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Albert Einstein, a key theoretical physicist in 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, 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, to molecular length scales of chemical and biological interest, 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 developing new technologies (also known as applied physics or engineering physics).[3][4][5]


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 by Euclid, Thales of Miletus, Archimedes and Aristarchus), Asian culture, as well as 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 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 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]


Students observing a demonstration at a laser physics institute

At the undergraduate level, a canonical curriculum consists of classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, non-relativistic quantum mechanics, optics, and statistical mechanics and thermodynamics.[8][9][10]

Many physicist positions require an undergraduate degree in applied physics or a related science or a Master's degree like MSc, MPhil, MPhys or MSci.[11] In a research oriented level, 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. Physics students also need training in mathematics (calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, complex analysis, etc.), and in computer science and programming. For being employed as a physicist a doctoral background may be required for certain positions. Undergraduate students like BSc Mechanical Engineering, BSc Electrical and Computer Engineering, BSc Applied Physics...etc. with physics orientation are chosen as research assistants with faculty members and some may train further as a physicist.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]


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 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.[12] A majority of physicists employed apply their skills and training to interdisciplinary sectors (e.g. finance[13]).[14] 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, Physiognomist, Research Scientist, Reactor Physicist, Engineering Physicist, Satellite Missions Analyst, Science Writer, Stratigrapher, Software Engineer, Systems Engineer, Microelectronics Engineer, Radar Developer, Technical Consultant, etc.[15][16][17][18]

Physics programs typically deal with meta-theories and its laws regarding applied science, hence most undergraduate 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.[citation needed] A typical undergraduate physics program covers essential basic competence required in areas of physics endeavor like astrophysics, laboratory knowledge, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics, optics, modern physics, calculus, etc. and also in computer science and programming.[citation needed] Hence a majority of Physics bachelor's degree holders are employed in the private sector. Other fields are academia, government and military service, nonprofit entities, labs and teaching.[19]

Typical duties of physicists with master's and doctoral degrees working in their domain involves research, observation and analysis, data preparation, instrumentation, design and development of industrial or medical equipment, computing and software development, etc.[20]

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 a 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. ^ MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY - Simple Definition of physicist: 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. ^ AIP Statistical Research Center. "Industrially Employed Physicists: Primarily in Non-STEM Fields" (PDF). Retrieved August 21, 2006. 
  13. ^ "Physicists and the Financial Markets". Financial Times. 18 October 2013. 
  14. ^ American Institute for Physics (AIP) Statistical Research Center Report Physics Doctorates Initial Employment published March 2016.
  15. ^ "What can I do with a degree in Physics?" (PDF). Augusta University. 2016. Retrieved September 11, 2016. 
  16. ^ "Physicist Career Opportunities". Illinois Institute of Technology. 2016. Retrieved November 10, 2016. 
  17. ^ "Physics Education, Applied to Engineering". National Academy of Engineering (NAE). 2016. Retrieved November 10, 2016. 
  18. ^ "Engineering Physicist careers". Simon Fraser University, Canada. 2016. Retrieved February 27, 2017. 
  19. ^ "Initial Employment Sectors of Physics Bachelor's, Classes of 2011 & 2012 Combined". American Institute of Physics. Retrieved September 13, 2016. 
  20. ^ "2111 Physicists and astronomers". National Occupational Classification - Canada. 2016. Retrieved November 11, 2016. 

Further reading

  • 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:10.1063/1.1620834Freely accessible. 
  • 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:10.1063/1.1372112Freely accessible. 
  • 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. 

External links

  • How to become a GOOD Theoretical Physicist, Utrecht University
  • Physicists and Astronomers; US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physicists and Astronomers
  • Physicist Careers
  • Careers through Engineering Physics
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