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Physicists attempt to explain why our physical environment behaves as it does. From Sir Isaac Newton to Albert Einstein to present day physicists, they have tried to unlock the secrets of our physical world. When it comes to space, time and matter, physicists marvel at these scientific phenomena and are trained to solve problems and conduct experiments in this field. Physicists carry out theoretical and applied research to extend our knowledge of natural wonders, developing new processes and devices in fields such as electronics, communications, power generation and distribution, aerodynamics, optics and lasers, remote sensing, and medicine and health.

Physicists may specialize in fields such as astronomy, acoustics, atomic and molecular physics, biophysics, condensed matter or solid state physics, electromagnetics, aerodynamics, health physics, medical physics, metrology, optics and laser physics, nuclear physics, particle physics, plasma physics, subatomic particles and thermodynamics. Physicists work with scientists in many other fields such as engineering, biology, chemistry, geology, mathematics and computer science, and often combine physics with these sciences.

Physicists must be able to think creatively and scientifically when coming up with experimental ideas. A knowledge of these laws not only leads to a most profound understanding of the physical world, but also supplies the world with the insight to develop new and innovative ideas. The technologies and devices which so influence our daily lives are based upon, and in many cases derived from, the laws of physics. Physics is one of the most fascinating and intellectually challenging fields of scientific study. The laws of physics are fundamental to all physical sciences and related fields such as medicine, engineering, electronics, oceanography, meteorology and materials science.

Physicists design and perform experiments with lasers, cyclotrons, telescopes, mass spectrometers, and other equipment. Based on observations and analysis, they attempt to discover and explain laws describing the forces of nature, such as gravity, electromagnetism, and nuclear interactions. Physicists also find ways to apply physical laws and theories to problems in nuclear energy, electronics, optics, materials, communications, aerospace technology, navigation equipment, and medical instrumentation. Advanced physics involves theoretical, experimental and applied research to gain knowledge of natural phenomena. An experiment might focus on astrophysics, which involves examining the relationship between the sun, stars and other forms of energy.

Research physicists write scientific articles and present their work at international conferences. An integral part of being a successful scientist is keeping up on the current technological trends and scientific studies in the field. Physicists who work as professors teach undergraduate and graduate courses and supervise and guide the work of technical staff and graduate students.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Physicists must have an aptitude for physics and mathematics, and be able to pay close attention to detail. Most are fascinated with the way out physical world works, including the phenomena of space, time and matter. Physicists must enjoy working with others as members of a team, while at the same time working alone the ability to reflect on and contemplate larger scientific ideas.

They should have excellent writing and computer skills, and patience and curiosity about the physical world. Successful physicists should enjoy synthesizing information and finding innovative solutions to problems, using sophisticated instruments and equipment to perform tasks requiring precision, and supervising the work of others.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Design and conduct research in experimental, theoretical and applied physics
  • Carry out analysis of research data and prepare research reports
  • Participate as a member of a research or development team in the design and development of experimental, industrial or medical equipment, instrumentation and procedures
  • Conduct research to understand fundamental processes in nature and find practical applications
  • Provide support services for activities such as radiation therapy, diagnostic imaging or seismology
  • Conduct experiments with radiation, light, sound, heat, electricity and magnetism
  • Use the experiments to test and prove ideas, and to help develop new ideas in physics
  • Design, build and test experimental equipment and instruments
  • Write reports on study results and present this information at conferences
  • Write papers for scientific journals
  • May develop new materials, processes or technologies
  • May work with medical doctors on radiation treatment in cancer patients
  • Physicists generally work in laboratories, classrooms or offices. They may also work outdoors conducting experiments. Physicists generally work standard 40-hour workweeks, with occasional overtime when deadlines or experiments are looming. Travel is often required to conferences and seminars.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Physicists work for electronic, electrical and aerospace manufacturing companies, telecommunications companies, power utilities, university and government research laboratories, hospitals, science museums and by a wide range of other processing, manufacturing, and research and consulting firms.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Employment opportunities for physicists vary depending upon what type of degree they have. Those with bachelor's and master's degrees are more likely to be employed in design and development, teaching at the high school or college level, and administration or sales. Physicists with PhDs are more likely to be involved in basic or applied research and teaching at the university level.

Advancement opportunities vary depending on the place of employment and type of work done by each individual physicist. Physicists involved in research, or research and development may become project supervisors, directors of research laboratories or managers of research departments. Some physicists eventually move into purely administrative or management positions. Another option is becoming a scientific writer or working at a science museum.

  Educational Paths  
Most physicists begin their postsecondary education with a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in physics, and then go on to earn a master's and a PhD degree in physics or a sub-discipline of physics. Physicists who wish to do original research generally need to obtain a PhD and spend one to five years in post-doctoral research in a university or government laboratory. In medical physics, one to two years of post-degree clinical (residency) training is required.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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