.
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  3. May 25, 2017 #2


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    I am in a similar position as you, but I think I can offer some insight regardless. Experimental atomic physics and condensed matter use both design and simulation a fair bit. In my experience, its been heavier on the design side, but there is still simulation that has to happen. Whenever you have any novel experimental data, odds are you'll need a simulation to try and reproduce or refute that data according to theoretical predictions. Also, the design process frequently involves use of simulations. For example, when designing any circuitry for an experiment, you'll probably wind up using SPICE if not coding your own simulations. Hope that helps!
  4. May 25, 2017 #3
    I should mention I worked in an AMO lab this year and really didn't like optics. Condensed matter is an interesting idea... I'll have to look into it more.
  5. May 25, 2017 #4


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    That's pretty much what I do! I'm an experimental nuclear physicist. I design detectors, I do experiments with said detectors, analyse the data, and to get to the underlying physics, and understand the implications, I do simulations.

    I don't think I'm particularly unique in this, I think a lot of experimental physicists will also be involved in doing simulations, certainly in my field.
  6. May 25, 2017 #5
    Funny, I am going to try working in low energy nuclear physics next fall. Do you do simulations primarily of detector physics?
  7. May 25, 2017 #6


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    No, although I have done a very small amount of that. Most of my simulation work is simulations of nuclear collisions to aid interpretation of our experimental results. This does involve folding detector effects into the simulations, though.
  8. May 26, 2017 #7
    That sounds awesome. How did you end up getting choosing nuclear?
  9. May 26, 2017 #8


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    It's pretty fun - I think nuclear physics represents a good balance of big infrastructure physics (big machines are fun) and being able to be very hands on with all parts of an experiment* (which you don't get in the very large collaborations you get in very big infrastructure physics projects).

    I ended up choosing nuclear mostly by accident - my undergrad university has a strong undergraduate research program, and I ended up doing a project in nuclear for a semester. I found that the problems and the group culture suited me, so I stayed with it. Undergraduate research is a really good way to "try on" physics research -- projects that didn't suit me (observational cosmology, planetary geology, laser physics ... ) taught me plenty about my preferences.

    Do you know what you're doing in low energy nuclear physics in the fall?

    *To a greater or lesser extent depending on the lab
  10. May 26, 2017 #9
    I am working as a self-employed consulting engineer, designing heat pump systems with uncommon heat sources (= engineering, electronics, measurement technology, control, IT, data analysis...) and doing simulations based on software I've developed myself. My PhD was in applied physics - superconductors / laser physics - but I also did theoretical modelling of pulsed laser deposition back then in addition to experiments.
  11. May 26, 2017 #10
    The group I will be working with does selective trapping of radioactive ions to study the electroweak interaction... I don't understand the specific models they are testing, but I will be studying nuclear physics this summer. This most likely involves some simulations. I know they are also working on improving their machine for getting better ion yields, etc.

    This sounds interesting. Do you ever regret not going into research? Not to imply that research is a superior job in any way, but I know it gives people more freedom to do specifically what they want.
  12. May 26, 2017 #11
    I am doing research today - and I am enjoying it. We have simulated, developed and prototyped our heat pump system for some years, before we started building it with / for clients. I am particularly happy that we have been able to fund that by ourselves, based on other business.
    Freedom has always one of the main drivers for each of the career decisions I took. (I did not go directly from laser physics to heat pumps ... long story).
  13. Jun 6, 2017 #12
    I am in computational electronics. I'm just a EE grad student but from what I have seen a lot of the device design is done by theorists/computationalists.

    Indeed, if you want to play with fancy, froofy physics and do engineering, it's a good time to enter this field. There are numerous engineers who are working on fundamental theory for topological materials, device design, and device simulation (Supriyo Datta and Matthew Gilbert come to mind)
  14. Jun 7, 2017 #13
    Thanks for the reply. By device design and simulation do you mean analog circuits?
  15. Jun 8, 2017 #14
    No, I mean the solid state devices (e.g. a FinFET)
  16. Jun 16, 2017 #15
    Maybe you also want to consider looking into jobs for cutting edge technology companies?
    I've read an article about the future of simulation in the cloud with new startups that tackle these approaches. I think a lot of development can still be done in the field of simulation for engineering applications, especially for new companies like SimScale. They're hiring heavily atm and I'm also looking into them. Pretty disruptive stuff they do and I believe they could need people that are good with math and physics ;)
    I'd consider myself more on the management side for them though!
  17. Jun 18, 2017 #16
    Sorry for delay, last few days have been crazy. This company looks cool. I think I would enjoy working in an industry like this but I would be worried about regretting not going into physics after spending so many years studying it... anyone here ever feel that way?
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