Isaac Newton was a revolutionary figure in the development of modern physics as an exact science.

A physicist is a scientist who specializes in physics research. Physicists study a wide range of physical phenomena in many branches of physics spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic particles of which all ordinary matter is made (particle physics) to the behavior of the material Universe as a whole (cosmology).

The term "physicist" was coined by William Whewell in his 1840 book The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences.[1]


  • Education 1
  • Honors and awards 2
  • Employment 3
  • List of important physicists 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Albert Einstein developed the theory of general relativity.

Most material a student encounters in the undergraduate physics curriculum is based on discoveries and insights of a century or more in the past. Alhazen's intromission theory of light was formulated in the 11th century; Newton's laws of motion and Newton's law of universal gravitation were formulated in the 17th century; Maxwell's equations, 19th century; and quantum mechanics, early 20th century. The undergraduate physics curriculum generally includes the following range of courses: chemistry, classical physics, kinematics, astronomy and astrophysics, physics laboratory, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics, optics, modern physics, quantum physics, nuclear physics, particle physics, and solid state physics. Undergraduate physics students must also take extensive mathematics courses (calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, complex analysis, etc.), and computer science and programming. Undergraduate physics students often perform research 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, nuclear physics, optics, particle physics, and plasma physics. Post-doctoral experience may be required for certain positions.

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.


The three major employers of career physicists are academic institutions, government laboratories, and private industries, with the largest employer being the last.[2] Many trained physicists, however, apply their skills to other activities, in particular to engineering, computing, and finance, often quite successfully. Some physicists take up additional careers where their knowledge of physics can be combined with further training in other disciplines, such as patent law in industry or private practice. In the United States, a majority of those in the private sections having a physics degree actually work outside the fields of physics, astronomy and engineering altogether.[3]

Nobel laureate Sir Joseph Rotblat has suggested that physicists going into employment in scientific research should honour a Hippocratic Oath for Scientists.

List of important physicists

The following is a gallery of highly influential and important figures in the history of physics. For a list that includes even more people, see list of physicists.

See also


  1. ^ Whewell, William. The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences Part 1. Cambridge: John W Parker J&J Deighton. p. cxiii. [1]
  2. ^ AIP Statistical Research Center. "Initial Employment Report, Fig. 7". Archived from the original on January 13, 2007. Retrieved August 21, 2006.  Also relevant is: Institute of Physics. "Education Statistics, Graph 4.11". Retrieved August 21, 2006. 
  3. ^ AIP Statistical Research Center. "Initial Employment Report, Table 1". Retrieved August 21, 2006. 
  4. ^ Bondyopadhyay, Prebir K. (1995). "25th European Microwave Conference, 1995". p. 879.  
  5. ^ "Guglielmo Marconi: The Nobel Prize in Physics 1909"
  6. ^ Bondyopadhyay, P.K. (1998). "Sir J.C. Bose diode detector received Marconi's first transatlantic wireless signal of December 1901 (the 'Italian Navy Coherer' Scandal Revisited)". Proceedings of the IEEE 86: 259.  
  7. ^ Roy, Amit (8 December 2008). "Cambridge 'pioneer' honour for Bose". The Telegraph ( 

Further reading

  • Whitten, Barbara L.; Foster, Suzanne R.; Duncombe, Margaret L. (2003). "What works for women in physics?".  
  • Kirby, Kate; Czujko, Roman; Mulvey, Patrick (2001). "The Physics Job Market: From Bear to Bull in a Decade". Physics Today 54 (4): 36.  
  • Hermanowicz, Joseph C. (1998). The Stars Are Not Enough: Scientists--Their Passions and Professions. University of Chicago Press.  
  • Hermanowicz, Joseph C. (2009). Lives in Science: How Institutions Affect Academic Careers. University of Chicago Press.  

External links

  • Education and employment statistics from the American Institute of Physics
  • Occupational Outlook Handbook
  • Physicists and Astronomers; US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physicists and Astronomers