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For the album by Devin Townsend, see Physicist (album).
Not to be confused with Physician, a person who practices medicine.
Albert Einstein, a key physicist of the 20th century who developed the theory of relativity and parts of early quantum theory

A physicist is a scientist who has specialized knowledge in the field of physics, the exploration of the interactions of matter and energy across the physical universe. Physicists study a wide range of phenomena in many branches of their field, spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic particles of which all ordinary matter is made (particle physics), to physical systems, to molecular length scales of chemical and biological interest, to cosmological length scales encompassing the Universe as a whole. Physicists generally are interested in the root or ultimate causes of phenomena, and usually frame their understanding in mathematical terms. Physicists can also apply their knowledge towards solving real world problems and/or developing new technologies (also known as Applied Physics or Engineering Physics). Some Physicists specialize in sectors outside the science of physics itself, such as engineering.[1][2][3]

The term "physicist" was coined by William Whewell in his 1840 book The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences.[4]


The material a student encounters in the undergraduate physics curriculum 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 Euclid, Thales of Miletus, Archimedes and Aristarchus) and Asian culture, as well as the Islamic medieval period (for example the work of Alhazen in the 11th century). However, the bulk of physics education can be said to flow from the scientific revolution in Europe, starting with the work of Galileo and Kepler in the early 1600s. Newton's laws of motion and Newton's law of universal gravitation were formulated in the 17th century, Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism in the 19th century, and quantum mechanics in the early-to-mid 20th century. New knowledge in the early 21st century includes a large increase in understanding cosmology. The undergraduate physics curriculum generally includes the following range of courses: classical mechanics, astronomy and astrophysics, physics laboratory, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics, optics, modern physics, quantum physics, nuclear physics, particle physics, and condensed matter physics. Undergraduate physics students also need mathematical training in calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, complex analysis, etc., and also in computer science, electronics and programming. The goal of undergraduate education is basic competence in all areas of physics endeavor. Undergraduate physics students oriented with BSc Mechanical Engineering, BSc Electrical and Computer Engineering, BSc Applied Physics...etc. are sometimes chosen as research assistants with faculty members.[citation needed]

Theoretical Physics and Experimental Physics are two areas of contemporary fundamental research.

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 specialization include experimental and theoretical astrophysics, atomic physics, molecular physics, biophysics, chemical physics, medical physics, condensed matter physics, cosmology, geophysics, gravitational physics, material science, microelectronics, nuclear physics, optics, radiophysics, electromagnetic field and microwave, particle physics, and plasma physics. A Doctoral background may be required for certain positions.[citation needed]

Honors and awards[edit]

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


The three major employers of career physicists are academic institutions, laboratories, and private industries, with the largest employer being the last.[5] Physicists in academia or government labs tend to have titles such as Assistants, Professors, Sr./Jr. Scientist, or postdocs.

Physics training has been applied for several decades to private industry in areas such as engineering, computing, and finance that needs intensive computational, mathematical and analytical skills. As per the American Institute for 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.[6]

Since physics deals with everything from metatheories to applied science, most physicists take up additional careers where their knowledge of physics can be combined with further training in other disciplines, such as computer science, information technology, patent laws, engineering diplomas, animation, teaching...etc. for industry or self employment.[7][8]

Physicists are employed in academia, government and military service, nonprofit entities, private industry, among other sectors.The majority of Physicists with bachelors degrees are employed in the private sector.[9][10]

Common job titles include Advanced Technology Engineer, Engineering Physicist, Radar Developer, Systems Engineer, Electronic Engineer.[11][12]

A majority of physicists working in private firms apply their skills and training to interdisciplinary sectors,[13] with the identified fields of careers[citation needed] being:

  • Acoustics
  • Aerospace
  • Air Traffic Control
  • Astrodynamics
  • Astronomy
  • Astrophysics
  • Audio Engineering & Sound Design
  • Biophysics
  • Cartography
  • Computational Physics
  • Computer Engineering
  • Computing
  • Consulting Engineering
  • Cryogenics
  • Cryptography
  • Cybernetics
  • Defense (Military)
  • Education
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Electronics
  • Environmental Management
  • Forensic Science
  • Geoengineering
  • Geophysics
  • Illustration & Animation
  • Imaging
  • Materials Physics
  • Medical Physics
  • Meteorology
  • Microelectronics
  • Microwave Engineering
  • Nanotechnology
  • Nuclear Engineering
  • Nuclear Physics
  • Oceanography
  • Optometry
  • Photonics
  • Quantum Technology
  • Radiology
  • Robotics
  • Seismology
  • Space Technology & Exploration Industries
  • Systems Engineering
  • Systems Science
  • Telecommunications
  • Video & Computer Games Development
  • Visual Special Effects

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Industrial Physicists: Primarily specialising in Physics" (PDF). American Institute for Physics. October 2016. 
  2. ^ "Industrial Physicists: Primarily specialising in Engineering" (PDF). American Institute for Physics. October 2016. 
  3. ^ "Industrial Physicists: Primarily specialising outside of STEM sectors" (PDF). American Institute for Physics. October 2016. 
  4. ^ Whewell, William. The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences Part 1. Cambridge: John W Parker J&J Deighton. p. LXXI, CXIII. [1]
  5. ^ American Institute for Physics (AIP) Statistical Research Center employment reports (published 2015-16) for Physics degree holders at the Bachelor, Master and Ph.D. levels.
  6. ^ "Physics Doctorates Initial Employment" (PDF). American Institute for Physics. March 2016. 
  7. ^ AIP Statistical Research Center. "Initial Employment Report, Table 1". Retrieved August 21, 2006. 
  8. ^ "Common Careers of Physicists in the Private Sector" (PDF). American Institute for Physics. October 2016. 
  9. ^ "Initial Employment Sectors of Physics Bachelor's, Classes of 2011 & 2012 Combined". American Institute of Physics. Retrieved September 13, 2016. 
  10. ^ "Prospects for Physicists". American Physical Society. Retrieved October 16, 2016. 
  11. ^ "Becoming a Physicist, Jobs in Government". American Physical Society. Retrieved October 16, 2016. 
  12. ^ "Electronic and Electrical Engineer, Education - (Engineer Girl)". National Academy Of Engineering, USA. 
  13. ^ "Fields of Employment for Physics Bachelors in the Private Sector, Classes of 2011 & 2012 Combined". American Physical Society. Retrieved September 26, 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]