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Physics Overview - Preparation - Specialty Areas - Day In The Life - Earnings - Employment - Career Path Forecast - Professional Organizations - Profiles of Physicists - Overview PowerPoint - Podcast

Physicists 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 areas.

Physicists 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.

Physicists 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.

Physicists 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 in industry.

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.

Physics Resources


Overview of Physics
Highest Degree; Certification/Licenses; Training; What Employers Look For; Advisors; Undergrad Research; Off Campus Experiences, Mentors, and Internships
Specialty Areas:
Descriptions of the thirty sub-fields of Physics
Day in the Life:
Where Physicists Work; Common Occupations; Working Environment; Skills; Other Resources
Variables Affecting Salary; Starting Salaries; State Level Information; Other Resources
Statistics, Industries, Employers
Career Path Forecast:
Predictions for Physics
Professional Organizations:
Resources, Networking, Support
Profiles of Physicists:
Interviews of Professionals
Overview of Physics
Internet Resources:
American Institute of Physics
American Physical Society

Society of Physics Students

Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the  American Institute of Physics and the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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