are ethical issues encountered in physics
in experimental physics how do u coup with what ur research is used for like with albert einstien and the nuclear bomb and if u can coup with it is it fun seeing stuff explode in ur lab . #physics #ethics
A friend passed along this question. For reference, let me give you my background. I'm currently working on my PhD in experimental condensed matter physics. I've finished 4 years in my PhD program and have about 2 years left to go. I've published a few academic papers, so I have a decent understanding of how research is done in experimental physics.
They key to being comfortable with the ethics of doing research is to choose your field wisely. Physics covers a vast range of disciplines. Network theorists are helping to map out our understanding of the human brain. Nuclear physicists are working on developing clean (really clean) energy sources. Solid state physicists are developing faster computers. None of these have bomb building implications.
Some people might look at the far reaching implications. For example, in my lab we work with semiconductors that may replace current computers. The speed improvements will enable computers to process vastly larger amounts of data at much quicker speeds. Could this be used to build more intelligent bombs? Probably. Could it also be used to develop assistive technology to enable handicapped people a greater degree of freedom in their lives? Probably. With any increase in knowledge and understanding (not just physics), there comes a possibility for abuse. However, turning away from studying something that has that possibility does not really address the issue. Rather, I think it's more important to have ethical people involved in the research to ensure abuses don't occur.
My advice would be to study a subject you find interesting. The deeper you get into it, no matter what field, you will find ethical questions. It's important to bring them up and discuss them as they arise.
That was a great answer from Tim! Let me try to add my $0.02 to your question regarding what experimental physicist do. I completed my PhD and followed it up with a postdoctoral fellowship (that’s like an apprenticeship that you do to get more independent in your research) in experimental physics. I too, like Tim, worked in semiconductor physics. On a daily basis, my time was spent cooling materials to very low temperatures and understanding their fundamental physical properties. The work involves a lot of ‘doing’ with your hands: fixing leaks, electrical connections, building ‘things’ in the machine shop etc. While I have had unexpected things happen in the lab (not really an explosion but something close to that), trust me, at that point, you really wish it hadn’t happened. ☺ But it does help to have a good humor about it and you develop that only by loving what you do. So my advice is, if you like working with your hands a lot and are very curious about why things are the way they are, experimental physics is a good place to start. If you have more specific questions about what the different fields within experimental physics are, what career options open up by doing an undergrad degree in experimental physics, feel free to ask and I’ll be more than happy to answer.