conduct research to understand the nature of the universe and everything
in it. These scientists observe, measure, interpret, and develop
theories to explain celestial and physical phenomena using mathematics.
From the vastness of space to the infinitesimal scale of subatomic
particles, they study the fundamental properties of the natural world
and apply the knowledge gained to design new technologies. Physicists
generally specialize in one of many specialty
explore and identify basic principles and laws governing the motion,
energy, structure, and interactions of matter. Some physicists study
theoretical areas, such as the nature of time and the origin of the
universe; others apply their knowledge of physics to practical areas,
such as the development of advanced materials, electronic and optical
devices, and medical equipment.
design and perform experiments with sophisticated equipment such as
lasers, particle accelerators, electron microscopes, and mass
spectrometers. On the basis of their observations and analysis, they
attempt to discover and explain laws describing the forces of nature,
such as gravity, electromagnetism, and nuclear interactions. Experiments
also help physicists find ways to apply physical laws and theories to
problems in nuclear energy, electronics, optics, materials,
communications, aerospace technology, and medical instrumentation.
Most physicists work in research and development. Some conduct basic
research with the sole aim of increasing scientific knowledge. Others
conduct applied research and development, which builds upon the
discoveries made through basic research to develop practical
applications of this knowledge, such as new devices, products, and
processes. For example, knowledge gained through basic research in
solid-state physics led to the development of transistors and, then,
integrated circuits used in computers.
also design research equipment, which often has additional unanticipated
uses. For example, lasers are used in surgery, microwave devices
function in ovens, and measuring instruments can analyze blood or the
chemical content of foods. A small number of physicists work in
inspection, testing, quality control, and other production-related jobs
Much physics research is done in small or medium-sized laboratories.
However, experiments in plasma, nuclear, and high-energy physics, as
well as in some other areas of physics, require extremely large and
expensive equipment, such as particle accelerators and nuclear reactors.
Physicists in these subfields often work in large teams. Although
physics research may require extensive experimentation in laboratories,
research physicists still spend much time in offices planning,
recording, analyzing, and reporting on research.
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the American
Institute of Physics and the US Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.