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12 Types of Physicists (Career Opportunities)

Shot of two scientists working in lab.

The two types of physicists are experimental and theoretical, followed by many subcategories. Experimental physicists focus on observing natural events and the growth and research of investigations. Meanwhile, theoretical physicists focus on the mathematical form of physical strategies to clarify and predict natural occurrences.

Space, time, energy, and matter are all subject to physics principles. They can focus on theory, experiment design, and execution, or they can put their skills to use in creating new materials or equipment. There were times when scientists worked in both the lab and theory, but these days it seems that most choose to specialize in one or the other.

The United States employs around 16,730 physicists.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics says they project about 1,500 openings for physicists and astronomers annually between 2020 and 2030. Keep reading as we explore the world as seen by Physicists.

Types of Physicists

There are plenty of options open to us here. We must first follow conventions. Fundamentalists and applied physicists are the two main subfields within the field of physics, and this is where we begin our response. In what ways are they similar, and how are they different? 

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To some extent, theoretical and practical physicists are the same. As a result, while theoreticians and applied physicists can both focus on the same problem, the former focus on coming up with proof for their findings. 

Applied Fundamental, Computational and Experimental Physicists: What’s the difference?

On the other hand, applied physicists are more likely to conduct research into the physics of a particular topic and then look for a way to put it to use. For instance, scientists Mansfield and Lauterbur used nuclear spin and magnetic resonance physics to revolutionize medical imaging. 

1. Fundamental Physicists

Focus on fundamentals printed on book.

We could say the same about fundamental physicists, who study certain phenomena to learn more about the physics that underlies them, regardless of whether or not their findings have any practical application. The physicists Purcell and Bloch, using spin once more, developed a mathematical model to explain nuclear behavior in magnetic fields and the resulting magnetic resonance phenomena. Two further (perhaps three) types of physicists we can find in addition to fundamental and applied physicists:

A computational physicist has often deemed a subset of theoretical physicists, but some believe it may be a distinct subset in and of itself. 

2. Experimental Physicists

Female scientist mixing liquids.

An experimentalist would typically try to verify findings projected by the theoretical physicist. In contrast, a theoretical physicist would either develop a mathematical theory to explain phenomena noted experimentally or make predictions that will be assessed empirically (these days, technology is glitching). On the other hand, experimenters would try to improve the reliability and statistical significance of their findings or conduct experiments in more harsh settings.

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Applied physicists sometimes use advances in experimental physics in other fields (like how they now use the detector tech developed to detect the Higgs boson in other fields like nuclear medicine or telecommunications). 

3. Computational Physicists 

A female scientist working on computer.

Computational physicists use computers to run simulations of theories to see what the results might be. As a result of the high cost of doing physical tests in the modern era, researchers prefer to conduct simulations on computers rather than conduct experiments themselves whenever a new hypothesis arises. It’s fine if the simulations are accurate or what we expected; if not, we need to make changes.

Even though this may appear to be something only a theorist would do, a computational physicist is more likely to engage in other projects. Developing more efficient and faster computational methods is among the many possible tasks they could take on. Because of this, many people today consider computational physics a different branch of physics from pure theoretical physics. 

The Divisions of Areas in Physics 

The divisions of areas in physics are now what everyone is interested in. Since it’s nearly impossible for a single person to work in multiple fields at once, it became necessary to set them apart from one another. Examining Particle and Nuclear Physics is a sort of modern physics promotional material (I mean, literally every person thinks that a modern physicist is either a particle physicist or an astrophysicist).

People tend to be concerned about nature’s most basic elements. Approximately 100 years have passed since Rutherford discovered the nucleus or Becquerel found radioactivity. Today, this field is home to cutting-edge research on subjects such as string theory, quantum gravity, and more.

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Nuclear physics has a surprising number of applications in the applied sector, such as medical imaging and radiotherapy, which are essentially Applied Nuclear Physics (when combined with knowledge of anatomy and physiology). I doubt we’ll see any practical applications for particle physics shortly.

Breaking Down the Types of Physicists 

4. Nuclear Physicists 

A large nuclear power plant.

NPPhysicists are usually the ones who need the most exact scientific experiments. They receive the highest level of training, conceive, strategize, undertake, and discern transformative experiments at the heart of the NP program.

5. Condensed Matter Physicists 

Another area of study is Condensed Matter Physics, which focuses on studying the physical properties of condensed matter (solids, liquids, etc.). They look at phase transitions and the distribution of energy and states in statistical physics. And they use a wide range of science concepts, including quantum mechanics.

In this field, you can study topological phase transitions, superconductivity, superfluidity, and many other interesting phenomena. Soft Matter and Solid State Matter Physicists are the most common divisions of science. Condensed matter physics is arguably the most important field of modern physics to industry, even though Physics does not have its own industry.

This is because all modern electronics are based on research in CMPhysics. It’s not hard to conceive that nanotechnology, semiconductors, and MRIs are all common applications of this technology (which kind of makes sense, thanks to super-conductivity) The Bose-Einstein statistics govern the distribution of particle states during this phase of matter.

Bosons are particles that follow these statistics, and all of them have zero spin. Even though physicists are no longer interested in classical, astrophysics, molecular and atomic physics, they are still being studied by engineers and mathematicians because of the so-called chaos theory.

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6. Atomic Physicists

A mind atoms background.

For instance, we also have AMO scientists, which stands for Atomic, Molecular, and Optical (AMO). People are generally concerned about the interaction between matter and light or just matter. They are further subdivided into atomic, molecular, and optical physics. 

The study of the physics of a system made up of electrons, and a nucleus is the focus of atomic physics. However, even though they appear to be doing the same thing as nuclear physicists, this is not the case. On the other hand, nuclear physicists are more interested in the properties of atomic nuclei and their interactions with electrons than they are in the system of electrons and the nucleus. 

7. Molecular Physicists 

Molecular structure, computer illustration.

The focus of molecular physics is not so much on the inner workings of atoms as it is on the interactions between molecules. It’s no surprise that fields like physical or theoretical chemistry have a lot in common. Thus they spend a lot of time socializing. 

8. Optical Physicists

Female optometrist checking young and beautiful patient.

The primary focus of optical physics is on the light. It’s all about light: its nature, its behavior, its interactions with itself, and its connections with the matter. To be clear, “light” means electromagnetic radiation, and they don’t merely focus on the visible spectrum.

9. Astrophysicists

Astrophysicists exploring surface of moon.

Let’s now turn our attention to the enticing physicists. Astrophysicists! Currently, astrophysicists are preoccupied with only one topic: the makeup of the cosmos and the physics and chemistry at the root of all astronomical phenomena.

The crux of the matter is just that: a single thing. 

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10. Particle Physicists

Abstract glowing particle wave on a dark background.

Astrophysicists deal with the extremely big physics scale, whereas particle physicists deal with the very small physics scale. Obviously, given the size and scope of the project, there are sub-projects as well. 

11. Planetary Physicists

Planetary system with astronaut in space.

So, for example, you have Planetary Physics, which examines planets and their physical properties, as well as those outside our solar system, such as exoplanets. 

12. Solar Physicists

Solar energy and solar cell.

For instance, the motion of bodies inside the solar system is difficult to understand because you have a multiple-body system where all those bodies interact and generate their gravitational field. Star formation, stellar activity, and death are all studied under Stellar Physics, while Heliophysics focuses on the Sun. They’re also interested in studying stuff like neutron stars and black holes.

If you haven’t noticed, the size of galaxies is steadily increasing. There is galactic physics, which investigates questions such as how galaxies form, how stars interact within them, and how galaxies interact with each other within them. The dispersion of galaxies in a group and extragalactic entities like quasars and pulsars are all studied in extragalactic physics.

To cap it all off, cosmology focuses on astrophysics’ most fundamental and fascinating aspects (from a pop-science POV). They look at everything in the cosmos, from its origins to its possible demise. In addition, they investigate the nature of spacetime, such as the existence or nonexistence of wormholes, multiple universes, Gravitational Waves, Dark Energy, and Dark Matter, among other things.

As far as applications go, there are simply too many to list here. The most important thing to remember is that physics has a wide range of applications and can potentially make a significant impact on the world. However, no matter how hard you think about it, studying physics should only be pursued if you find it interesting.

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It’s worth it if you’re willing to labor on the same issue for decades to acquire that one confirmation of a fundamental fact.

There are how many different kinds of physicists?

Experimental physics and theoretical physics are the two broadest categories in physics. As the name suggests, experimental physics places a greater focus on planning and executing experiments than on acquiring mathematical knowledge. Physics theorists are primarily concerned with the development and exploration of mathematical formulations used by physical scientists to describe the behavior of the physical universe.

Most physicists have both experimental and theoretical abilities, and some switch back and forth between the two.

To Become A Theoretical Physicist, What Math Skills do We Need?

Physics can be studied at the undergraduate and graduate levels thanks to mathematics. As a result, the math required is as follows:

  • Ricci Calculus/Tensor Calculus
  • Tensor Analysis
  • Algebraic Linearity

In general, physicists are interested in discovering how the cosmos works. They aren’t particularly interested in how to put their newfound knowledge to use. Physics is a science that relies heavily on engineering to build apparatuses and conduct experiments.

Pursuing a Career in Physics

So you have a knack for physics and have been wondering what it takes to become a Physicist. Here’s a synopsis of the requirements for becoming a physicist:

Education

During high school: take the most difficult math and physics courses you can find at your college or university. Get the best scores possible in both disciplines.

  • The astronomy club is a good place to participate in extracurricular science activities. High school students can take physics or math summer courses at local colleges, which can be found with a simple Google search.
  • Condensed matter physics and cosmology are two subfields of physics that graduate students might specialize in. In addition to their physics and astronomy education, math courses like calculus, linear algebra, and statistics are required of Ph.D. students. Data collection, analysis, and modeling can all be aided by computer science.
  • Physical science or an equivalent area, such as engineering, is typically required for admission to a physics or astronomy master’s degree program. Typical undergraduate physics courses cover quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism, among other topics.
  • Internships are an excellent way for undergraduates to obtain real-world experience. The American Astronomical Society and the American Physical Society both maintain internship directories for astronomy and physics students, respectively.
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In the federal government, those with master’s and bachelor’s degrees may be eligible for employment. Teachers in middle and high schools may also pursue a career in science.

Training 

Important Qualities

  • Skills in critical analysis and evaluation: When doing scientific experiments and investigations, physicists and astronomers need to think logically. They need to check the accuracy of the findings and conclusions.
  • Personality traits: Working with others is an essential part of the job for scientists and astronomers. They, therefore, need to be good team players and collaborators.
  • Possessing the ability to work through issues: Researchers in the fields of physics and astronomy utilizes a combination of analytical and creative thinking to solve complex challenges. They may have to rethink their strategy if an experiment or theory fails to yield the expected results.
  • Self-discipline: Physical and astronomical researchers must be self-disciplined because their work may necessitate long periods of concentration on enormous datasets.

Licensing, Certification, and Registration 

Jobs involving nuclear energy, for example, may call for candidates to be United States citizens and have a security clearance.

Advancement

As their careers progress, physicists and astronomers can become more autonomous in their work and move up the corporate ladder. For university employees, tenure can also be earned through experience. They become natural sciences managers, which is something that several physicists and astronomers do.

Physicists’ Obligations

Physicists are known for the following activities:

  • Using scientific theories and models, such as gravity and the production of subatomic particles, we describe the natural world.
  • To discover the qualities of matter or energy, conduct scientific experiments.
  • Prepare research proposals and submit funding requests.
  • Analyze physical and astronomical data, such as novel material qualities or the existence of planets in distant solar systems, using mathematical calculations.
  • Create new instruments for science, such as lasers and telescopes.
  • Create computer programs for data analysis and modeling.
  • Publish Scientific studies
  • Attend conferences and give speeches to disseminate their discoveries
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Researchers in physics study the fundamental features and principles that govern the universe. They can focus on theory, experiment design, and execution, or they can put their skills to use in creating new materials or equipment. Physicists who research the properties of matter devise theories and conduct experiments are known as experimental physicists.

Researchers in theoretical and computational physics construct notions that can anticipate the behavior of materials or explain discoveries that are otherwise a mystery. There are many different subfields in physics, but the fundamental principles are the same. 

Job Categories for Physicists

Anatomy, molecular and optical physics studies atoms, molecules, electrons, and light. Individual atoms may be able to be controlled, leading to greater shrinking or the development of new materials or technologies. Scientists in computational physics investigate the relationship between theoretical and experimental aspects of physics by employing computer algorithms, numerical analysis, and large datasets.

Applied phenomena, such as ocean dynamics and traffic flow patterns, are also closely examined by researchers in the field of atoms and molecules. Atoms, molecules, ions and, molecules, nanostructures, and new substances are the focus of physics. In addition to superconductivity and liquid crystals, they explore sensors and nanomachines.

Health physicists look at how radiation affects individuals, groups, and the environment as a whole. They ensure radiation is used to its full potential while safeguarding workers and the general public from radiation-related risks. Physicists in the medical field use their scientific expertise to create innovative medical devices and radiation-based therapies.

As an example, some cancer patients may benefit from safer radiation treatments. MRIs and ultrasounds are two examples of enhanced imaging methods for radiant energy that others have developed. There are many different types of particle and nuclear scientists, but they all focus on the properties of atomic or subatomic particles such as nuclei or quarks.

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A separate state of matter known as plasma is studied by plasma physicists, whose work can be found in things like neon signs and fluorescent lights as well as in the stars and interplanetary space. In the future, these researchers may look into the possibility of using fusion reactors to generate electricity. To better understand information processing, computing, and cryptography, quantum information physicists use atoms and photons.

They are interested in finding practical applications for quantum physics’ inherent uncertainty and basic nature.

How Much Do Physicists Earn?

An occupation’s median pay is the amount at which half of the workers make more than it, and half make less. In May 2021, physicists earned an average annual salary of $152,430. One-tenth of physicists made less than $78,870, while the other one-tenth made more than $208,000 annually.

The following are the median annual salaries for physicists working in the top sectors during those years, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • They earn more than $200,000 per year from ambulatory healthcare services
  • $164,930 for scientific research and development
  • $78,830 is the average earning at public and private colleges and universities.

Scientists in physics and astronomy typically put in 40 or more hours per week, on average.