A physicist is a scientist trained to understand 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 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.
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 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.
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. Doctoral background may be required for certain positions.
Honors and awards
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.
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.
Since physics deals with a meta theories and low in 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.
A majority of physicists working in private firms apply their skills to interdisciplinary areas, the identified fields of careers are:
- Actuarial Science
- Air Traffic Control
- Business Administration and Management
- Computer Engineering
- Consulting Engineering
- Environmental Management
- Fibre and Laser Electro-Optics
- Forensic Science
- Illustration & Animation
- Materials Physics
- Medical Physics
- Nuclear Physics
- Patent Law
- Public Administration
- Special Effects
- Whewell, William. The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences Part 1. Cambridge: John W Parker J&J Deighton. p. cxiii.
- 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.
- "Physics Doctorates Initial Employment" (PDF). American Institute for Physics. March 2016.
- AIP Statistical Research Center. "Initial Employment Report, Table 1". Retrieved August 21, 2006.
- Whitten, Barbara L.; Foster, Suzanne R.; Duncombe, Margaret L. (2003). "What works for women in physics?". Physics Today. 56 (9): 46. Bibcode:2003PhT....56i..46W. doi:10.1063/1.1620834.
- Kirby, Kate; Czujko, Roman; Mulvey, Patrick (2001). "The Physics Job Market: From Bear to Bull in a Decade". Physics Today. 54 (4): 36. Bibcode:2001PhT....54d..36K. doi:10.1063/1.1372112.
- Hermanowicz, Joseph C. (1998). The Stars Are Not Enough: Scientists--Their Passions and Professions. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-32767-9.
- Hermanowicz, Joseph C. (2009). Lives in Science: How Institutions Affect Academic Careers. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-32761-7.
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