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Want to be Physicist? Still in High School?

  1. Jul 19, 2011 #1
    My favorite things to learn about or read about is astronomy, physics, and cosmology. Until school starts up again, which i will be taking Pre Calc and AP physics and aerospace engineering, I was wondering if theres anything i can do now while i have nothing to do and am really bored?? Im reading parallel worlds by michio kaku and an old physics textbook, i love watching the show through the wormhole and such shows like that on the science channel. I'm really eager to....do things a theoretical physicist does! I've even looked into making a cloud chamber. Let me stop listing numerous examples, I just want to know what can I do now? And maybe some guidance so I get into a good college too?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 19, 2011 #2
    Find a project in http://makezine.com/. Learn to use a telescope. Program a new app on iphone/smartphone.

    It's rather better if you don't do too much of that and put most of your effort into understanding things like Newtonian mechanics. The problem with thinking about wormholes is that you are probably never going to see one directly, so a lot of thinking about them is "idle and possibly useless speculation." Now if you can look at a ball dropping and try to understand that, that gets you closer to "real physics" and the "real world."

    The popular show that I can think of that is closest to real physics is Mythbusters.
  4. Jul 19, 2011 #3
    Wormholes and string theory is to real theoretical physics as French fries are to France. So, not very much at all. I'd learn more about what an actual theoretical physicist does before you become one of the causalities who go into the career path thinking it'll be nothing but Brian Greene and reading 'Principia'.
  5. Jul 20, 2011 #4
    try to compete for USaPho
  6. Jul 20, 2011 #5
    I add my vote to this.

    Note: many students entering a degree program switch majors (I've heard up to 2/3, but I'm sure it varies by major and institution). In my undergraduate experience, no one who came into physics declared stayed (departing to philosophy, musics, computer science, etc.), and everyone who graduated with a degree in physics started elsewhere (chemistry, math, engineering). Why, because they had the wrong idea about the fields and/or their preparation for the field.

    Be sure you have the right idea about the field and the right preparation -- by taking your present coursework to heart (in mathematics and science). Even if your research (and pretty face / smooth talking) lands you the next PBS-documentary highlight, you still have to get though the degree programs to get you into the research (and perhaps give you a solid job before/after the studio calls).
  7. Jul 20, 2011 #6
    Thank you everyone for giving me some sense. What I'm trying to say is just that this subject matter extremely fascinates me, I find space and cosmology so interesting, I just think the things that could come out of it are really endless. I want to know more about the universe, don't we all?
  8. Jul 20, 2011 #7
    Aerospace engineering Do you go to Brooklyn Technical High school?
  9. Jul 20, 2011 #8
    Reading Kaku, Greene and the like for inspiration is fine, especially if you're interested in theory. You need to discover whether you are in fact more attracted to theory than experiment, though.

    From what you've posted, however, and from what I know about the physicists that I've met, you might not be cut out for theory.

    If you're in high school and only now getting around to taking precalculus, you are behind the educational curve of the typical theorist.

    Moreover, the fact that you're "bored" in a world just oozing with knowledge to be absorbed is further confirmation that you're probably not cut out for theory.

    So, yes. Mythbusters is the sort of practical show you might want to favor over Through the Wormhole.
  10. Jul 20, 2011 #9
    Something that you should do is to get some quick exposure to what cosmology "really" is like. One reason that you probably should spend more time learning calculus and Newtonian mechanics rather than string theory is that you get a lot more understanding of cosmology via Newtonian mechanics rather than string theory.

    For example....


    If you look at first ten pages of chapter one, there are bits and pieces that should make sense to you if you understand pre-calculus.

    You'll find several things.

    1) Finding *anything* about the world turns out to be extremely, extremely difficult.

    2) The more you know, the more you know that the less you know. Something that you should be aware of is that as you go along, the more you will have to confront the fact that there are some things that you will never understand.

    3) *Knowing* is different from *guessing*. One reason to not get too deep into string theory is that that's all guesswork which could quite possibly be totally wrong. Now right now the things were people are actually figuring out new stuff in cosmology are in things like galaxy formation.
  11. Jul 21, 2011 #10
    The other thing that would be useful is to go to science camp and also try to get undergraduate research experience as quickly as possible. One reason for doing that is that you may learn once you get exposed to real research that you actually hate doing it.

    There's nothing wrong with learning that you would rather watch physics than do physics, but the faster you find that out, the more quickly you can try something different. There are moments when you find something cool, but there are months and years of sweat and frustration to get to those moments.

    To give you an idea of what the life of a typical theoretical physicist is like. What I'm doing right now is more or less what I did in graduate school. I just submitted a computer run that a new feature. Tomorrow, I'll get back the results, and I'll be spending the day comparing these rows of numbers and if they don't match, then I'll be spending the next week with a debugger looking for what is probably some silly one line error in the code. I've been doing this for the last year.

    For that matter when I went to science camp junior year, the first thing that my mentor had be do is to take some data, run it through a computer, compare the two sets of results, and figure out what was going on.

    Now I find this sort of thing relaxing (well mostly), but a lot of people don't, and if you don't there is no shame in getting a job doing something else and then waiting for the results to come out once everything is finished.
  12. Jul 21, 2011 #11
    Surprisingly large numbers of people don't. That's one reason there ends up being few physics Ph.D.'s in the world.

    Also, you need be careful to keep your idealism. It's extremely easy to get burned out in this field.

    The other thing that can get you in trouble is that it's also easy to get "curiosity siloed". One thing about me is that I get extremely curious about stuff in general, and I get rather annoyed when you are in a situation in which you aren't allowed to be curious about something.

    For example, sometimes I get bored or burned out thinking about neutrino diffusion equations, and I want to spend a month reading about the history of visual arts in Austria-Hungary in the 1870's, and you can find yourself in a situation where it's *bad* to be curious about something other than the thing that they think you should be curious about.
  13. Jul 24, 2011 #12
    I'd get ahead in the relevant subjects and use the pop science stuff as motivation
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