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What should I minor in with my Nuclear Engineering B.A.

  1. Jul 31, 2015 #1
    I am a sophomore (2nd year) at Idaho State University and am considering doing a minor in either Physics or Math, but I have not decided. I received a 3.55 GPA my first year. I want to attend graduate school after my B.A. and eventually pursue a P.h.D. I am interested in nuclear power in space... As we need an alternative to the current RTG system because of their inneficiencies and use of Plutonium, which we are nearly out of. If that field does not open up I have recently been looking into a possibly Medical Physics/Nuclear Medicine... but that is if nuclear power has no future in space.


    If I were to minor in Physics then I would need to take 10 additional credits:

    http://coursecat.isu.edu/undergraduate/scienceengineering/physics/#programstext [Broken]

    PHYS 3301 Advanced Modern Physics - 3 credits
    PHYS 4403 Advanced Modern Physics II - 3 credits
    Physics Elective - 4 credits

    If I was to choose a Math minor would need to take an upper division math elective.


    Any recommendations on what minor I should pursue? Also does my ultimate dream of Nuclear Power in space have a future? The funding currently does not seem to be out there for that research. (Although I did read that somebody was testing a more efficient plutonium battery for future expeditions)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
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  3. Jul 31, 2015 #2

    Student100

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    For some reason the link isn't working. A physics minor might be more applicable than math in this case. Space power generation is still a very active field, and I believe NASA has several projects ongoing looking for ways to power the next generation of ion engines. RTG's can also run on americium, so I don't believe plutonium supply shortages are a major driving factor here. I think it has more to do with RTG power density.

    Anyway, good luck!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  4. Jul 31, 2015 #3
    Definitely go for physics, the quantum covered in those courses seems pretty useful for nuclear engineering.
     
  5. Jul 31, 2015 #4

    QuantumPion

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    Since Project Prometheus was cancelled in 2005 there hasn't been much work for nuclear space applications. If you still have your sights on that field you will need a nuclear engineering degree, likely up to masters level. At the very least, taking most of the core nuclear engineering classes with a physics degree. Nuclear engineering is pretty specific and a general physics degree won't cover the same areas useful for practical applications. Definitely have a fall-back plan for alternate career paths though.
     
  6. Aug 1, 2015 #5
    Should I change my major to Physics and do Nuclear in graduate school? I have thought about doing this because the general Physics degree seems more versatile and makes more options available to me at the graduate level.
     
  7. Aug 1, 2015 #6
    Well if you're certain you're interested in Nuclear then going with that is probably the best bet. Depending what area you specialise in some aspects of the higher level physics courses may be irrelevant (e.g. if you don't do fusion/plasmas EM is less desirable). It's a fairly uncommon major though so Nuclear departments are probably used to accepting people from other engineering or possibly physics backgrounds for grad school quite commonly.

    However keep in mind you probably won't have the engineering thermodynamics and fluid mechanics in a physics major that you would in a NE major, not to mention aspects of engineering design. A physics minor is a logical choice and probably sufficient for your purposes. If you really want to broaden things you can take a couple physics electives beyond the minor in more advanced physics topics, but the benefit of this is questionable.
     
  8. Aug 1, 2015 #7
    Would I be able to switch from Nuclear Engineering to a Physics graduate degree? I have read many posts on this site about going from other disciplines to Physics at the graduate level. I am not 100% sold on the NE degree, like I once was. It seems to have less research opportunities on groundbreaking things and a lot less Physics than I first anticipated. I knew Engineering would not have a ton of Physics, but I expected more. I was looking into maybe doing Nuclear Physics or another specialization of Physics at the graduate level. With that information, would you advise that I change my major? Or would a simple Physics minor suffice to get into a graduate Physics program.
     
  9. Aug 1, 2015 #8

    QuantumPion

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    I would say majoring in physics would limit you almost exclusively to grad school and further physics research in academia. A nuclear engineering bachelors would allow you to go straight into industry if you managed to find your ideal career, keep going into nuclear grad school, or switch back to physics for grad school. A minor in physics would certainly help you keep your options open for grad school but an engineering bachelor's degree is far more versatile. Even if you are intent on pure research/grad school, if you like nuclear physics you might be better off still majoring in nuclear engineering because a physics bachelor's is more spread out topic wise.

    If you are for certain interested in nuclear power for space applications, I would strongly recommend the nuclear engineering bachelors/masters route. Designing nuclear power applications for space is very much the realm of engineering, not theoretical physics, and you will need the background in thermodynamics, and other engineering courses.
     
  10. Aug 1, 2015 #9
    I am pretty certain that I will be doing grad school because learning and researching has always interested me. Also Idaho State's Physics program boasts a 100% job placement after college over the past 5 years. However, you are saying that I could go from NE with a Physics minor straight into a Physics grad program? That seems to contradict some of the Nuclear Physics and other Physics programs requirements. I quote Columbia "Three years of fundamental undergraduate physics courses, individual laboratories, and a working knowledge of ordinary differential equations are generally required for admission."

    If you are right, then I have no reason to second guess my major. But, everything I have read, or at least top programs, desire a Physics degree. (Columbia's does not say a Physics degree, but other programs do)
    http://physics.columbia.edu/applying
     
  11. Aug 1, 2015 #10

    QuantumPion

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    Well best advice is to talk to your adviser to see what the requirements are and what route you should take, but you can always try both and see which you like better. I initially was going to double major in nuclear engineering and physics, then I downgraded to a minor in physics, and by the end just dropped physics altogether as I realized engineering was what I was really interested in, even if it was cutting edge/theoretical engineering research. I was just not into theoretical physics once I tried it out and saw what it was really about. YMMV.

    Again I'll just stress that if what you are really interested in is nuclear power for space applications, your best bet is absolutely a nuclear engineering degree. You could also mix in some aerospace engineering as well.
     
  12. Aug 1, 2015 #11
    You can probably get into a physics grad school with a NE degree and physics minor if you take one or two carefully selected upper division physics electives
     
  13. Aug 6, 2015 #12
    What sort of work would a Physicist do as opposed to a Nuclear Engineer in terms of space?
     
  14. Aug 6, 2015 #13

    Student100

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    The entire field of astronomy? :cool:

    I know that's not what you meant. At places like NASA the line between engineer and physicist gets blurred. Many will work hand in hand, it's similar in many other government agencies. R&D contractors also employee both, and they will also work hand in hand.

    In nuclear power generation facilities I would assume there is a larger engineer to physicist ratio. Honestly, if you want to do nuclear design work, nuclear engineering is a fine choice (and probably the best choice.)
     
  15. Aug 6, 2015 #14

    Student100

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    Still work going on in their next gen propulsion branch out of necessity.
     
  16. Aug 6, 2015 #15
    What would you say is Nuclear Design Work? My biggest thing is that I do not want to work at a reactor... even the thought of that turns me off. I took a Mechanical Engineering Materials class last semester and that was the most boring and least interesting class I have ever taken. I overloaded on credits that semester and took 6 classes before dropping the Materials class mid-way. (20 credits down to 17)

    I had gotten 2 D's on my Engineering Physics tests in the beginning of that semester(overloaded at that time), but I improved after those 2. 76%,88%, 108%, ~98% on final. I had to work my tail off to climb out of that hole, but I got a B. I got 99.8% in my high school physics course. (My Calc 3 grade was hurt because of this Physics class... I got a B, but that is because I only studied 1 day a week for Calc. 3)

    I mention the above story because I am worried that I may not be good enough for a Physics major, as I had to work really hard. I noticed also that as a Physics major I would have fewer classes per semester, which would allow me to spend more time on each.

    Would a Physicist play a bigger role or would a NE major play a bigger role in the future exploration of space?
     
  17. Aug 6, 2015 #16

    Student100

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    Both, it isn't an either/or situation. More engineers are hired at GA simply because there are more engineers. Space exploration, where nuclear engineering plays a role, will be predominantly federal and their contractors. There are commercial entities, but I doubt they'll go into the nuclear realm any time soon. They hire both Physicists and NE's, often times for the same job posting, on the samish pay-scale, ect. The difference is that the Physcists often need a PhD, while NE's can get away with BS/MS.

    You don't want to work at a reactor? It sounded like earlier you wanted to design a reactor! Why wouldn't you want to work on one? I don't know exactly all what nuclear engineering design entails, I'm not an NE. Hopefully someone else who's worked in this field will respond.

    As a nuclear engineer you won't be limited to nuclear engineering. Many branch off to do other types of engineering.You could wind up doing something related to space exploration completely unrelated to nuclear.

    All in all, choose what major you feel passionate about. If you realllllyyyy want to do nuclear work, major in NE. A PhD in physics or a BS/MS in NE get's you a shot at the door to NASA/other GA. Try to intern there in the summers if possible, they have student programs. Further, ensure you can get and maintain a security clearance. You'll need a TS for any nuclear work with the government. (So no drugs, convictions, crazy debt, strange foreign contacts..ect)
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2015
  18. Aug 6, 2015 #17
    I have always kept myself clean on everything for the purpose of being able to pass a security clearance. I don't even use Facebook for privacy. This decision is driving me insane (Physics vs NE)... I want to major in Physics to do original research that may one day have an affect on society. My life goal has always been to make an impact on the world. I believe my heart is calling me to Physics, but I am scared that I may not be good enough for that major. (Based on my experiences in Engineering Physics 1) I could do Physics for days... I did nearly every Physics problem in my book after those first 2 tests... Will my work ethic allow me to succeed in Physics? Or am I just not gifted enough for this major?
     
  19. Aug 6, 2015 #18

    Student100

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    Being gifted has nothing to do with it. Work hard, study hard, and play sparingly. Anyone is capable of studying physics.

    Just don't be swayed by illusions of grandeur, you still seem a bit naive in that regard. Physics can be exceedingly dull at times, like anything else. Take some time and think about it, speak to advisers at your school. Perhaps even meet with some physics professors and NE professors, and get their take.
     
  20. Aug 6, 2015 #19
    I have no doubt that it can be dull as anything can be and I don't expect to be living a grandiose life. I do dream of making a difference in the world, but I know that to have research that ultimately has an affect or places my name in history etc is extremely rare. But is that not every physicist/researcher's dream? (to make a discovery that is earth shattering) I am still in contemplation about my major, but I need to choose within 2 weeks (roughly), as to avoid buying books for a class(Statics) that I may not be taking.
     
  21. Aug 6, 2015 #20

    QuantumPion

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    There's a wide range of sub fields. There are plenty of nuclear engineering careers that do not work at reactors - probably more so than do. Some areas are more mechanical engineering related - designing pumps, heat exchangers, etc. Others are more nuclear physics related, and are heavily computer oriented and share a great deal with math and computer science. I assume you are more interested in the physics side of things than the mechanical aspects, since you said you were bored in your engineering class. What got you interested in nuclear space applications to begin with? That might give us a better idea of how to guide you.
     
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