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Old   September 21, 2010, 03:18
Default physics phD to CFD?
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So I'm considering applying to physics or applied physics grad programs. But I'm also considering doing CFD as a career since I don't want to go into academia. I would like to do research work in industry, especially in aerospace/defense. Because I like doing computational work on physical problems, CFD sounds like a great fit. I don't want to apply to applied math programs since I'm more interested in the physical aspect of the problem. Also, I'd rather apply to physics programs since those have more areas of research (astronomy, condensed matter, lasers, etc) that interest me than AE/ME programs. In AE/ME, CFD really is the only area of research that interests me (I like courses in heat transfer, but not the current research in it). Also, I just like to solve theoretical rather than applicable problems.

However, I haven't seen CFD as a separate research area in physics programs, but rather that its used in astrophysics, plasma physics, etc. What if I do research in an area that doesn't use CFD?

Has anyone here heard of someone getting a phD in physics unrelated to CFD, say in doing n-body simulations, but was still able to get a job doing CFD in aerospace/defense? How would I be able to do that? Just learn how to use CFD in my free time?
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Old   October 3, 2010, 15:07
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so has anyone heard of a physics phD graduate doing CFD in aerospace/defense? If so, is it possible to do it by doing a phD in something unrelated to aerodynamics, such as astrophysics, materials science, etc?
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Old   October 3, 2010, 16:10
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My background is from theoretical physics. However, I became a defector before I started my research work as a PhD student. I took my MSc degree in Engineering Physics. During my third course in quantum physics, after I had studied theoretical physics at the graduate level for a year, I started to realize that my ideas about theoretical physics wasn't true. For a long time I had been sure that I wanted to work with theoretical physics. But suddenly I realized that what I like is classical physics and Newtons laws. General relativity and Schrödinger's equations are too abstract to be any fun. At least that's what I think.

I am very happy that I switched to CFD. CFD is one of the few "classical physics" problems that you can work with and still do meaningful research. Now, 20 years later, I work in industry, still with CFD, and I'm very happy with my choice. CFD is changing though. What was fun about CFD 10 or 20 years ago is slowly becoming only commercial codes and standardized design practises.

When you have finished your MSc degree and want to select a PhD topic I do think that it is time to decide what you want to do after you are finished though.
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Old   October 3, 2010, 20:14
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During my third course in quantum physics, after I had studied theoretical physics at the graduate level for a year, I started to realize that my ideas about theoretical physics wasn't true. For a long time I had been sure that I wanted to work with theoretical physics. But suddenly I realized that what I like is classical physics and Newtons laws. General relativity and Schrödinger's equations are too abstract to be any fun. At least that's what I think.
Yes, I sort of felt the same way. I had thought for sure that i wanted to go into theoretical physics, but then realized that some of the concepts were too abstract for my liking, such as in quantum, but especially in thermo and E&M. But overall, I would say I like learning it more so than the concepts in aerospace engineering.


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I am very happy that I switched to CFD. CFD is one of the few "classical physics" problems that you can work with and still do meaningful research. Now, 20 years later, I work in industry, still with CFD, and I'm very happy with my choice. CFD is changing though. What was fun about CFD 10 or 20 years ago is slowly becoming only commercial codes and standardized design practises.
What do you mean CFD is slowly becoming only commercial codes and standardized design practices? How was it more interesting before?
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Old   October 4, 2010, 10:00
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But overall, I would say I like learning it more so than the concepts in aerospace engineering.
Aerospace engineering is a very wide field. Surely it is good to have taken a few courses that cover the basics in the field you end up working with, but it isn't critical. It is more important to learn the basic physics and the tools of the trade (CFD in this case).

I would describe myself as an aerodynamicists who has a fairly good knowledge about the "aero-tool" CFD. I work with aerospace engineering, or more precisely, turbomachinery. As a PhD student I did research on heat transfer in space rocket engines and now I mainly work with commercial aero-engines (gas-turbines). However, I don't think it would be impossible for me to switch to a completely different application far away from aerospace. I could just as well work with automotive, nuclear or even medical applications.

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What do you mean CFD is slowly becoming only commercial codes and standardized design practices? How was it more interesting before?
CFD is becoming a standardized tool. CFD is still difficult though and requires long experience and knowledge about what you can trust and how you should simulate things. As industry implements CFD in their standard design practises it becomes essential to have standardized CFD procedures that have been validated.

20 years ago CFD was not used very much in the design process. Creating a new CFD procedure and doing it the right way could then revolutionize things. That made it fun (and dangerous).

Today commercial codes are slowly replacing in-house developed codes. This is a necessity as CFD becomes more frequently used.

Both of these trends - commercial codes and standardized design practises are necessary, but they make it less fun to be a CFD engineer since it kind of reduces our freedom to innovate and revolutionize things.

A benefit from having a much more mature CFD process is that it opens up new possibilities of revolutionizing designs though. With CFD you can much more easily test completely novel design concepts. I would say that as CFD matures it is becoming less interesting to be a CFD engineer but more fun to be an aero-designer who uses CFD.
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Old   October 4, 2010, 16:14
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Aerospace engineering is a very wide field...
I would describe myself as an aerodynamicists who has a fairly good knowledge about the "aero-tool" CFD. I work with aerospace engineering, or more precisely, turbomachinery. As a PhD student I did research on heat transfer in space rocket engines and now I mainly work with commercial aero-engines (gas-turbines).
I did like heat transfer theory, and CFD looks interesting. But if I go into aerodynamics, I don't really want to learn about turbomachinery, engines, or turbines, since in general I don't have much interest in practical things. So I guess AE isn't for me. I was more interested in using CFD to model say the flight of a missile or the explosions path. Maybe I can do that with a physics or astrophysics phD?
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Old   October 4, 2010, 16:33
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If you are not interested in turbomachinery, engines or turbines then I don't really see why you would like to work with it. Why don't you choose an application area that interest you instead? CFD can be used in so many different types of applications - aerospace and turbomachinery, environment and pollutions, medicine, automotive, electronics cooling, HVAC, safety, nuclear, astophysics .... If you are interested in astrophysics you can work with CFD in that field. Why bother with aerospace if it doesn't interest you?
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Old   October 4, 2010, 18:35
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If you are not interested in turbomachinery, engines or turbines then I don't really see why you would like to work with it. Why don't you choose an application area that interest you instead? CFD can be used in so many different types of applications - aerospace and turbomachinery, environment and pollutions, medicine, automotive, electronics cooling, HVAC, safety, nuclear, astophysics .... If you are interested in astrophysics you can work with CFD in that field. Why bother with aerospace if it doesn't interest you?
I am interested in using CFD for defense and aerospace purposes. As I mentioned earlier, I would like to use CFD to model say the flight of a missile or the explosions path. Or I would like to use something other than CFD for computational work for defense applications, such as for lasers and other weapons.

I just mentioned astrophysics as an example of whether I can do something that doesn't have real world applications, but still be able to do CFD work in aerospace/defense after getting my phD? Because I want to work in a research lab or in aerospace/defense (such as the Sandia lab) after getting my phD. Out of the applications you mentioned, nuclear and astrophysics look interesting but the others don't
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Old   October 5, 2010, 07:51
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I did like heat transfer theory, and CFD looks interesting. But if I go into aerodynamics, I don't really want to learn about turbomachinery, engines, or turbines, since in general I don't have much interest in practical things. So I guess AE isn't for me. I was more interested in using CFD to model say the flight of a missile or the explosions path. Maybe I can do that with a physics or astrophysics phD?
If you want to do more exciting things than running Fluent all day, I think you are better off staying at university or a governmental research institute after you got your PhD.
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Old   October 5, 2010, 16:56
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If you want to do more exciting things than running Fluent all day, I think you are better off staying at university or a governmental research institute after you got your PhD.
yeah, my ultimate goal is to work in a government, military, or industrial research lab related to weapons, but I'd imagine the latter looks for engineering, not physics backgrounds
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Old   October 7, 2010, 11:52
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Ya, I think number 1 would be to get a PhD, then go to work for a government facility (national lab, etc..). It sounds like you are sort where I am in, currently in a PhD program in Aerospace Engineering, and very interested in CFD. I, too, like the theoretical aspect of CFD/fluids, but in engineering, we are expected to have an end product. So I would think about doing a joint applied math-aerospace graduate program, and working with a very CFD oriented professor. Any route you take, you'll have to take a few classes you won't be crazy about.

Good luck!
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Old   October 7, 2010, 19:58
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Ya, I think number 1 would be to get a PhD, then go to work for a government facility (national lab, etc..). It sounds like you are sort where I am in, currently in a PhD program in Aerospace Engineering, and very interested in CFD. I, too, like the theoretical aspect of CFD/fluids, but in engineering, we are expected to have an end product. So I would think about doing a joint applied math-aerospace graduate program, and working with a very CFD oriented professor. Any route you take, you'll have to take a few classes you won't be crazy about.

Good luck!
I heard thats almost as hard to get hired at the national labs as it is for academia. But the military research labs, like AFRL, ARL, NRL, etc seem to do really interesting stuff.

Anyways, after doing some more reading on CFD for missiles and weapons, it sounds like something I'd be interested in, as long as theres research involved and not just running computer codes all day.

They have joint applied math-AE grad programs? I haven't seen those. But yes, if I go into AE, I could take alot of applied math courses I suppose

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Originally Posted by jola
CFD is becoming a standardized tool. CFD is still difficult though and requires long experience and knowledge about what you can trust and how you should simulate things. As industry implements CFD in their standard design practises it becomes essential to have standardized CFD procedures that have been validated...


Both of these trends - commercial codes and standardized design practises are necessary, but they make it less fun to be a CFD engineer since it kind of reduces our freedom to innovate and revolutionize things.
What does that say about the research into aerodynamics? Are the research opportunities in computational aerodynamics going to decrease in the future?
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Old   October 8, 2010, 08:13
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What does that say about the research into aerodynamics? Are the research opportunities in computational aerodynamics going to decrease in the future?
Research on basic CFD topics, like numerical modeling of the NS equations, turbulence modeling etc. will most likely decrease. I think that this is already happening. The focus is changing to other things instead.

There will be less research on new numerical schemes and new turbulence models. Instead there will be more research on, for example, multi-physics, aero-acoustics, validations of novel design concepts, complex new applications (medicine, ...).
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Old   October 9, 2010, 16:15
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Research in Aerodynamics is still very much alive! I think this will remain so for the coming decades.

The focus/challenges nowadays is on computation of turbulence (LES, DNS), fluid structure interaction, error estimation and uncertainty quantification. Also combining the fields of numerical aerodynamics and experimental aerodynamics in one framework using the latter is an interesting research direction.

On the courses, I would take numerical analysis, turbulence, gasdynamics (explosions ) and functional analysis (really nice if you want to do FEM) to have a solid basis.
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