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Which sub-fields do these interests direct me towards in physics?

  1. Jun 14, 2013 #1
    I just finished my first year of undergrad. Though I know I have plenty of time to figure it out, I am trying to figure out what sub-field I want to go into.

    In short, I am a non-traditional student, 35 years old, and have studied physics as a hobby since I was a kid. Here are a few of the main factors contributing towards what I will eventually decide on:

    - I have always loved quantum physics, though I know that isn't a choice as far as sub-fields go.

    - The type of things that have interested me most over the years have always been the mysterious; the boundaries of what we do and don't understand.

    - I am 90% certain that I want to pursue theoretical over experimental, just because I like the idea of pushing the envelope.

    - I do like astrophysics, but I don't think I want to be limited to that field. Not sure if it's the same in all colleges, but my college splits into "physics" or "astrophysics" at the BA level.

    - I had been considering particle physics, but many individuals I have talked to have discouraged me due to budget cuts in the field. I'm also not 100% certain that sub-field would take me in the direction I truly want to go. Enter next point...

    - As far as my ideal aspirations, I would love to be involved in a field exploring the theories behind interstellar travel. All I have seen so far is theories/concepts that require exotic matter. Since we don't know if exotic matter even exists, I would love to explore what we *do* have to work with. Even if we couldn't get there in my lifetime, I would love to at least be a contributor towards guiding us in the right direction.

    As far as my last point above, I know that once I pursue work, I will most likely not have the flexibility to pursue what I want such as that. However, I would be very interested in a field that explores concepts like that. Based on my interests above, could anyone give me any suggestions as to what sub-fields I may want to consider?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 14, 2013 #2
    Why isn't quantum physics a choice?

    On the topic of physics vs astrophysics; you mention you don't want to be tied down to just astrophysics. Many colleges don't separate these degrees, it's just physics. If you pursue a "pure" physics degree, there's nothing stopping you from going into astrophysics - you'll have all the necessary tools. This will also give you the freedom you speak of. On the other hand, you can probably go from an astrophysics bachelors to physics Ph.D

    I just finished my first year of university too. While it is smart you're thinking about this kind of stuff, I do all the time, picking a sub-field you want to devote yourself to at this stage in your academic career is nothing but worry. Wait until you've had the chance to do research and so forth. You may pick a field now and hate the research aspect of it. That's just what I've come to see.
  4. Jun 15, 2013 #3
    To add on to what fysika said, you'll be exposed to much more material as you continue in your studies. You'll learn about very exciting stuff that you never knew about. There are too many subfields of physics to list and even a single subfield is broad. Just read about different fields on Wikipedia or whatever and enjoy as you read hyperlink after hyperlink.
  5. Jun 15, 2013 #4
    Because its not really a sub field of physics, its a theory in physics. Every field of physics uses quantum theory (except maybe biological physics).

    I guess this would fit a bit into astro/cosmology or particle/high-energy. But honestly, it looks like you are walking a line between pop-physics fantasy and a "legitimate" sub-field in physics. I think you might have to make a name for yourself in a more traditional field first before getting anybody to pay you to ponder warp drive. :wink:
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2013
  6. Jun 15, 2013 #5
    There are fields like Foundations of Quantum Mechanics which focus purely on the theory itself (how to understand it, in what way it has been verified and not, how to extend it, etc), with some people working on (non-relativistic) QM and others on Quantum Field Theory.

    But concerning your desire to do work related to interstellar travel, that seems to point in the direction of GR. Quantum mechanics and GR are practically combined into the field of "Quantum Field Theory in Curved Spacetime". A more speculative way of combining GR and QM is "Quantum Gravity" or "String Theory" (the difference betwee these and QFT in curved spacetime is that they try to describe gravity itself quantum-mechanically, whereas the other simply uses curved spacetime as a background upon which quantum effects occur).

    I hope this helps somewhat!
  7. Jun 15, 2013 #6
    Thanks for all the feedback so far. I am constantly exploring topics and am in no rush of course considering where I'm at in my education. I just feel that the more time I explore topics, the more confident I will be that I chose the right one when it comes time to do so.

    As far as physics and astrophysics, I was a bit surprised that they split at the BA level. I just assumed it was the norm when I found that out, but I am going to look into it more. Anyway, I am considering the possibility of finishing my BA at either of two different schools, so I will have to look into the other one and see if their BA program is the same or not.
  8. Jun 15, 2013 #7


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    Very few schools even offer a bachelors in Astrophysics from what I've seen. Usually someone that was interested in astrophysics would just major in physics, and fill some of their electives with astronomy courses. I'm in a CC right now, but planning to transfer to UIUC. They offer two different options for astrophysics. You can major in astrophysics, or you can major in physics with an astrophysics concentration. From what I've seen, I personally feel that the astrophysics major leaves out too many crucial physics courses, and focuses too much on astronomy courses. The astro concentration on the other hand, simply adds 6 or so astro electives to your physics major.

    I've been having the same questions lately. I'm only a college sophomore right now, but I keep looking ahead to different courses that I would want to take to go into specific fields. I'm torn between astrophysics, cosmology, particle physics, string theory...or some crazy combination of all of them. Who knows where I'll end up...I've got plenty of time to figure it out though. Good luck!
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