A physicist is a scientist who specializes in the field of physics, which encompasses the interactions of matter and energy at all length and time scales in the physical universe.[1][2] Physicists generally are interested in the root or ultimate causes of phenomena, and usually frame their understanding in mathematical terms. Physicists work across a wide range of research fields, spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic and particle physics, through biological physics, to cosmological length scales encompassing the universe as a whole. The field generally includes two types of physicists: experimental physicists who specialize in the observation of physical phenomena and the analysis of experiments, and theoretical physicists who specialize in mathematical modeling of physical systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena.[1] Physicists can apply their knowledge towards solving practical problems or to developing new technologies (also known as applied physics or engineering physics).[3][4][5]

Albert Einstein 1947
Albert Einstein, a key theoretical physicist in the 20th century who developed the theory of relativity and parts of early quantum theory.


Hawksbees Electrical Machine by Jean-Antoine Nollet
In an 18th-century experiment in "natural philosophy" (later to be called "physics") English scientist Francis Hauksbee works with an early electrostatic generator.

The study and practice of physics is based on an intellectual ladder of discoveries and insights from ancient times to the present. Many mathematical and physical ideas used today found their earliest expression in ancient Greek culture, for example in the work of Euclid, Thales of Miletus, Archimedes and Aristarchus. Roots also emerged in ancient Asian culture and in the Islamic medieval period, for example the work of Alhazen in the 11th century. The modern scientific worldview and the bulk of physics education can be said to flow from the scientific revolution in Europe, starting with the work of Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler in the early 1600s. Newton's laws of motion and Newton's law of universal gravitation were formulated in the 17th century. The experimental discoveries of Faraday and the theory of Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism were developmental high points during the 19th century. Many physicists contributed to the development of quantum mechanics in the early-to-mid 20th century. New knowledge in the early 21st century includes a large increase in understanding physical cosmology.

The broad and general study of nature, natural philosophy, was divided into several fields in the 19th century, when the concept of "science" received its modern shape. Specific categories emerged, such as "biology" and "biologist", "physics" and "physicist", "chemistry" and "chemist", among other technical fields and titles.[6] The term physicist was coined by William Whewell (also the originator of the term "scientist") in his 1840 book The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences.[7]


A standard undergraduate physics curriculum consists of classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, non-relativistic quantum mechanics, optics, statistical mechanics and thermodynamics, and laboratory experience.[8][9][10] Physics students also need training in mathematics (calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, complex analysis, etc.), and in computer science.

Any physics-oriented career position requires at least an undergraduate degree in physics or applied physics, while career options widen with a Master's degree like MSc, MPhil, MPhys or MSci.[11]

For research-oriented careers, students work toward a doctoral degree specializing in a particular field. Fields of specialization include experimental and theoretical astrophysics, atomic physics, biological physics, chemical physics, condensed matter physics, cosmology, geophysics, gravitational physics, material science, medical physics, microelectronics, molecular physics, nuclear physics, optics, radiophysics, electromagnetic field and microwave physics, particle physics, and plasma physics.

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.[12] National physics professional societies have many prizes and awards for professional recognition. In the case of the American Physical Society, as of 2017, there are 33 separate prizes and 38 separate awards in the field.


The three major employers of career physicists are academic institutions, laboratories, and private industries, with the largest employer being the last. Physicists in academia or government labs tend to have titles such as Assistants, Professors, Sr./Jr. Scientist, or postdocs. As per the American Institute of Physics, some 20% of new physics Ph.D.s holds jobs in engineering development programs, while 14% turn to computer software and about 11% are in business/education.[13] A majority of physicists employed apply their skills and training to interdisciplinary sectors (e.g. finance[14]).[15] Job titles for graduate physicists include Agricultural Scientist, Air Traffic Controller, Biophysicist, Computer Programmer, Electrical Engineer, Environmental Analyst, Geophysicist, Medical Physicist, Meteorologist, Oceanographer, Physics Teacher/Professor/Researcher, Research Scientist, Reactor Physicist, Engineering Physicist, Satellite Missions Analyst, Science Writer, Stratigrapher, Software Engineer, Systems Engineer, Microelectronics Engineer, Radar Developer, Technical Consultant, etc.[16][17][18][19]

A majority of Physics terminal bachelor's degree holders are employed in the private sector. Other fields are academia, government and military service, nonprofit entities, labs and teaching.[20]

Typical duties of physicists with master's and doctoral degrees working in their domain involve research, observation and analysis, data preparation, instrumentation, design and development of industrial or medical equipment, computing and software development, etc.[21]

Professional Certification

United Kingdom

Chartered Physicist (CPhys) is a chartered status and a professional qualification awarded by the Institute of Physics. It is denoted by the postnominals "CPhys".

Achieving chartered status in any profession denotes to the wider community a high level of specialised subject knowledge and professional competence. According to the Institute of Physics, holders of the award of the Chartered Physicist (CPhys) demonstrate the "highest standards of professionalism, up-to-date expertise, quality and safety" along with "the capacity to undertake independent practice and exercise leadership" as well as "commitment to keep pace with advancing knowledge and with the increasing expectations and requirements for which any profession must take responsibility".

Chartered Physicist is considered to be equal in status to Chartered Engineer, which the IoP also awards as a member of the Engineering Council UK, and other chartered statuses in the UK. It is also considered a "regulated profession" under the European professional qualification directives.


The Canadian Association of Physicists can appoint an official designation called the P. Phys. which stands for Professional Physicist, similar to the designation of P. Eng. which stands for Professional Engineer. This designation was unveiled at the CAP congress in 1999 and already more than 200 people carry this distinction.

To get the certification, at minimum proof of honours bachelor or higher degree in physics or a closely related discipline must be provided. Also, the physicist must have completed, or be about to complete, three years of recent physics-related work experience after graduation. And, unless exempted, a professional practice examination must also be passed. Exemption can be granted to candidate that have practiced physics for at least seven years and provide a detailed description of their professional accomplishments which clearly demonstrate that the exam is not necessary.

Work experience will be considered physics-related if it uses physics directly or significantly utilizes the modes of thought (such as the approach to problem-solving) developed in your education and/or experience as a physicist, in all cases regardless of whether the experience is in academia, industry, government, or elsewhere. Management of physics related work qualifies, and so does appropriate graduate student work.

South Africa

The South African Institute of Physics delivers a certification of Professional Physicists (Pr.Phys). At a minimum, the owner must possess a 3-year bachelors or equivalent degree in physics or a related field and an additional minimum of six years' experience in a physics-related activity; or an Honor or equivalent degree in physics or a related field and an additional minimum of five years' experience in a physics-related activity; or master or equivalent degree in physics or a related field and an additional minimum of three years' experience in a physics-related activity; a Doctorate or equivalent degree in Physics or a related field; or training or experience which, in the opinion of the Council, is equivalent to any of the above.

See also


  1. ^ a b Rosen, Joe (2009). Encyclopedia of Physics. Infobase Publishing. p. 247.
  2. ^ "Physicist". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. "a scientist who studies or is a specialist in physics"
  3. ^ "Industrial Physicists: Primarily specializing in Physics" (PDF). American Institute for Physics. October 2016.
  4. ^ "Industrial Physicists: Primarily specializing in Engineering" (PDF). American Institute for Physics. October 2016.
  5. ^ "Industrial Physicists: Primarily specializing outside of STEM sectors" (PDF). American Institute for Physics. October 2016.
  6. ^ Cahan, David, ed. (2003). From Natural Philosophy to the Sciences: Writing the History of Nineteenth-Century Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226089282.
  7. ^ Donald S. L. Cardwell, James Joule: A Biography, Manchester University Press - 1989, page 18
  8. ^ Wachter, Armin; Hoeber, Henning (2006). Compendium of Theoretical Physics. New York, NY: Springer. ISBN 0-387-25799-3.
  9. ^ Krey, Uwe; Owen, Anthony (2007). Basic Theoretical Physics : A concise overview (1st ed.). Berlin: Springer. ISBN 978-3-540-36804-5.
  10. ^ Kompaneyets, A. S. (2012). Theoretical physics (2nd ed.). Mineola, New York: Dover. ISBN 0486609723.
  11. ^ "Physicist". National Careers Service, United Kingdom. 7 October 2016.
  12. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physics".
  13. ^ AIP Statistical Research Center. "Industrially Employed Physicists: Primarily in Non-STEM Fields" (PDF). Retrieved August 21, 2006.
  14. ^ "Physicists and the Financial Markets". Financial Times. 18 October 2013.
  15. ^ American Institute for Physics (AIP) Statistical Research Center Report Physics Doctorates Initial Employment published March 2016.
  16. ^ "What can I do with a degree in Physics?" (PDF). Augusta University. 2016. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  17. ^ "Physicist Career Opportunities". Illinois Institute of Technology. 2016. Retrieved November 10, 2016.
  18. ^ "Physics Education, Applied to Engineering". National Academy of Engineering (NAE). 2016. Retrieved November 10, 2016.
  19. ^ "Engineering Physicist careers". Simon Fraser University, Canada. 2016. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  20. ^ "Initial Employment Sectors of Physics Bachelor's, Classes of 2011 & 2012 Combined". American Institute of Physics. Retrieved September 13, 2016.
  21. ^ "2111 Physicists and astronomers". National Occupational Classification - Canada. 2016. Retrieved November 11, 2016.

Further reading

External links

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein ( EYEN-styne; German: [ˈalbɛɐ̯t ˈʔaɪnʃtaɪn] (listen); 14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics). His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science. He is best known to the general public for his mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2, which has been dubbed "the world's most famous equation". He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect", a pivotal step in the development of quantum theory.

Near the beginning of his career, Einstein thought that Newtonian mechanics was no longer enough to reconcile the laws of classical mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field. This led him to develop his special theory of relativity during his time at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern (1902–1909). However, he realized that the principle of relativity could also be extended to gravitational fields, and he published a paper on general relativity in 1916 with his theory of gravitation. He continued to deal with problems of statistical mechanics and quantum theory, which led to his explanations of particle theory and the motion of molecules. He also investigated the thermal properties of light which laid the foundation of the photon theory of light. In 1917, he applied the general theory of relativity to model the structure of the universe.Except for one year in Prague, Einstein lived in Switzerland between 1895 and 1914, during which time he renounced his German citizenship in 1896, then received his academic diploma from the Swiss federal polytechnic school (later the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, ETH) in Zürich in 1900. After being stateless for more than five years, he acquired Swiss citizenship in 1901, which he kept for the rest of his life. In 1905, he was awarded a PhD by the University of Zurich. The same year, he published four groundbreaking papers during his renowned annus mirabilis (miracle year) which brought him to the notice of the academic world at the age of 26. Einstein taught theoretical physics at Zurich between 1912 and 1914 before he left for Berlin, where he was elected to the Prussian Academy of Sciences.

In 1933, while Einstein was visiting the United States, Adolf Hitler came to power. Because of his Jewish background, Einstein did not return to Germany. He settled in the United States and became an American citizen in 1940. On the eve of World War II, he endorsed a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt alerting him to the potential development of "extremely powerful bombs of a new type" and recommending that the US begin similar research. This eventually led to the Manhattan Project. Einstein supported the Allies, but he generally denounced the idea of using nuclear fission as a weapon. He signed the Russell–Einstein Manifesto with British philosopher Bertrand Russell, which highlighted the danger of nuclear weapons. He was affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, until his death in 1955.

Einstein published more than 300 scientific papers and more than 150 non-scientific works. His intellectual achievements and originality have made the word "Einstein" synonymous with "genius".

Alexander Stepanovich Popov

Alexander Stepanovich Popov (sometimes spelled Popoff; Russian: Алекса́ндр Степа́нович Попо́в; March 16 [O.S. March 4] 1859 – January 13 [O.S. December 31, 1905] 1906) was a Russian physicist who is acclaimed in his homeland and some eastern European countries as the inventor of radio.Popov's work as a teacher at a Russian naval school led him to explore high frequency electrical phenomena. On May 7, 1895 he presented a paper on a wireless lightning detector he had built that worked via using a coherer to detect radio noise from lightning strikes. This day is celebrated in the Russian Federation as Radio Day. In a March 24, 1896 demonstration, he used radio waves to transmit a message between different campus buildings in St. Petersburg. His work was based on that of another physicist – Oliver Lodge, and contemporaneous with the work of Guglielmo Marconi. Marconi had just registered a patent with the description of the device two months after first transmission of radio signals made by Popov.

Atomic physics

Atomic physics is the field of physics that studies atoms as an isolated system of electrons and an atomic nucleus. It is primarily concerned with the arrangement of electrons around the nucleus and

the processes by which these arrangements change. This comprises ions, neutral atoms and, unless otherwise stated, it can be assumed that the term atom includes ions.The term atomic physics can be associated with nuclear power and nuclear weapons, due to the synonymous use of atomic and nuclear in standard English. Physicists distinguish between atomic physics — which deals with the atom as a system consisting of a nucleus and electrons — and nuclear physics, which considers atomic nuclei alone.

As with many scientific fields, strict delineation can be highly contrived and atomic physics is often considered in the wider context of atomic, molecular, and optical physics. Physics research groups are usually so classified.

Brian Cox (physicist)

Brian Edward Cox (born 3 March 1968) is an English physicist who serves as professor of particle physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester. He is best known to the public as the presenter of science programmes, especially the Wonders of... series and for popular science books, such as Why Does E=mc²? and The Quantum Universe. He has been the author or co-author of over 950 scientific publications.Cox has been described as the natural successor for BBC's scientific programming by both David Attenborough and Patrick Moore. Before his academic career, Cox was a keyboard player for the bands D:Ream and Dare.

Chemical physics

Chemical physics is a subdiscipline of chemistry and physics that investigates physicochemical phenomena using techniques from atomic and molecular physics and condensed matter physics; it is the branch of physics that studies chemical processes from the point of view of physics. While at the interface of physics and chemistry, chemical physics is distinct from physical chemistry in that it focuses more on the characteristic elements and theories of physics. Meanwhile, physical chemistry studies the physical nature of chemistry. Nonetheless, the distinction between the two fields is vague, and workers often practice in both fields during the course of their research.The United States Department of Education defines chemical physics as "A program that focuses on the scientific study of structural phenomena combining the disciplines of physical chemistry and atomic/molecular physics. Includes instruction in heterogeneous structures, alignment and surface phenomena, quantum theory, mathematical physics, statistical and classical mechanics, chemical kinetics, and laser physics."

Experimental physics

Experimental physics is the category of disciplines and sub-disciplines in the field of physics that are concerned with the observation of physical phenomena and experiments. Methods vary from discipline to discipline, from simple experiments and observations, such as the Cavendish experiment, to more complicated ones, such as the Large Hadron Collider.

Harry Daghlian

Haroutune Krikor "Harry" Daghlian Jr. (May 4, 1921 – September 15, 1945) was a physicist with the Manhattan Project which designed and produced the atomic bombs that were used in World War II. He accidentally irradiated himself on August 21, 1945, during a critical mass experiment at the remote Omega Site of the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, resulting in his death 25 days later.

Daghlian was irradiated as a result of a criticality accident that occurred when he accidentally dropped a tungsten carbide brick onto a 6.2 kg plutonium–gallium alloy bomb core. This core, subsequently nicknamed the "demon core", was later involved in the death of another physicist, Louis Slotin.

J. J. Thomson

Sir Joseph John Thomson (18 December 1856 – 30 August 1940) was an English physicist and Nobel Laureate in Physics, credited with the discovery and identification of the electron, the first subatomic particle to be discovered.

In 1897, Thomson showed that cathode rays were composed of previously unknown negatively charged particles (now called electrons), which he calculated must have bodies much smaller than atoms and a very large charge-to-mass ratio. Thomson is also credited with finding the first evidence for isotopes of a stable (non-radioactive) element in 1913, as part of his exploration into the composition of canal rays (positive ions). His experiments to determine the nature of positively charged particles, with Francis William Aston, were the first use of mass spectrometry and led to the development of the mass spectrograph.Thomson was awarded the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the conduction of electricity in gases.

John Archibald Wheeler

John Archibald Wheeler (July 9, 1911 – April 13, 2008) was an American theoretical physicist. He was largely responsible for reviving interest in general relativity in the United States after World War II. Wheeler also worked with Niels Bohr in explaining the basic principles behind nuclear fission. Together with Gregory Breit, Wheeler developed the concept of the Breit–Wheeler process. He is best known for linking the term "black hole" to objects with gravitational collapse already predicted early in the 20th century, for coining the terms "quantum foam", "neutron moderator", "wormhole" and "it from bit", and for hypothesizing the "one-electron universe".

Wheeler earned his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University under the supervision of Karl Herzfeld, and studied under Breit and Bohr on a National Research Council fellowship. In 1939 he teamed up with Bohr to write a series of papers using the liquid drop model to explain the mechanism of fission. During World War II, he worked with the Manhattan Project's Metallurgical Laboratory in Chicago, where he helped design nuclear reactors, and then at the Hanford Site in Richland, Washington, where he helped DuPont build them. He returned to Princeton after the war ended, but returned to government service to help design and build the hydrogen bomb in the early 1950s.

For most of his career, Wheeler was a professor at Princeton University, which he joined in 1938, remaining until his retirement in 1976. At Princeton he supervised 46 PhDs, more than any other professor in the Princeton physics department.

Leon M. Lederman

Leon Max Lederman (July 15, 1922 – October 3, 2018) was an American experimental physicist who received the Wolf Prize in Physics in 1982, along with Martin Lewis Perl, for their research on quarks and leptons, and the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1988, along with Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger, for their research on neutrinos. Lederman was Director Emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois. He founded the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, in Aurora, Illinois in 1986, and was Resident Scholar Emeritus there from 2012 until his death in 2018.An accomplished scientific writer, he became known for his 1993 book The God Particle establishing the importance of the Higgs boson.

MacArthur Fellows Program

The MacArthur Fellows Program, MacArthur Fellowship, commonly but unofficially known as a "Genius Grant", is a prize awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation typically to between 20 and 30 individuals, working in any field, who have shown "extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction" and are citizens or residents of the United States.According to the Foundation's website, "the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person's originality, insight, and potential". The current prize is $625,000 paid over five years in quarterly installments. This figure was increased from $500,000 in 2013 with the release of a review of the MacArthur Fellows Program. Since 1981, 942 people have been named MacArthur Fellows, ranging in age from 18 to 82. The award has been called "one of the most significant awards that is truly 'no strings attached'".The program allows no applications. Anonymous and confidential nominations are invited by the Foundation and reviewed by an anonymous and confidential selection committee of about a dozen people. The committee reviews all nominees and recommends recipients to the president and board of directors. Most new Fellows first learn of their nomination and award upon receiving a congratulatory phone call. MacArthur Fellow Jim Collins described this experience in an editorial column of The New York Times.Cecilia Conrad is the managing director leading the MacArthur Fellows Program.

Mathematical physics

Mathematical physics refers to the development of mathematical methods for application to problems in physics. The Journal of Mathematical Physics defines the field as "the application of mathematics to problems in physics and the development of mathematical methods suitable for such applications and for the formulation of physical theories". It is a branch of applied mathematics, but deals with physical problems.

Molecular physics

Molecular physics is the study of the physical properties of molecules, the chemical bonds between atoms as well as the molecular dynamics. Its most important experimental techniques are the various types of spectroscopy; scattering is also used. The field is closely related to atomic physics and overlaps greatly with theoretical chemistry, physical chemistry and chemical physics.

In addition to the electronic excitation states which are known from atoms, molecules exhibit rotational and vibrational modes whose energy levels are quantized. The smallest energy differences exist between different rotational states: pure rotational spectra are in the far infrared region (about 30 - 150 µm wavelength) of the electromagnetic spectrum. Vibrational spectra are in the near infrared (about 1 - 5 µm) and spectra resulting from electronic transitions are mostly in the visible and ultraviolet regions. From measuring rotational and vibrational spectra properties of molecules like the distance between the nuclei can be specifically calculated.

One important aspect of molecular physics is that the essential atomic orbital theory in the field of atomic physics expands to the molecular orbital theory.

Nuclear physics

Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies atomic nuclei and their constituents and interactions. Other forms of nuclear matter are also studied.

Nuclear physics should not be confused with atomic physics, which studies the atom as a whole, including its electrons.

Discoveries in nuclear physics have led to applications in many fields. This includes nuclear power, nuclear weapons, nuclear medicine and magnetic resonance imaging, industrial and agricultural isotopes, ion implantation in materials engineering, and radiocarbon dating in geology and archaeology. Such applications are studied in the field of nuclear engineering.

Particle physics evolved out of nuclear physics and the two fields are typically taught in close association. Nuclear astrophysics, the application of nuclear physics to astrophysics, is crucial in explaining the inner workings of stars and the origin of the chemical elements.

Popular science

Popular science (also called pop-science or popsci) is an interpretation of science intended for a general audience. While science journalism focuses on recent scientific developments, popular science is more broad-ranging. It may be written by professional science journalists or by scientists themselves. It is presented in many forms, including books, film and television documentaries, magazine articles, and web pages.

Raymond Davis Jr.

Raymond "Ray" Davis Jr. (October 14, 1914 – May 31, 2006) was an American chemist and physicist. He is best known as the leader of the Homestake experiment in the 1960s-1980s, which was the first experiment to detect neutrinos emitted from the Sun; for this he shared the 2002

Nobel Prize in Physics.


A scientist is someone who conducts scientific research to advance knowledge in an area of interest.In classical antiquity, there was no real ancient analog of a modern scientist. Instead, philosophers engaged in the philosophical study of nature called natural philosophy, a precursor of natural science. It was not until the 19th century that the term scientist came into regular use after it was coined by the theologian, philosopher, and historian of science William Whewell in 1833. The term 'scientist' was first coined by him for Mary Somerville, partly because the term "man of science", more custom at that time, was clearly inappropriate here.In modern times, many scientists have advanced degrees in an area of science and pursue careers in various sectors of the economy such as academia, industry, government, and nonprofit environments.

Solid-state physics

Solid-state physics is the study of rigid matter, or solids, through methods such as quantum mechanics, crystallography, electromagnetism, and metallurgy. It is the largest branch of condensed matter physics. Solid-state physics studies how the large-scale properties of solid materials result from their atomic-scale properties. Thus, solid-state physics forms a theoretical basis of materials science. It also has direct applications, for example in the technology of transistors and semiconductors.

Theoretical physics

Theoretical physics is a branch of physics that employs mathematical models and abstractions of physical objects and systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. This is in contrast to experimental physics, which uses experimental tools to probe these phenomena.

The advancement of science generally depends on the interplay between experimental studies and theory. In some cases, theoretical physics adheres to standards of mathematical rigour while giving little weight to experiments and observations. For example, while developing special relativity, Albert Einstein was concerned with the Lorentz transformation which left Maxwell's equations invariant, but was apparently uninterested in the Michelson–Morley experiment on Earth's drift through a luminiferous aether. Conversely, Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for explaining the photoelectric effect, previously an experimental result lacking a theoretical formulation.

See also

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