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Suggestions for independent research

  1. Nov 25, 2011 #1
    Hi, I'm looking for suggestions on what are the best areas of theoretical physics for independent/amateur research?

    I want to do some independent study with a view to research, but my problem is that I can get interested in more-or-less anything and am easily sidetracked. So I want to try to settle on a target that I can concentrate on with the aim of (in the distant future!) being able to publish something useful in an academic journal.

    Basically what I'm looking for is a field/topic which is:

    - Not too ambitious (string theory, quantum gravity, etc.). I don't think I'm the next Einstein.
    - Not overly dependent on experiment, or where experimental data is readily available.
    - Not changing too rapidly as even when I am up to speed, my progress is likely to be slower than a professional researcher's

    My background is that I have a first degree in physics, and a PhD in a related area, but I left science after that (10 years ago). I recently did a postgraduate MSc in mathematics in my spare time so I know I can study and can probably handle the maths required. I work in an academic institution so I have access to libraries and journal subscriptions.

    Any suggestions very welcome!

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 25, 2011 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    I would not start by thinking about writing, but instead start by thinking about reading. Read what's out there, and see what meets your criteria, and more importantly, what tickles your fancy.
  4. Nov 25, 2011 #3
    Complex systems and statistical mechanics. Look at Physica A and Physics Review E, and there are tons of papers and topics that can be done with someone that knows basic math and has time on their hands.

    Also, if you have spare time. Galaxy formation has some things.

    If you are computer science oriented, then figure out how to do some standard matrix operations with GPU. How can you use a GPU to numerically integrate a function more quickly?

    That's good. You want to stay away from crank areas. The type of theoretical physics that would be useful would be things like sandpile theory. You add grains of sand to a sandpile, at some point the sandpile will collapse. There were a ton of papers on the topic when I was browsing in the library a few years ago. Maybe someone has solved it.

    Something else that would be useful is phase transitions and network contagion. Imagine you have a network with many nodes. One node goes bad, and there is a probably that this node going bad will cause a neighboring node to do bad. Is there a tipping point at which the whole system collapses? If so, how can you make the network more robust.

    Now imagine those nodes are banks, and you can see how figuring something out would be really useful.

    One other thing is that you are probably better in a field in which journals are open to new ideas. Statistical and applied math journals love to publish new applications and new original uses for physics concepts. The CS world is very open. By contrast, economics and finance journals tend to reject anything that might possibly have an original idea.

    It's probably better to get something that is very fast changing. The thing about research is that one person can only work on one or two ideas at a time, and if you have lots of new data coming then there aren't enough people to cover all of the possible approaches.
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2011
  5. Nov 26, 2011 #4
    Something along similar lines to this problem is the Euler's disk (). What causes a sudden stop in the rotational movement of the disk? This is still an unsolved problem, though a few papers have tried to tackle it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  6. Nov 26, 2011 #5


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    Hey Steve and welcome to the forums.

    You could well end up doing really advanced research when you build up your intuition in a particular area, but I agree with twofish in the way that it's good to keep it simple especially when starting out.

    In terms of statistical theory and experiments, many results can be either disproved or given evidence of being right by using a computer and a software package.

    Some research I am doing is related to convergence of a variety of mathematical systems. Interstingly enough the properties of convergence is found in many areas of research especially when we are talking about things involving infinite things like infinite bases, or sequences and so on. The properties of convergence will always be something that is important and it can be applied in a variety of contexts.

    Also if you are applied person you might get aquainted with the applications that are out there. You might take an interest in data compression for example, or you might get interested in data mining.

    I wish you the best with your research and I hope you find it satisfying even discovering the minute things as I have and (hopefully) will do.
  7. Nov 26, 2011 #6


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    Hey, Steve! Do you have any interests in astronomy? If so, you can mine databases like N.E.D., HyperLeda, etc, and cross-check with surveys like IRSA and SDSS We already own these resources (they are funded by taxes) so you don't need to be independently wealthy to do such research.
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