A physicist is a scientist who studies or practices physics. Physicists study a wide range of physical phenomena in many branches of physics spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic particles of which all ordinary matter is made (particle physics) to the behavior of the material Universe as a whole (cosmology).


Most material a student encounters in the undergraduate physics curriculum is based on discoveries and insights of a century or more in the past. Alhazen's intromission theory of light was formulated in the 11th century; Newton's laws of motion and Newton's law of universal gravitation were formulated in the 17th century; Maxwell's equations, 19th century; and quantum mechanics, early 20th century. The undergraduate physics curriculum generally includes the following range of courses: chemistry, classical physics, astronomy, physics laboratory, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics, optics, modern physics, quantum physics, nuclear physics, particle physics, and solid state physics. Undergraduate physics students must also take extensive mathematics courses (calculus, differential equations, advanced calculus), and computer science and programming. Undergraduate physics students often perform research with faculty members.

Many positions, especially in research, require a doctoral degree. At the Master's level and higher, students tend to specialize in a particular field. Fields of specialisation include experimental and theoretical astrophysics, atomic physics, molecular physics, biophysics, chemical physics, condensed matter physics, cosmology, geophysics, material science, nuclear physics, optics, particle physics, and plasma physics. Post-doctoral experience may be required for certain positions.


The three major employers of career physicists are academic institutions, government laboratories, and private industry, with the largest employer being the last. [cite web| author=AIP Statistical Research Center | url= | title=Initial Employment Report, Fig. 7 | accessmonthday=21 Aug | accessyear=2006 Also relevant is: cite web | author=Institute of Physics | url= | title=Education Statistics, Graph 4.11 | accessmonthday=21 Aug | accessyear=2006] Many people who are trained as physicists, however, use their skills in other parts of the economy, in particular in engineering, computing, and finance. Some physicists take up careers where their knowledge of physics can be combined with further training in other disciplines, such as patent law in industry or private practice. In the United States, a majority of those in the private sector with a physics degree work outside physics, astronomy and engineering altogether. [cite web | author=AIP Statistical Research Center | url= | title=Initial Employment Report, Table 1 | accessmonthday=21 Aug | accessyear=2006]

It has been suggested by Nobel laureate Sir Joseph Rotblat, that physicists going into employment in scientific research should honour a Hippocratic Oath for Scientists.

Honors and Awards

The highest honor awarded to physicists is the Nobel Prize in Physics, awarded since 1901 by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

See also

* American Institute of Physics
* Engineering physics
* Institute of Physics (UK & Ireland)
* History of physics
* List of physicists
* Nobel Prize in physics
* Professional physicist


External links

* [ Occupational Outlook Handbook]
* [ Physicists and Astronomers] ; US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
* [ Education and employment statistics] from the American Institute of Physics

Further reading

*cite journal| title=What works for women in physics? |journal=Physics Today |url= |volume=56 |issue=9 |pages=46| doi=10.1063/1.1620834| year=2003| author=Whitten, Barbara L.
*cite journal |title= The Physics Job Market: From Bear to Bull in a Decade |url= |journal=Physics Today |volume=54 |issue=4 |pages=36 |doi= 10.1063/1.1372112 |year= 2001 |author= Kirby, Kate

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