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Why so few Relativity/Gravity groups in the US?

  1. Jul 26, 2010 #1
    Why are there so few research groups that focus on relativity and gravity in the US?

    It may be only my perception, but it seems that studying general relativity is rather "standard" in the UK. The schools I've looked at all seem to have a few classes on relativity at the undergraduate level. At the graduate level, it seems like doing your research on relativity and gravity is much more common there as well.

    If you search for graduate schools in "cosmology/relativity/gravity" in the US-News grad school rankings, it only lists 12 schools with any kind of program in the entire US, and the "top 10" are pretty much all "top 10" schools for Physics in general, i.e., the kind of schools with HUGE physics departments with plenty of areas of research.
    Looking at the top 10 listed....you can't really "bank" on being accepted to anyone...regardless of your application caliber.

    Again, it may be only my perception....but are your choices really pretty limited if you want to focus on some form of geometric physics (relativity, gravity, cosmology, etc) in graduate school in the US?

    If so, does anyone know why it is that way (US vs UK)?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 29, 2010 #2
    Curious - I would also be interested in any answers to this question.
  4. Jul 29, 2010 #3
    There are plenty of institutions in the US that do research on GR-related areas from Gravitational Waves (US having a huge involvement in GW projects such as LISA and LIGO) to CMB related areas (think WMAP/Planck - i.e. constraining models for early universe using observations, the kind of theory work that ties in with observations).

    Some random examples:
    http://physics.fau.edu/research/faust/members.php" [Broken]
    http://www.gravity.phys.uwm.edu/" [Broken]
    http://www.physics.unc.edu/research/theory/gchep/" [Broken]
    http://www.lsa.umich.edu/umich/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=cdc820ffcbcfc11020ffcbcfc1109db1d38dRCRD&linkTypeBegin=channellinkTypeEnd&assetNameBegin=AstrophysicsassetNameEnd#astrosubfields" [Broken]

    These guys do work on areas that use GR. Not sure what you're expecting though?

    The US has a huge range of options for postgraduate research in GR/Cosmology/Gravitation/High Energy/etc.

    As for UK students taking a GR course, it would be fairly typical for Msc/MPhys students to have done an introductory course with many schools offering enough of the basics for 'relativistic astrophysics' but not enough to do any serious GR/Cosmology theory. This seems pretty similar to the US system though with many universities offering a course in GR/Relativity, especially at Masters level.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  5. Jul 29, 2010 #4


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    I really wouldn't use US News to look for specific topics - what you should be doing is finding out where the top researchers are working. I know Montana State has a good gravity group and it's not too hard to get into; Penn State has a group as well.
  6. Jul 29, 2010 #5
    I'm definately going to follow this thread. It is very relevant to my interests. Thanks guys!

    My local school has an amazing Optics/Laser program if anyone is looking for that.
  7. Jul 29, 2010 #6
    Re-reading my post...I don't know that I worded myself well.

    I was curious if it was just "me" or if studying GR was more "standard" in the UK.

    My own feeling from seeing the curriculum of various schools (from looking online myself, visiting sites like this, and searching for GR lecture notes online) it seems like the US has the standard of:
    Every undergraduate physics student studies quantum, usually two courses, but everyone takes at least one.

    While the UK has the standard of:
    Every undergraduate physics/maths student studies quantum AND relativity (in the way that only QM is "standard" in the US), which leads to many more graduate students focusing their research on relativity/gravity.

    Like I said, I may be wrong, but I don't know of any US physics programs without course(s) in QM, but many of them have no GR course at all (my university).

    Every UK program I've seen (admittedly, this is far from all of them) has at least one QM and GR in the undergrad curriculum.
  8. Jul 29, 2010 #7
    In part the way the UK syllabus is structured is due to the requirement that a physics degree be accredited by the Institute of Physics. If you take a look at the website (http://www.iop.org/education/higher_education/accreditation/page_43310.html) and in particular the document towards the bottom of the page "The Physics Degree" pdf then it will outline the core syllabus that UK undergrads go through.

    On top of that there will be variations from university to university often relating to a departments research interests or the type of degree you pursue (e.g. Astrophysics, Theoretical, Applied, Computational). In order to differentiate between a BSc and an MPhys degree (for example) it is often required that the course offer modules beyond the typical syllabus that a BSc student takes and this is quite often in the form of a module on General Relativity, Advanced Quantum Theory/Quantum Field Theory, Particles, Advanced Astro Topics (e.g. Early-Universe Cosmology, ISM, Advanced Stellar, Astrophysical Fluids, etc).

    I'm not quite sure if the US has this type of degree accreditation in which degrees across the universities have to satisfy a basic core syllabus but in practice nearly all physics degree will follow this type of syllabus as it outlines the basics for any further physics you choose to do.

    Hope that helps, :)
  9. Jul 29, 2010 #8


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    Physics degrees in the US don't have any special accreditation other than the normal one the school needs. It's true that GR is rarely taught at the undergrad level (and not always taught at the graduate level either) but the different in the way US and UK programs work means that even though US students spend longer in college, they take fewer physics classes than UK students for the same degree.
  10. Jul 29, 2010 #9
    US schools also have gen-ed requirements, UK schools do not. In the UK, a 4 year degree means 4 years of physics (well, maths as well). Though many universities do offer GR at undergraduate level, I'm not convinced it is a good idea. It is a graduate level topic.
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