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Undergraduate Major for Career in Nuclear Fusion

  1. Oct 2, 2009 #1
    Hello. I am currently a senior in high school. I am currently taking AP Physics C and will be through calc III/diff eq by the time i graduate. I am interested in going into nuclear engineering but i do not just want to work at some power plant the rest of my life. I am interested in theorhetical type physics but i also enjoy the practicality and reality of engineering. So my idea is to go into nuclear fusion (as opposed to fission). I feel like this way i can work on a tangible solution to a real life problem while also working with something that is on the cutting edge of science.

    So, my question is:
    Does this make sense? (I hope some of you have some personal experience with this). And, as an undergrad, should i major in physics or nuclear engineering? (The other major i could do is engineering physics with a concentration on nuclear engineering. I feel that this would give me a solid base in physics while still giving me a nuclear engineering background)

    Any and all advice is greatly appreciated
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 3, 2009 #2


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    Nuclear fusion is much more a branch of physics, rather than nuclear engineering. The two current approaches (tokamak and laser ignition) have nothing in common with the engineering related to nuclear fission reactors. Also if there is any breakthrough in some unconventional approach (like cold fusion) it will be as a result of work by physicists.
  4. Oct 3, 2009 #3
    Thank you for the information.

    So would you recommend that I major in physics or in engineering physics? I feel that if I major in engineering physics I would be more employable.
  5. Oct 4, 2009 #4


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    It depends very much on your career objectives. For academic career I would lean toward physics - probably with a doctorate, for industry or government, maybe engineering physics. However I suspect you probably don't have to decide right away.
    I'll give my own experience. I started college as a chemistry major, but in the middle of my sophomore year I realized two things - I like mathematics much more and also I was a lousy cook (chem lab), so I switched to mathematics.

    I suggest you talk to someone (teacher or advisor) in your school.
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2009
  6. Oct 4, 2009 #5


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    If one is interested in fusion see this thread How to become a nuclear engineer.

    Nuclear engineering programs expose one to physics (particularly nuclear physics, radiation interactions, . . . .), electrical engineering (circuits and electric power systems: generators, transformers, motors, . . .), mechanical engineering (thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, . . . . ), civil engineering (structural mechanics, . . .), as well as reactor physics (neutron transport and diffusion theory). Fusion engineering is usually an elective in the upper levels or graduate school.

    I'd recommend taking as many physics courses as possible, particular nuclear physics, EM and plasma physics if one wishes to go into fusion, which is still in the research and demonstration phase.
  7. Oct 4, 2009 #6
    Thanks to both of you for the information. I talked to the counsler at my school and did some other research and I feel that engineering physics would be the right direction for me. I feel that it would give me a good amount of physics as well as engineering. I think that this would give me the balance I was looking for.
  8. Nov 10, 2009 #7
    I would research various Nuclear Engineering and Electrical Engineering programs that schools have. Many programs have concentrations in Plasma physics which would be the type of thing you would be interested in. Search for "Plasma Engineering Programs", "Plasma Physics Programs", or "Plasma Physics Research" on google and you'll find a lot of info
  9. Nov 10, 2009 #8
    I recently got accepted to university of michigan and plan on attending there. I researched their website and they do have a plasma/fusion program (for graduates). They provide a link for the graduate course cirriculum and I have posted it below. This would be my goal for grad school but I am still not sure as to what to do for undergrad. I realize that plasma and fusion is grad level stuff and I will not be doing it in undergrad (maybe towards the end of my undergrad). What i guess my question shoud be is what undergrad major would put me in the best position to get into and succeed in grad school for a career in fusion research?

    http://www-ners.engin.umich.edu/areas/plasmafusion/plasmafusionoption.pdf [Broken]

    Again, thank you all for your time
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  10. Nov 10, 2009 #9
    Here are some additional links if they are useful:

    NERS courses:
    http://www-ners.engin.umich.edu/undergraduate/courses.html [Broken]

    MS and PhD requirements:
    http://www-ners.engin.umich.edu/graduate/requirements/NersPhdMsRequirements.pdf [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  11. Nov 17, 2009 #10
  12. Nov 18, 2009 #11


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    I'd recommend a BS degree in Nuclear Engineering or Engineering Physics, or perhaps even Physics. Alternatively one could do a degree in Nuclear Engineering with a minor in Physics, or a double major.

    My approach was to start in Physics and migrate to Nuclear Engineering. I also took electives in EE, Materials Science, Mech Eng, and Aerospace Engineering during my undergrad and graduate programs.

    UMich is a good school.

    U of Wisconsin has an interesting approach. The nuclear engineering program is in the Department of Engineering Physics.
  13. Nov 18, 2009 #12
    Personally, I would recommend strongly an Engineering Physics undergrad for fusion. The engineering approach to physics tends to expose you to more of the practical issues such as material science, electrical circuits and systems and numerical computation which are frequently left out of pure physics degrees.

    Once you get to grad school you can take more plasma physics or laser physics.
  14. Nov 18, 2009 #13
    Well, this is the question that I began with. Should I major in Engineering Physics with a concentration on nuclear or plain Nuclear Engineering? I do not want to do physics because I would rather not go to LS&A. Michigan does the same thing as wisc-madison (EP program is in the NERS college).
  15. Nov 18, 2009 #14


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    I was looking for a curriculum for Engineering Physics, which is supposed to be in a pdf, but that apparently does not now exist.


    I'd recommend that you contact the faculty members responsible for EP, explain your goals, and ask for a curriculum.

    I plan on contacting them myself.
  16. Nov 18, 2009 #15
    Though it does not exist online, I do have a hard copy of it. I went up there once and got some brief information. One of the things I got was the sample course selection for EP
  17. Nov 18, 2009 #16


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    I would compare the NE and EP programs to see what courses are redundant and which are unique. If I was looking at an undergrad program with the intent on going into fusion, I'd lean toward a major in EP with minor in NE. The key nuclear courses in NE are the reactor physics (or neutron physics) courses, and plant design.

    Bear in mind that controlled fusion that produces net energy economically is still a very iffy proposition.
  18. Nov 18, 2009 #17
    What exactly do you mean by this? Is the pay not good for those who go into fusion? Or, are you saying that fusion research is not being adequately funded? Or, are you saying that we have not yet been able to use fusion to make economically viable energy?

    To my last question: this is what i am excited about. I want to go into something that is only in the R&D phase. I want to work on something that will benefit society. As I mentioned earlier i do not just want to work at some power plant the rest of my life.
  19. Nov 18, 2009 #18


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    We're not there yet. There is hope that ITER will demonstrate some net energy, but demonstrating the economy of fusion is still a ways beyond success of ITER - assuming it is successful.

    It's possible that fusion scientists are well paid, but it is very competitive.

    As far as I know, in the US the job market is tight for those in fusion, and support for R&D is rather limited. That's why there are so few NE programs with options in fusion.
  20. Nov 21, 2009 #19


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    This might be of interest.

    http://www.ipp.mpg.de/ippcms/eng/for/projekte/asdex/index.html [Broken]

    http://www.ipp.mpg.de/ippcms/eng/for/projekte/asdex/ziele/index.html [Broken]

    http://www.ipp.mpg.de/ippcms/eng/for/projekte/asdex/techdata.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  21. Nov 21, 2009 #20
    First, let me say thanks for the information.

    One thing that I have noticed is that many fusion programs are based in european nations. I am American and would like to keep it that way. Are there any fusion projects (in industry, not through a university) in America. I have looked at the websites for National Ignition Facility, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and General Atomics. Do you have any opinion on these companies (i.e. which would be the best to work at, which have adequate funding, etc)? And do you have any information on other good fusion companies? Or, to go to a good place for fusion will I have to leave the US?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
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