WHAT IS PHYSICS?
Physics is the science that describes how the physical world works.
It is the most fundamental of all sciences. Other sciences build
Physicists conduct research into the fundamental laws of nature
in an attempt to better understand the universe that surrounds us.
They may also make use of what we already know about the physical
world to design and develop new practical products. As a career,
physics offers an astonishing variety of possibilities.
The world of the physicist stretches from the tiniest particles
of subatomic matter to galaxies and beyond. It includes computer
circuitry and spacecraft orbits, medical imaging and the search
for controlled fusion power. Some of the questions that physicists
try to answer are deeply philosophical: How did the universe begin?
On a very small scale, does empty space become "granular"
or "foamy"? But many of the questions that physicists
deal with are highly practical: How can more information be packed
into a smaller space? What will be the effect of adding more carbon
dioxide to the atmosphere? Can chemical rockets be replaced by electromagnetic
launchers? How can solar cells be made more efficient?
Most modern technology rests on physics. Sometimes new knowledge
is put to work quickly. For example, many practical uses were found
for the laser soon after its invention. Sometimes new knowledge
is slow to be harnessed. In 1905 Albert Einstein explained how light
can eject electrons from solid surfaces. It was many years before
this "photoelectric effect" found application in television
Physics provides a deep understanding of the laws of nature and
will continue to help shape the world of the future. Although we
can never be sure when we have complete knowledge about a certain
concept, it is probably safe to say that there still remains far
more information about the world yet to be discovered than all the
knowledge that we have accumulated from ancient times up to the
present. There will always be a need for good physicists! Few careers
are more exciting, more rewarding, and more important to society
IS A CAREER IN PHYSICS FOR ME?
Do you like mathematics? Mathematics is the language of physics.
If you have a flair for math, very likely you will have a flair
for physics. Do you like solving puzzles and other kinds of problems?
Are you interested in new discoveries in science? Do you enjoy working
with computers, or hope to work with them? If your answer to most
of these questions is yes, you may want to consider physics as a
career or simply as a field of study on which to base some other
The biggest myth about physics is that it is too difficult for all
but the next Einsteins. This is simply not true. Yes, physics can
be challenging, but so is anything that you study seriously. Many
successful physicists can tell you that they were not the top students
in their schools. What they had was interest and motivation.
As a career, physics offers challenge, excitement, an attractive
salary, and a chance to make important contributions to society.
As a physicist, you will help shape the world of tomorrow.
In the 1990s, the prospects for finding a job in physics are expected
to be better than at almost any other time in recent history. For
research positions and for college and university teaching, the
Ph.D. degree is generally required. High-school teachers, who need
at least a bachelor's degree, are likely to be in especially strong
demand. If you are both science-oriented and people-oriented, high-school
physics teaching is a career worth considering.
As might be expected, the starting salaries for physicists are higher
at the higher degree levels. At each degree level, the physicist
commands a higher salary than the average of his or her peers in
Here are some job
opportunities and career planning ideas that are worth checking
WHERE PHYSICISTS WORK
Many physicists work in research laboratories--in industry, in universities,
and in national laboratories-but that is only a beginning of a catalog
of places where physicists can be found. Many teach--in high schools,
colleges, and universities. Others can be found in hospitals, the
military, oil fields, power plants, in the astronaut corps, in museums,
in patent law firms, and in management positions in business and
government. A young person trained in physics acquires a set of
skills that makes him or her a valued employee in many settings.
Take as much math as you can--algebra, trigonometry, and calculus,
if possible, in preparation for taking physics courses.
Some training in computer programming--either in school or on your
own--can also be valuable. Participation in science fairs is another
way to gain useful experience and to size up your own interest in
science. Hobbies and clubs can also help prepare you for future
work in physics. With luck, you might find a part-time job that
will give you some valuable experience.
Even students with career goals outside of science can be well served
by taking one or more courses in physics. Often these courses do
not require as much math background as those taken by the physics
major. The knowledge and skills gained in physics can prove to be
surprisingly useful in tackling other kinds of problems. A background
in physics can help a technical writer or a computer programmer.
It is an asset recognized by medical schools, law schools, and business
COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY STUDIES
College courses in physics include both classroom work and laboratory
work. Students working toward bachelor's degrees may spend about
25 to 30 percent of their time in physics courses, and the rest
in other areas, including mathematics. Some chemistry and biology
is usually recommended. Most colleges wisely require students to
take courses in other fields as well.
In college, the first course for physics majors usually covers a
broad range of topics and uses some calculus. Later courses explore
single areas of physics in greater depth, often using more advanced
mathematics. In advanced laboratory courses, the physics student
may encounter sophisticated electronic equipment and may also have
a chance to be part of a research team.
Graduate students pursuing master's and doctoral degrees concentrate
fully on physics. The master's program typically takes two years
and may require a research project. An additional two to four years
may be needed to earn a Ph.D. An essential ingredient of a Ph.D.
program is a major piece of research (either theoretical or experimental)
that is written up as the doctoral dissertation. It often leads
to papers published in physics journals.
SPECIALIZED FIELDS OF STUDY IN PHYSICS
Within the general field, there are many branches of physics that
may capture the interest of an advanced physics student. Each one
of these branches can offer a lifetime of challenging work.
Want more information?
Contact Dr. Brooke Haag, physics instructor, (831)755-6884; firstname.lastname@example.org