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Undergraduate Physics Tracks

  1. May 12, 2010 #1
    I am about to head into my junior year as a physics major, and I was hoping to get some advance on which area of specialization I should focus on. My goal in the end is to get my PhD, focusing my research on particle physics, yet I'm not sure which undergraduate specialization would be most condusive to me in realizing my goal. The possible specializations I have to choose from are: General physics, Materials, Optics and Lasers, Computational, and Astronomy.

    Thank you guys for any help or advice you can provide, as you can probably tell, I'm a little confused about all this... :confused:
  2. jcsd
  3. May 12, 2010 #2
    How do you know if you want to do particle physics? I feel like you cant really specialize as an undergrad as you have not been exposed to the different areas yet.
  4. May 12, 2010 #3
    Valid point, but from my limited exposure to documentaries, articles, textbooks and the like have really driven me more towards it. The idea of studying the atom has always been extremely fascinating to me, so I feel like nuclear physics, and I guess more specifically particle physics would be the next logical step for me.

    While I agree that it is early on to pick a specialization, my school requires that I pick one of the five aforementioned physics tracks.
  5. May 12, 2010 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    If you end up in experimental particle physics, you'll do a lot of programming. Probably likewise on the theoretical side. So computational physics would probably be a good fit. Otherwise I'd probably go with general physics.
  6. May 12, 2010 #5
    If you think that particle physics is a subset of nuclear physics, you're a little mistaken [0]. This makes me think that you don't know a great deal about either (I'm not trying to be condescending, there's nothing wrong with not knowing everything from the word go!), and thus ought to explore other possibilities a little more. You never know - you might take a course on solid state physics or plasma physics or whatever that really excites you. I'd just go with something that you'll very likely use whatever you end up doing, which would probably be the "general physics" or "computational physics" path.

    [0] Nuclear physics deals with the physics in the nucleus of atoms. Particle physics includes many particles that never even show up in atoms, let alone in nuclei. Thus, neither is really a subset of the other. You might think that this would make nuclear physics a subset of particle physics, but the techniques and models used in particle physics are heinously inappropriate in a nuclear physics context for the most part.
  7. May 12, 2010 #6
    Thanks for the advice everyone. I'm going to think on it a little more, but I'll most likely end up on the general physics track. Also, I'll be the first to admit I don't know a great deal about nuclear or particle physics, but that's what learning is all about, right? Thank you Monocles for correcting my misconception in a constructive manner.
  8. May 14, 2010 #7
    I would agree with the advice to go for computational. I'm sure working with particle accelerators comes with knowing how to interpret large amounts of data and being able to handle large numerical analysis with computers. Which university are you attending? You should ask around the computational chapter for more advice.
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