Physics is the branch of Science that specializes in the study of matter, how it moves, and its behavior through space and time. Physics also focuses on the study of energy and force. It is the common goal of all Physicists to understand how the universe works, its nature, and its origin. They study the natural laws under which the universe, time, space, and all related elements coexist.
Physicists can be divided into two main disciplines, Experimental Physics, concerned with the observation and study of physical phenomena and conducting experiments; and Theoretical Physics, which uses mathematical models and simulations to understand, explain, and predict natural phenomena. They usually work alongside other scientists in order to uncover or study the universe and its elements.
Like in most branches of Science, there are several subcategories in the world of Physics beyond Experimental and Theoretical. Many Physicists choose to follow a path focused on the study of a particular area of matter. Some of these specializations include thermodynamics, nuclear physics, quantum physics, astronomy, and astrophysics.
These professionals are employed mainly in three sectors: academic institutions, laboratories, and private industries. Physicists working in academia usually conduct research for the sole advancement of science and human knowledge; they may also teach Physics to undergraduate and graduate students. Laboratories may be privately or government funded and Physicists working in them usually serve as consultants for military affairs and environmental issues. Finally, Physicists working in the private sector usually work as technology developers for companies and manufacturers.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of common tasks Physicists are required to complete.
- Observing the behavior and properties of matter and the transformation and propagation of energy:
- Using specialized equipment (e.g. lasers, masers, spectrometers, and telescopes) to identify the fundamental principles governing phenomena;
- performing complex calculations as part of data analysis and evaluation;
- documenting observations and conclusions in mathematical terms;
- developing theories and laws to explain the behavior of matter and energy based on observations and experiments; and
- designing mathematical models and computer simulations to mimic and explain phenomena.
- Reporting experimental results by publishing papers in scientific journals and presenting findings and results in scientific conferences:
- Further expanding the boundaries of scientific achievements and knowledge;
- contributing to the scientific community; and
- liaising with colleagues and other scientists in the design and developing of new scientific equipment and experiments.
- Teaching Physics to undergraduate and graduate students:
- Tutoring students pursuing bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in Physics and any of its subcategories.
- Developing and manufacturing specialized scientific and technological equipment for research, commercial, medical, industrial, or military purposes in collaboration with colleagues and Engineers:
- Designing devices both sensitive to and that emit light (e.g. lasers, masers, and infrared);
- collaborating with other Scientists and specialists to test new equipment; and
- conducting application evaluations to determine uses of new technologies.
- Working with and handling radioactive materials and atomic energy-related facilities and equipment:
- Testing and monitoring levels of radioactive contamination of equipment and laboratory personnel;
- recording and tracking levels of radioactive exposure of personnel to avoid health and safety hazards;
- establishing and following the standards of concentrations allowed for radioactive isotopes, liquids, and gases;
- establishing safety protocols and procedures;
- researching the environmental impact of radioactive activity, the atomic energy industry, and other industrial activities; and
- advising and counseling government authorities on safety procedures regarding radiation incidents and activities.
- Carrying out research in both theoretical and experimental Physics.
- Analyzing and interpreting research data and results.
- Developing mathematical models and simulations to explain the behavior of matter and energy.
- Documenting findings and experiment result.
- Liaising and collaborating with other Scientists to develop new methods and further expand the boundaries of science.
- Developing new technologies and equipment for research, commercial, or military purposes.
- Teaching and tutoring Physics students.
- Handling and working with radioactive equipment and facilities.
- Advising and counseling government authorities in the use of radioactive materials and their impact on the environment.
The average Physicist salary in USA is $62,734 per year or $32 per hour. This is around 2.2 times more than the Median wage of the country. Entry level positions start at $44,000 while most experienced workers make up to $88,000. These results are based on 64 salaries extracted from job descriptions.
- Outstanding knowledge of Physics, Mathematics, and the scientific method:
- Conducting scientific experiments and research on physical data;
- collecting and sorting data and findings from experiments and research; and
- analyzing and documenting data.
- Strong computer and numerical skills:
- Handling specialized software and using special equipment to collect, interpret, and sort data; and
- designing and developing computer models and simulations.
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills:
- Communicating clearly, both verbally and in writing, in order to create a clear and communicative environment with co-workers in the laboratory;
- being able to read and write technical reports and give presentations;
- liaising with other Physicists and Scientists; and
- being able to work cohesively as part of a team.
- Analytical, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills:
- Identifying issues and resolving problems in a timely manner using critical thinking and good judgment;
- being precise and accurate in their analyses, since errors could invalidate their research; and
- determining if results and conclusions are based on sound science.
Job opportunities for Physicists are widely available in the industrial sector, academic institutions, and laboratories. Physicists are required to possess at least a bachelor’s degree in Physics in order to be able to apply for entry-level jobs in their field, mostly in government agencies and offices. This degree enables Physicians to work as technicians and research assistants in laboratories or any other related field. Therefore, further specialization is often required.
Many Physicists don’t enter the work field until they have achieved a master’s or a doctoral degree in their area of expertise. Obtaining these degrees can take a few years, during which they are expected to conduct research and obtain the valuable experience they’ll need later to apply for a job. At first, Physicians will work under the supervision of senior Scientists, but once they get more experience, they’ll be able to work on their own.
Some Physicists work with radioactive materials and facilities that can be potentially dangerous to themselves and populations. This type of activity is closely monitored and sanctioned by the government. In these cases, Physicists are required to have a Ph.D. that validates their expertise, as well as having to adhere to strict safety and security regulations, such as being an American citizen and having a security clearance.
Physicists usually work in laboratories and are likely to travel a lot, as they need to attend or give conferences and lectures, as well as to do further research and meet other colleagues. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Defense are the most popular places for Physicists to work at.