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Physicists are scientists who study the building blocks of the universe. Their research helps us understand what matter is made of, how energy interacts, the workings of space and time and how the universe came into being. Physicists are researchers. They develop hypotheses and theories and design and carry out experiments to test their ideas. Physicists use complicated calculations, sophisticated computer software and high-tech equipment such as lasers, particle accelerators and electron microscopes in their work. After an experiment is completed, physicists evaluate and analyze the data they have found and communicate their findings in scholarly articles and in presentations.
Research in physics can be either basic – meaning that it aims simply to increase our understanding of matter, energy, time and space – or applied, meaning that its purpose is to solve a problem or develop new technology for use in medicine, communication, energy, the military or some other area. Often, physicists are responsible not only for conducting research, but for applying for grant funding to support their research. There are many specialists within the field of physics, including plasma physicists, particle and nuclear physicists, condensed matter physicists, medical physicists, astrophysicists and atomic, molecular and optical physicists.
To attain a position as a physicist in a science research and development department, a college or university, a government agency, a scientific consulting service or a hospital, you will need a doctoral degree in the field of physics. Ph.D. in physics degree programs often cover material such as statistics, linear algebra, calculus and other disciplines in mathematics as well as computer science classes and specialized courses in physics subfields like condensed matter.
Aspiring physicists usually major in physics from the time they are undergraduate students, building a through foundation of physics knowledge by studying science and mathematics courses such as electromagnetism, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics and optics. Some aspiring physics attain work experience as laboratory technicians and research assistants after earning their bachelor’s degree but before they earn the Ph.D. that allows them to attain research physicist positions. After earning their Ph.D.’s, many new physicists start out in temporary postdoctoral research positions, where they work under the supervision of experienced physicists for two to three years.
Physicists earn a median annual salary of $106,840 per year, — well above the $34,750 median annual salary of all occupations – according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Career opportunities in the field of physics are expected to grow about 10 percent over a ten year period, the BLS predicted. Many of these jobs will be in academic institutions, like colleges and universities, or in national laboratories. Physicists who work in applied research and development will likely have the best job prospects.
Physicists are research scientists who use cutting-edge equipment, complicated calculations and computer modeling software to study the nature of the physical world around us. Through experimentation and mathematics, they look for answers to the big questions, like how the universe originated, and they study matter and energy to discover the complex workings of space and time. Physicists need an advanced degree to attain a research position, but the years of studying are worthwhile for those who aspire to solve these scientific mysteries in this career.