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Undergraduate Physics - Applications?

  1. Dec 6, 2008 #1

    If you remember, I'm stuck between majoring in physics or chemistry. I've been reading a bit on the different disciplines in both chemistry and physics and I'm leaning a bit towards chemistry now. The one thing that really gets to me in chemistry is how applicable it is - you can learn reaction mechanisms or the theory behind bonding, and put it to the test in the laboratory.

    Now, I find parts of physic interesting but the big thing that bothers me is its lack of application. I was reading some lecture notes on an undergraduate E&M lecture and it's all deriving formulas. How much of undergraduate physics actually involves calculations? The one thing I liked in my high school physics class is that we actually calculated answers to problems; deriving equations doesn't do it for me...it seems to abstract. How much of E&M is actually applicable to real world situations? How applicable is quantum mechanics? While I barely understand the concepts, much less the mathematics behind it, the one thing that I found really interesting was Schrodinger's equation for the hydrogen atom and how it showed the spectral lines and orbital shapes. Is all of quantum mechanics this applicable?


    I forgot to mention, but I'm a very visual learner, which is why I'm so interested in applicability. I like physics, but I want to see hands on applications of like - like in the chemistry lab...which is why I'm leaning heavily towards chemistry. Maybe taking physical chemistry would make up for me wanting to learn something past general physics, while still maintaining real world applications?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 6, 2008 #2
    There are tons of applications for E&M and quantum mechanics! Maxwell's equations, when used with the fluid equations, are used to describe plasmas, and plasma physics has tons of applications (Nuclear Fusion, etching circuits, coating, particle beams, etc.)

    Quantum mechanics is needed for understanding the electronic properties of solids, and has led to the development of semiconductor devices and a better understanding of superconductivity. It is also useful for understanding the low temperature properties of fluids, such as the behavior of liquids composed of bosons or fermions. Most of the real-world applications of quantum mechanics usually fall within condensed matter or atomic/solid-state/optical physics.
  4. Dec 6, 2008 #3
    Well, the computer you're typing on depends on quantum mechanics to operate, as does essentially every electronic you own.

    (I should mention that I'm a grad student in electrical engineering, and we use quantum mechanics on a daily basis in our research.)
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2008
  5. Dec 6, 2008 #4
    How visual is quantum mechanics (not physically I mean)?
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