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Topic in Theoretical Materials Science

  1. Jan 29, 2013 #1
    Greetings!

    I just finished my bachelor's degree in physics. I am now applying for a master's degree in physics. My bachelor's thesis was an experimental study about aerosol. I am planning to shift to theoretical physics. However, I want my topic to be related to materials science, specifically about alternative energy such as solar power, hydrogen storage, etc. I am just confused on where to start. Is there any problem/topic related to the above-mentioned where researchers are needed?

    Also, all theoretical materials science research articles I found involve computational techniques. Is it possible to do theoretical materials science using the typical pen and paper methods of theoretical physics (i.e. purely mathematical and not computational)?

    Thank you very much and sorry if the questions seem silly. I am not very sure on what I am talking about. Hehe.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 29, 2013 #2
    Theory for materials science does tend to be pretty computation-heavy. There's just so little in the way of analytic solutions that theorists' work tends to be about thinking up clever ways of modelling complex systems for running efficient simulations, doing Monte Carlo trials, etc. So, I don't think you will find much in the way of 'pen and paper' theory in the world of materials science.

    You might want to look into theory of condensed matter physics (TCM). Whereas materials science is essential applied physics—and thus more interested in specific calculations—TCM tends to be a bit more foundational. Many theorists there also do mostly computational work, but there are also plenty of people in TCM working on some pretty deep mathematics. The trade-off, of course, is that by working on foundational issues you're more removed from specific applications like alternative energy. This is something you aren't going to be able to avoid: to closer you want to be to specific engineering problems, the more the work is applied physics and, by definition, the less it has to do with developing the theory.
     
  4. Jan 30, 2013 #3
    Thank you very much for your reply. I have now some idea of my choices. I am not really a mathematical dude. In fact, I am a visual learner and enjoy programming immensely. I just hate the idea that in both experimental and computational fields, I always have to rely on external funding to be able to get the equipments or computer workstations that I need. Usually, this external supporters have their own research agenda in mind, and I have to sacrifice a bit of my autonomy as a researcher in order to get the infrastructure I need. I was hoping that by going into theory, I can get absolute independence as a researcher. Thanks again. :)
     
  5. Jan 30, 2013 #4
    Unfortunately, even the most 'old school' pen-and-paper theorists are still subject to departmental and funding (people still have to eat, after all) constraints. So, do what interests you. In any case, what good is academic freedom in some field when you'd prefer to be doing something else anyways?
     
  6. Jan 30, 2013 #5

    ZapperZ

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    Wait.. You said that you've just completed your B.Sc and about to start your Masters. So how are you able to have a clear idea on what is involved in getting "external funding"? How many funding proposals have you submitted, and to whom? DOE? NSF? What are the "research agenda" do those agencies have would hinder your plan?

    Zz.
     
  7. Jan 30, 2013 #6
    Thanks. Yeah, you are right in that last thing you said. Hm. It kinda cleared my mind a bit. :)
     
  8. Feb 3, 2013 #7
    Sorry for the late reply. I thought I was able to enter my reply before I lost my connection. I just saw this now. Well, I have been eyeing the academe since my BS and thus, I am observing my professors. I've seen them making proposals. I have attended research writing proposals. So I have seen partly how it works. The "research agenda" per se wouldn't really hinder my plan totally. It is just that I have to align my research to what is "in" for the agencies, something related to the environment, energy, or health. These topics are okay with me. But what about the future? What if the agencies would want people to research on something I won't really want to work on and I would be forced to do it because the money is there? This thought bothers me a bit.
     
  9. Feb 3, 2013 #8

    ZapperZ

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    This is a faulty understanding of funding topics. Look at what DOE and NSF have funded just the past year to convince yourself how wrong you are.

    You really shouldn't be so free to draw up such conclusion, all based on 2nd hand superficial understanding of the situation.

    Zz.
     
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