Reader Questions

Reader Questions: What Majors Study Fluids?

squky asks:

Your blog has truly inspired me to want to major in the field of fluid dynamics, and for that I wholeheartedly thank you. But I’m having some confusion over which discipline (major) it falls under. Would it fall under physics or engineering? And if engineering, which type? (My two-year college doesn’t have an engineering department or much of an upper-level physics department, so there’s little guidance on the particulars.) If you can give me some clarification it would help me a lot.

Firstly, that’s awesome! I’m thrilled that FYFD has been inspiring as that is one of its goals. The study of fluid dynamics is remarkably interdisciplinary. Researchers who study it can be found most often in physics, engineering, theoretical mechanics, and mathematics departments, though also in meteorology, chemistry, planetary science, or even biology. Which one is most likely depends on the school.

Traditionally, fluid mechanics falls under the topic of classical physics but many physics departments focus on modern physics instead. Mechanical and aerospace engineering departments are the most common places to study fluid dynamics–unlike physicists who moved on to quantum mechanics and relativity, engineers have to understand fluid dynamics due to its practicality and applications. Chemical and civil engineers may also study fluid mechanical topics for these reasons. And because the mathematics of fluid dynamics are so rich and full of unsolved problems, mathematicians are also drawn to the subject.

I would recommend looking into the research interests of the professors in your physics and mathematics departments and see if there’s anyone studying fluid dynamics there already. Even if there isn’t, take what courses you can in physics, calculus, partial differential equations, and numerical methods. All of those will stand you in good stead when looking for further programs down the line.

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