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What's the difference between applied physics and engineering? How much overlap is there?

AamirTheWizardAamirTheWizard 0 replies2 threads New Member
I'm thinking about going into engineering (electrical), but I'm also really interested in theory and higher level physics. Would a degree in applied physics prepare you for an engineering job? Also, would the job prospects be as good? Thanks
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Replies to: What's the difference between applied physics and engineering? How much overlap is there?

  • collegemom3717collegemom3717 6841 replies60 threads Senior Member
    If applied physics and engineering had a baby it would be materials science, so take a look at that as a possible field. There is also a major called 'engineering physics' (which lives in the engineering department).


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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 7602 replies61 threads Senior Member
    Look into schools with applied engineering physics major.
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  • bopperbopper 14122 replies100 threadsForum Champion CWRU Forum Champion
    or perhaps you are interested in Engineering Physics
    http://bulletin.case.edu/schoolofengineering/engineeringphysics/

    The Engineering Physics major allows students with strong interests in both physics and engineering to concentrate their studies in the common areas of these disciplines. The Engineering Physics major prepares students to pursue careers in industry, either directly after undergraduate studies, or following graduate study in engineering or physics. Many employers value the unique problem-solving approach of physics, especially in industrial research and development. Its engineering science and design components prepare students to work as professional engineers.

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  • homerdoghomerdog 5221 replies98 threads Senior Member
    edited October 9
    HOw is engineering physics different than physics? What kind of classes make the difference? When I look at the link above, most of those classes and math and physics. Couldn't someone just do a physics major and then make sure to have enough math?
    edited October 9
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  • 1NJParent1NJParent 1448 replies35 threads Senior Member
    Engineering physics is defined differently at different colleges. At some, it's just applied physics. At others, it's more "applied" than applied physics. An applied/engineering physics major is more a physicist than an engineer, with much deeper training in physics. Some examples of applied/engineering physics are semiconductor physics, material science, optics, etc.
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  • eyemgheyemgh 5594 replies122 threads Senior Member
    @xraymancs is well positioned to answer his.
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 7602 replies61 threads Senior Member
  • monydadmonydad 7846 replies158 threads Senior Member
    edited October 9
    Back in the day, at my U (Cornell), The Engineering Physics majors were more geared towards certain applied areas, eg: lasers, materials, solid state, nuclear engineering (I knew a few ROTC guys who were headed towards this).

    Whereas the Physics majors in arts & sciences were more likely overall to be pointed towards, eg, theoretical physics, modern physics, low temperature physics, phase transitions, and astronomy. But there was overlap. The "core" courses were at the same level and basically interchangeable. The differences in "slant" came out mostly in upperclassman electives. many of which were co-listed betyween the two colleges.

    EP majors had to fulfill requirements (eg sophomore engineering distribution courses) of the engineering college, whereas physics majors in Arts & Sciences had to fulfill distribution requirements (eg foreign language) of the Arts & Sciences college.
    edited October 9
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  • Techno13Techno13 223 replies8 threads Junior Member
    The difference may lie in the College you are in (Eng v. A&S) and the Core Requirements associated with it, less so than the major. I'm sure if varies by school but I think of Engineering to be focused on the "how"-- how to develop something to meet a set of objectives. Physics (even applied) I think focuses more on the "why" -- why things work the way they do. They are obviously interrelated and you better have some of both to be both good and useful at whatever you do career-wise.
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  • Techno13Techno13 223 replies8 threads Junior Member
    P.S. I work with hundreds of engineers and physicists and they are very different animals. A few cross over but for the most part you only have to be about 5 minutes into a meeting to tell which is which.
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  • xraymancsxraymancs 4672 replies19 threadsForum Champion Graduate School Forum Champion
    @AamirTheWizard - Sorry for the delay, I have been out of town and otherwise occupied. I think the answers are all very reasonable. Applied Physics is fundamentally a Physics Degree but depending on the program, can have a strong engineering component. Yes, the basis of the curriculum in physics is different than engineering. In physics, you have a broad fundamental knowledge of topics that touch on all areas of engineering. Engineering curricula start with general physics and then move into their specific area which focuses on that section of the engineering space.

    Once you go to a graduate program, at the Ph.D. level, the lines blur a bit. I am a physics professor whose research touches on chemical engineering and materials science as well as physics. I have built synchrotron x-ray beamlines and been involved in all aspects, from the engineering design of mechanical components, to silicon crystal design, to data acquisition and control. I also have a startup company that is making a novel kind of battery which involved electrochemistry materials science and mechanical engineering design.

    The question of whether a physics major can get a job as an engineer and whether an applied or engineering physics major can do so is a topic that is often discussed on this forum. Many engineers would say no but other would say that if the individual has the requisite skills and can learn the job, then no problem. There are some companies that like to hire physics majors because of the breadth of their background.

    The separation between engineering an physics is a bit worse in the US because our curricula are so compartmentalized. In Europe, my experience is that engineers have a much better grounding in physics than engineers in the US. I have seen a number of Engineers from Europe transition very smoothly to a graduate program in physics. This is somewhat harder for Engineering BS graduates form the US.

    If you are interested in the fundamentals of physics and you want a broad background that could lead you to a number of different areas, then Applied Phsics might be a good choice. If you add a selected set of courses to your curriculum form engineering, then you can make yourself a more viable job candidate, even for an engineering job.

    Cheers!
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  • dadof2ddadof2d 212 replies14 threads Junior Member
    Techno13 wrote: »
    P.S. I work with hundreds of engineers and physicists and they are very different animals. A few cross over but for the most part you only have to be about 5 minutes into a meeting to tell which is which.
    Completely agree!
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  • HPuck35HPuck35 2012 replies15 threads Senior Member
    edited October 19
    The answer to your question is: "It depends on the job you are seeking". That doesn't actually answer the question because at this point you don't really know what job. But think of what kind of job you might want and see if your college education prepares you for that job. Ask your professors. Try to talk to other engineers you may know. The key in the end is to be the best prepared you can for the job you seek.

    Just because you go into engineering doesn't mean you have to abandon physics. I had a engineering classmate who also had a passion for physics. He used a lot of his electives to take the physics sequence of classes, which was about 8 classes.
    edited October 19
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