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Which area of physics will be the most popular?

  1. Mar 16, 2015 #1

    I'm just curious about this.
    in the next 10-20 years, which area of research in physics do you guys think would become the hottest and most popular?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 16, 2015 #2
  4. Mar 17, 2015 #3
    Quantum information is promising. Biophysics has a large financial initiative behind it; neuroscience, including neurophysics/biophysical aspects of neuroscience, is also quite active.

    Of course nanoscale physics is very exciting.
  5. Mar 17, 2015 #4
    I think biophysics just because it's a safe bet. Any advancement in medicine will mean huge growth opportunities.

    You also see a lot more funding in medical type research so that is also a big reason I think it will take off. We have already seen huge chances in medicine over the last 20 years I only expect that to continue to happen.
  6. Mar 17, 2015 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    As Bohr said, "It is difficult to predict, especially the future."

    In 1985, superconductivity was a dead field. In 1986, it was a hot field. In 1987, it got the Nobel prize. I don't think it is possible to predict a decade or two in the future.
  7. Mar 17, 2015 #6


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    I'm with vanadium. Anyone who thinks he/she can make such prediction with any level of competency and accuracy hasn't look closely enough at the history of physics.

  8. Mar 17, 2015 #7
    Work around complex systems and systems that span scales gets my bet. The trend for many decades now is a larger portion of physicists working in fields and areas that have traditionally not been in physics. Areas like biological physics and neuroscience mentioned above. These are the hardest problems in science, making accurate predictions about systems with more than two but less than an infinite amount of pieces interacting can be very, very hard.
  9. Mar 17, 2015 #8
    I'm interested in biophysics specifically the biophysics of photosynthesis. I hope this will be a good field to enter...
  10. Mar 18, 2015 #9
    You might check out the work being done by Nocera. He is in the chemistry department but obviously there is a lot of cross over in chemistry with physics especially at research level. You can just look at this years nobel prize winners in each category.

  11. Mar 18, 2015 #10
    Could you recommend any study resources on the topic of system physics?
  12. Mar 18, 2015 #11
    I didn't mean to use the word "system" in a technical manner. I just mean a group of constituents and phenomenon bieng studied. Traditionally physicsists study systems like an atom, a solar system or a particular material. These are simplified systems that are studied with great success. Of course the low hanging fruit gets done first. Moving forward, more complicated systems get studied and modeled. Easy examples are from biology since biological systems are so complicated. Things like the brain, the body, an ecosystem. With advances in computing future physicists will have new tools around data collection, processing and storage that were not available to them generations ago. With these new tools more complicated and difficult systems may be studied with real quantitiave results.
  13. Mar 18, 2015 #12
    So Vanadium has a point: for all we know, the LHC will discover completely unexpected physics and HEP will suddenly become an extremely hot field, or plasma wakefield generators will actually become practical etc, completely changing the present paradigm, as an example (insert reference to graphene, topological quantum computation, quantum gravity what have you).

    However that doesn't mean you can't improve your odds of putting yourself in a good position by looking for very active fields and basing your decision on current trends.
  14. Mar 18, 2015 #13


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    Actually, an important point needs to be emphasized here. A field may be "hot" at any given moment, but it doesn't mean that there's a lot of job opportunities in that particular field. HEP is a prime example. With the LHC in the news, a lot of people think it is a "hot" field, but look at the employment rate in that field. In fact, if you are in the US, chances are you are abandoning that field because the US budget has systematically cut DOE HEP budget for the past several years!

    The degree of "hotness" of a field often depends on the funding profile. In the US, the DOE, with budget approval, can often steer the direction of research, such as via establishing the "Science and Technology Centers". This was done in the early 90's for superconductivity, and then later on done for Nanoscience. But these are not easy to predict, and it all depends on what has been discovered, what is considered to be of national importance at the moment, etc. Research on hybrid/electric vehicles, batteries, etc. is "hot" right now because of increase funding, all due to the high cost of oil. But now that oil has been dropping like mad, one can easily foresee the directed funding to go in another direction. Who would have predicted that?

    Again, look at the history of science, and the history of funding, and you tell me if any of you saw these things coming way back then. If you did, then maybe I'll give my attention to you when you make such predictions.

  15. Mar 18, 2015 #14


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    This begs the question to those interested in physics and considering pursuing graduate studies in the field of what area of research to choose. That's why questions like what is asked in this thread is asked to begin with -- no one wants to choose a research topic that will only end up as dead ends by the time the student finishes his/her PhD after 4-6 years.
  16. Mar 18, 2015 #15


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    That is not what the OP asked. He/she asked for the next "10-20 years"!!!!

    If one is really open to any field of physics, then look at an area that has a steady and consistent employment rate! And I will promise you, most of the fields that have such a record are often not well-known, small, and not sexy! These fields often produce graduates that can go either into academia, or private sectors easily, because they are in fields that often have direct applications that are needed. These are fields of physics that are often the "workhorse", where they produce things in support of other areas of physics (accelerators, detectors, devices, etc.). Yet, if they don't make those advances, other fields that depend on them become stagnant (eg. if new acceleration schemes can't be invented, HEP experiments on energy frontier will die with the LHC/ILC).

    So rather than asking what area of physics will be "hot" in "10-20 years", ask which areas of physics have consistently produce high employment rate. Don't beat around the bush by asking what's hot, because that is really vague and meaningless.

  17. Mar 18, 2015 #16
    Ok I see where Zz is coming from now, and I completely agree. I missed the 10-20 year timescale.
  18. Mar 18, 2015 #17
    That looks very interesting but Harvard graduate school may be hard to get into X l
  19. Mar 18, 2015 #18
    10 - 20 years is a long time given the rate of progress over the last 10 - 20.
    In my opinion the hottest topic in 20 years could be something we haven't even thought of yet.
    In terms of what is going on right now though, we may be seeing the first workable fusion reactors in 20 years, which will be keeping a lot of people busy,
    and the discovery of exoplanets, now only just starting really, could become hot too.
    In 20 years it's also possible that a lifespan of ~100 years could be typical.
    We will have to wait and see I guess.
  20. Mar 20, 2015 #19
    One often finds that it is not the specific field of study that is important but the technique used in the research that you have done. Expertise in techniques ,equipment, or software ie useful skills can get you in reverent research. From there on you keeping your ear to the ground seeing where research is leaning you may augment these skills to allow you to follow the direction of these areas. What areas have not yet realized significant applications of their predictions. In any event as noted above you can only see a limited time into the future and tomorrow may open up a new and exciting areas of research and applications.
  21. Mar 20, 2015 #20
    I second this, it is surprisingly common to find individuals who are experts in various techniques to work on a variety of fields. If you are good at say, kinetic Monte Carlo algorithms, you could certainly work on materials physics problems (adatom diffusion for instance) and also biophysics problems (particle diffusion through a membrane). Indeed, I think I saw a paper a long while back where an individual had worked on a kinetic Monte Carlo scheme for particle/anti-particle kinetics in the early universe who also did quite a bit of chemical physics!

    Some areas are more flexible than others though. If you find faculty who state that their research specialty is statistical physics or computational statistical physics, you'll often find that they work on a spectacular breadth of problems, but if somebody says their specialty is string theory it's pretty rare to see them do stuff very far afield... although I did bump into a string theorist who invented a very complicated RNA folding algorithm using field theory once.
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