A physicist


A physicist is a highly specialized scientist who studies the fundamental principles of nature and the properties of matter and energy. This field of science encompasses a wide range of subfields, including classical mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, and astrophysics. Physicists seek to understand the laws that govern the universe at both the macroscopic and microscopic levels, providing insights into everything from the behavior of celestial bodies to the behavior of subatomic particles.

Includes people performing specialised activities within nuclear, molecular, optical physics, astrophysics, medical physics, economical physics and matter physics.

Physicists typically do the following tasks:

  • Conduct research to explore fundamental questions about the laws of nature and the behavior of matter and energy.
  • Develop and test mathematical models, theories, and hypotheses to explain physical phenomena and make predictions.
  • Perform experiments in laboratories or collaborate with other scientists and researchers to analyze data and draw conclusions.
  • Use advanced mathematical tools, computer simulations, and computational techniques to solve complex physics problems.
  • Collaborate with other physicists, scientists, and engineers to work on interdisciplinary research projects.
  • Publish research findings in scientific journals and present results at conferences and seminars to contribute to the scientific community’s knowledge base.
  • Apply physics principles to solve practical problems and develop innovative technologies in various industries, such as electronics, aerospace, and renewable energy.
  • Teach and mentor students pursuing degrees and careers in physics and related fields.
  • Participate in the design and construction of experimental equipment and instrumentation for research purposes.
  • Investigate the properties and behavior of matter and energy at both the macroscopic and microscopic levels.
  • Specialize in specific areas of physics, such as particle physics, condensed matter physics, nuclear physics, or cosmology.
  • Explore the nature of space, time, and gravity through studies of general relativity and black holes.
  • Examine the behavior of subatomic particles and the fundamental forces governing their interactions.
  • Study the properties and behavior of materials and their potential applications in various industries.
  • Investigate the behavior of light and electromagnetic waves, leading to advancements in optics and communications.
  • Conduct theoretical research on quantum mechanics and its implications for computing and information processing.
  • Investigate the properties and behavior of celestial bodies, such as stars, planets, and galaxies, in the field of astrophysics.
  • Stay updated on the latest developments in physics research, technological advancements, and scientific literature.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to physicist:

physics research scientist
medical physicist
physics scholar
physics researcher
nuclear physicist
physics science researcher
forensic physicist
physics analyst
physics scientist
ballist physicist
physics research analyst

Working conditions

Physicists work in various settings, including universities, research institutions, government laboratories, and private industries. They often split their time between theoretical work, data analysis, and experimental research. Physicists may work in laboratories, observatories, or offices, depending on their area of specialization. They may work independently on theoretical research or collaborate as part of larger research teams. Some physicists work on cutting-edge projects and may have opportunities for international collaborations.

Minimum qualifications

Physicists typically hold a Ph.D. in physics or a related field, with a strong background in mathematics and theoretical physics. Practical experience gained through internships, research assistantships, and postdoctoral positions is essential for advancing in the field. Physicists need excellent analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as proficiency in advanced mathematical techniques and computer programming. Strong communication skills are necessary to present research findings, collaborate with colleagues, and communicate complex concepts to a wider audience.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Physicist is a Skill level 4 occupation.

Physicist career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to physicist.


Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of physicist.

  • Mathematics: Mathematics is the study of topics such as quantity, structure, space, and change. It involves the identification of patterns and formulating new conjectures based on them. Mathematicians strive to prove the truth or falsity of these conjectures. There are many fields of mathematics, some of which are widely used for practical applications.
  • Physics: The natural science involving the study of matter, motion, energy, force and related notions.
  • Statistics: The study of statistical theory, methods and practices such as collection, organisation, analysis, interpretation and presentation of data. It deals with all aspects of data including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments in order to forecast and plan work-related activities.
  • Laboratory techniques: Techniques applied in the different fields of natural science in order to obtain experimental data such as gravimetric analysis, gas chromatography, electronic or thermic methods.
  • Scientific research methodology: The theoretical methodology used in scientific research involving doing background research, constructing a hypothesis, testing it, analysing data and concluding the results.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of physicist.

  • Perform laboratory tests: Carry out tests in a laboratory to produce reliable and precise data to support scientific research and product testing.
  • Execute analytical mathematical calculations: Apply mathematical methods and make use of calculation technologies in order to perform analyses and devise solutions to specific problems.
  • Apply statistical analysis techniques: Use models (descriptive or inferential statistics) and techniques (data mining or machine learning) for statistical analysis and ICT tools to analyse data, uncover correlations and forecast trends.
  • Perform scientific research: Gain, correct or improve knowledge about phenomena by using scientific methods and techniques, based on empirical or measurable observations.
  • Apply scientific methods: Apply scientific methods and techniques to investigate phenomena, by acquiring new knowledge or correcting and integrating previous knowledge.
  • Gather experimental data: Collect data resulting from the application of scientific methods such as test methods, experimental design or measurements.
  • Analyse experimental laboratory data: Analyse experimental data and interpret results to write reports and summaries of findings
  • Use measurement instruments: Use different measurement instruments depending on the property to be measured. Utilise various instruments to measure length, area, volume, speed, energy, force, and others.
  • Operate scientific measuring equipment: Operate devices, machinery, and equipment designed for scientific measurement. Scientific equipment consists of specialised measuring instruments refined to facilitate the acquisition of data.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of physicist. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Acoustics: The study of sound, its reflection, amplification and absorption in a space.
  • Intellectual property law: The regulations that govern the set of rights protecting products of the intellect from unlawful infringement.
  • General medicine: General medicine is a medical specialty mentioned in the EU Directive 2005/36/EC.
  • Pharmaceutical technology: Pharmaceutical technology is the branch of pharmaceutics that deals with the technological design, development, manufacture, and evaluation of drugs and medicinal products.
  • Aerodynamics: The scientific field that deals with the way gases interact with moving bodies. As we usually deal with atmospheric air, aerodynamics is primarily concerned with the forces of drag and lift, which are caused by air passing over and around solid bodies.
  • Geophysics: The scientific field that deals with the physical processes and properties of, and spatial environment surrounding Earth. Geophysics also deals with the quantitative analysis of phenomena such as magnetic fields, the internal structure of Earth, and its hydrological cycle.
  • Thermodynamics: The branch of physics that deals with the relationships between heat and other forms of energy..
  • Economics: Economic principles and practices, financial and commodity markets, banking and the analysis of financial data.
  • Geology: Solid earth, rock types, structures and the processes by which they are altered.
  • Biology: Tissues, cells, and functions of plant and animal organisms and their interdependencies and interactions with each other and the environment.
  • Petroleum: The various facets of oil: its extraction, processing, constituents, uses, environmental issues, etc.
  • Remote sensing techniques: The different techniques to obtain information on objects and phenomena on Earth’s surface without having physical contact with them, such as electromagnetic radiation, radar imaging, and sonar imaging.
  • Quantum mechanics: The field of research concerning the study of atoms and photons in order to quantize these particles.
  • Medical laboratory technology: The various types and uses of technology and equipment employed in medical laboratories to perform tests on samples in order to identify possible disease-related substances.
  • Forensic physics: The physics involved in crime solving and testing such as ballistics, vehicle collisions, and fluid testing.
  • Nuclear physics: Field of physics in which protons and neutrons and their interactions inside atoms are analysed.
  • Astronomy: The field of science that studies the physics, chemistry, and evolution of celestial objects such as stars, comets, and moons. It also examines phenomena that happen outside Earth’s atmosphere such as solar storms, cosmic microwave background radiation, and gamma ray bursts.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of physicist. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Operate remote sensing equipment: Set up and operate remote sensing equipment such as radars, telescopes, and aerial cameras in order to obtain information about Earth’s surface and atmosphere.
  • Assist with geophysical surveys: Assist with a range of specific, geophysical surveys, using diverse methods such as seismic, magnetic and electromagnetic methods.
  • Write research proposals: Synthetise and write proposals aiming to solve research problems. Draft the proposal baseline and objectives, the estimated budget, risks and impact. Document the advances and new developments on the relevant subject and field of study.
  • Teach physics: Instruct students in the theory and practice of physics, and more specifically in topics such as the characteristics of matter, creating energy, and aerodynamics.
  • Perform lectures: Present lectures to various groups.
  • Analyse telescope images: Examine images taken by telescopes in order to study phenomena and objects outside Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Communicate with external laboratories: Communicate with external analytical laboratories in order to manage the required external testing process.
  • Collect samples for analysis: Collect samples of materials or products for laboratory analysis.
  • Apply teaching strategies: Employ various approaches, learning styles, and channels to instruct students, such as communicating content in terms they can understand, organising talking points for clarity, and repeating arguments when necessary. Use a wide range of teaching devices and methodologies appropriate to the class content, the learners’ level, goals, and priorities.
  • Develop scientific theories: Formulate scientific theories based on empirical observations, gathered data and theories of other scientists.
  • Calibrate laboratory equipment: Calibrate laboratory equipment by comparing between measurements: one of known magnitude or correctness, made with a trusted device and a second measurement from another piece of laboratory equipment. Make the measurements in as similar a way as possible.
  • Operate telescopes: Set up and adjust telescopes in order to look at phenomena and objects outside Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Interpret geophysical data: Interpret data of a geophysical nature: Earth’s shape, its gravitational and magnetic fields, its structure and composition, and geophysical dynamics and their surface expression in plate tectonics.
  • Write scientific papers: Present the hypothesis, findings, and conclusions of your scientific research in your field of expertise in a professional publication.
  • Provide information on geological characteristics: Provide information on geological structures, host rock quality, groundwater implications and details on the mineralogical and textural composition of ores to enable mining and processing to be planned efficiently. The geological model is used to design the mine workings for minimum dilution and maximum ore extraction.
  • Observe matter: Study the structure and characteristics of matter in order to identify the basic principles ruling these phenomena.
  • Design scientific equipment: Design new equipment or adapt existing equipment to aid scientists in gathering and analysing data and samples.

ISCO group and title

2111 – Physicists and astronomers

  1. Physicist – ESCO
  2. Physicists and Astronomers : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  3. Physicist – College of Science – Purdue University
  4. Featured image: By Photograph by Oren Jack Turner, Princeton, N.J. – Public Domain
Last updated on August 28, 2023