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Why study Plasma physics?

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

Hey everyone! I know you probably see new messages like this pop up quite a bit, but I am legitimately curious on this one. I have seen a few threads on the subject as in how to get into the field. I was personally wondering: Why should one study plasma physics?
What kind of questions does it try to answer?
What opportunities exist for someone who studies in this field?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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49
Why study it? Because you find it interesting! However I would not recommend it as a career path unless you are an immaculately conceived genius...there just aren't enough jobs in this field for everyone that studies it. You'll more than likely end up doing something other than plasma physics when you finish your education.

The best book to get started studying it would probably be An Introduction to Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion by Francis Chen
 
  • #3
Thanks for that. I saw you made a post earlier on the subject. Did you end up going into Plasma physics or did you go for the math side of things, if I may ask?
 
  • #4
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Sent you a pm
 
  • #5
jasonRF
Science Advisor
Gold Member
1,258
303
100% agree with Hercuflea. I did my graduate work in plasma physics, although in an EE department so was able to claim "electrical engineer" when the job search started. I loved the field but I haven't used it since. Make sure you have a solid backup career plan if you go that route.
jason
 
  • #6
595
49
100% agree with Hercuflea. I did my graduate work in plasma physics, although in an EE department so was able to claim "electrical engineer" when the job search started. I loved the field but I haven't used it since. Make sure you have a solid backup career plan if you go that route.
jason
I did my MS in plasma...although I wasn't so lucky as to be able to claim being an engineer! :/. It's the most fascinating subject I have ever studied...but that's about all it's good for on the job market. Making people go "wow" and then throwing your resume in the trash.
 
  • #7
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One of the things I found amazing about plasma physics is the following. We are all used to the idea that a baseball thrown with more velocity encounters greater drag, which ultimately limits the velocity of the baseball. However in plasma, you can have runaway phenomena. That is you can encounter a situation where the friction coefficient is a decreasing function of the velocity. A particle can encounter less dynamic friction as it travels faster and faster. This is only one aspect of the collective properties of plasma.
 
  • #8
As an undergraduate who plans to study plasma physics in graduate school, the comments on job prospects are disheartening but very humbling to know what I and many others will face down the road.. It's a shame that this seems to be the trend in physics (very low chance of getting a job in your field of study), but I guess it is what it is. Also, thanks to the OP for making this thread, I am also genuinely curious about some aspect of the field itself.
 
  • #9
StatGuy2000
Education Advisor
1,740
823
Perhaps I'm mistaken, but my understanding is that there is not a single area of physics out there (with the possible exception of medical physics, geophysics, and perhaps accelerator physics, depending on where you are located), with good job prospects that is directly relevant to the field of study outside of academia. Even areas that supposedly have applications in industry (e.g. condensed matter physics, optics) have relatively few job openings.

What a physics education can or should provide would be marketable skills that could be used in areas outside of your field of education (e.g programming skills, skills in analyzing large data, mathematical modelling). That's why you find many physics graduates working in fields such as data science/statistical analysis, software development, finance, or business consulting (anecdotally the 4 largest industries that hire physics graduates, based on what I've scanned on LinkedIn, along with people I know who have graduated in physics).

However, one could argue that none of the industries mentioned above directly use physics knowledge, and graduates from other programs (e.g. math, statistics, operations research, engineering) may well have the same set of skills, and perhaps have an easier time finding work in these industries. I have seen posts on PF indicating that studying physics is unwise and a waste of time, so buyer beware may be in order?
 
  • #10
StatGuy2000 I noticed that too with physics. As soon as I put it on my Linkedin profile I started getting all of these job leads for data analysis and whatnot. A lot of alumni from my school's physics program also went the route of business something or programming.

Grad school is something that I decided I want to do about two years ago and discussed it with a lot of undergrad professors in my department to see what they thought. After some discussion on this with them, I figured that I have a pretty decent chance of succeeding in grad school, but I wanted to see what others experiences were and why they ended up choosing this field in particular.

Would anyone happen to know of any other threads similar to this one, that discuss other branches of physics? I hadn't been able to see any yet. Most of them just deal with how to get into programs that study those things. I am looking more into what about those programs make them appealing to people. (The why behind it all)
 

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