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What do applied physicists do?

  1. Aug 24, 2013 #1
    Do applied physicists do scientific research and experiments to create new technology or do they do more engineering type work? I guess the real question is do applied physicists do work that more resembles pure physicists or engineers?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 25, 2013 #2
    Engineering is an applied science in order to make useful things that are cost effective or improve the quality and efficiency of existing processes. If you look at an engineering curriculum almost all classes are practical approaches to physics, chemistry and other sciences. For example physics majors take thermodynamics and so do engineering majors but from what I've seen the physics course is more theory where as the engineering course is more about applications. So I'm going to say applied physics is more like engineering, engineers design and build things. If that's what you're looking to do then it's perfect for you. In fact some schools have degrees in applied physics with a major of engineering physics like the University of Wisconsin Madison.
  4. Aug 25, 2013 #3
    Thanks, it's just I'm really crossed up on what to do, I'm about to be a junior and I took AP chemistry and loved it and got a 5 and I'm taking AP physics b this year and I'm thinking of engineering but I don't know what I'm getting into with that and don't know how to learn more about what engineers learn and if it fits for me. Because I like research but I like making things pretty much equally and I don't know what job (if there is one) that would fit that.
  5. Aug 25, 2013 #4
    Depends. I have a couple of friends who got their PhDs in applied physics. They do the same thing I used to do with a PhD in Astrophysics. Postdoc doing experimental fusion and plasma physics research. I don't know about undergrad degrees, but with graduate programs, sometimes the 'department' you are in determines less of what you will do for a living than the actual research you (and your advisor) do. I also have friends who were in Engineering Physics at Wisconsin who did/do the exact same stuff, i.e. fusion research.

    Ignoring individual factors and history, we are all basically about as competitive for the same jobs as each other. In other words, for a really plum postdoc fellowship at one of the national labs in plasma physics, the fact that you might be Eng. Physics from U Wisc or Astrophysics from Princeton doesn't have as much bearing on your success as does the number and strength of your publications, your individual aptitude, and what the important people in the field think of you. I know this is way more specific than what you were asking for, but it's my experience. Things at the Ph.D. level can be different from industry. Ph.D. level Engineering research shares many similarities with Ph.D. level experimental Physics research, in a way that B.S. level industry Engineering work often does not.

    My 2 cents about the undergrad degree and worrying about job prospects and what you want to do. I'm not sure many employers see that much of a difference between applied physics and physics. I wouldn't be surprised if they had two bins, one for engineering and one for all of the majors with the word 'physics' in them. And they many don't hire out of the 'physics' bin. I do not know what they specifically think about Engineering Physics.
  6. Aug 25, 2013 #5
    If you want to build things and get into design go with engineering. Simple as that. I'm in nuclear and who do you think designed the reactors? Physicist no, engineers. Physicist can come up with the theories and why it works. Engineers take that knowledge and design something that works based on the underlying sciences
  7. Aug 25, 2013 #6


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    If you want to know what engineers learn, check out college catalogues and look for the various engineering departments. There will be listed the various requisite courses to obtain an engineering degree. Failing that, talk with your faculty advisor. Track down a dean or two in the engineering department and talk to them. Call or write to engineering firms in your area.

    One tool which will help anyone immensely in any technical field is knowing how to do research. It is not possible to teach everyone everything about a particular field, be it basket weaving, English literature, science, engineering, whatever. Go to the library and ask for materials and books on a particular topic. Skim an encyclopedia, check out professional magazines. A lot of information can be found using search engines on teh internet. (new motto of the internet: "There's more than porn and cat videos here!") Sitting in a corner like a mushroom will not cut it.
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