Introduction to Physics

The branch of science which applies various scientific methods to the study and decipherment of the most fundamental principles and laws of nature and natural phenomena is called Physics.  It studies and describes the motion, energy, momentum, and forces on matter throughout the entire universe. It is expected that all the events in nature take place according to some basic laws and Physics reveals these basic laws from day-to-day observations. Often regarded as a subject for study at a deeply theoretical level, physics represents an extremely broad and dynamic academic field that provides a logical framework in learning and understanding about the basic constituents of matter and their interactions as well as the nature of atoms and the build-up of molecules and condensed matter.

Physics underpins all sciences. It pervades every part of the world of science, technology and engineering. Its methods and insights are widely applicable, and its practitioners widely sought. Many scientists believe that in order to truly comprehend the other sciences (biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, etc.) one must first have an understanding of physics.  For example, in biology, the movement of blood is related to motion, gravity, and fluid dynamics – all rely on the Law of Universal Gravitation.

What Does a Physicist Do?

Physicists ask really big and intriguing questions like:

  • What are the basic building blocks of matter?
  • How did the universe evolve?
  • How will the universe change in the future?
  • How does the Sun keep on shining?
  • Why do you get electric shocks in cold, dry weather?
  • What happens to the electrical properties of materials at temperatures very near absolute zero (­460 degrees Fahrenheit)?

Physicists are responsible for the theories and discoveries that have led to the development of computers, transistor radios, laser beams, microwave appliances, and communications satellites. The importance of physics to society today is most easily represented by our reliance on technology. For example, research on the physics of semiconductors enabled the first transistor to be developed in 1947. Also, the laws of optics describing the way light behaves that have lead to the development of the optical fiber networks. Some of the most famous figures and their contributions in the field of physics include: Galileo Galilei’s first astronomical theories and observations; Sir Isaac Newton’s theories of motion and gravity; Albert Einstein and his theory of special relativity; Marie and Pierre Curie and their work on X-rays; and Ernest Rutherford’s discoveries leading to the establishment of nuclear physics.

Specialisations in Physics

physicist usually specializes within one branch of physics, though many disciplines overlap. Due to the huge breadth of physics, approximately seventeen divisions in physics have emerged. The divisions include mechanics, thermodynamics, cryogenics, plasma physics, solid state physics, biophysics, astrophysics, acoustics, optics, electromagnetism, fluid dynamics, mathematical physics, statistical mechanics, high energy physics, atomic physics, molecular physics, nuclear physics, and quantum physics. For example, nuclear physicists study the structure of atomic nuclei and the way that they interact with one another. Their work has led to the development of nuclear power plants and the use of radioactive substances that help medical doctors diagnose illness. Biophysicists research the medical application of physics and are responsible for the development of the betatron for radiation therapy. Acoustical physicists study shock, vibration, underwater sound, and noise. Optical physicists are interested in how to control light. Their research on lasers has already been applied to everything from eye surgery to cutting tools. Solid-state physicists study the structure and properties of such materials as metals and alloys. Their work led to the development of the transistor.

Career Prospect for Physics Graduate

Physics graduates have always been in great demand and, as technology comes to play an increasing role in society, so that demand increases. It opens doors to employment opportunities worldwide. A 2010 HESA survey of 2009 graduates indicates that six months after graduation, just over a third of new graduates were employed either full or part time. Employment for physicists and astronomers is expected to grow faster than the average compared to all other occupations for the 2008-2018 decade according to the 2010-2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics. As the outlook for the industrial economy leans heavily towards R&D and high-end manufacturing, physics graduates will find increasing opportunities in industry and research organizations. Here are some of the prospective careers in this field of study:

  • Aerospace and defense
  • Education
  • Astronomy
  • Industrial research and development
  • Medical physics
  • Geophysics
  • Engineering
  • Nuclear power and Instrumentation
  • Microelectronics
  • Oil and gas
  • Scientific laboratory technician
  • Space exploration
  • Telecommunications
  • Banking and financial institutions
  • Management
  • Computer programming
  • Law, especially patent law
  • Equipment manufacturers

According to the 2010-2011 salary survey by payscale.com, physicists command the 8th highest mid-career median salary of any college major, $99,600. The same survey found the median starting salary for physics majors to be $50,700.

The programme length of a bachelor’s degree is three years. Core Physics topics include: Mechanics, Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Electromagnetism, Atomic Physics, Thermal Physics, Nuclear Structure, Particle Physics, and Condensed Matter Physics. A wide range of options is available including Medical Physics, Astronomy, Statistical and Low Temperature Physics, Surface Physics, Mathematics, Computing and Experimental Physics.

Attributes Needed by a Good Physicist

ü  Spatial and conceptual vision, Mathematical fluency, Curiosity and Sense of wonder, Critical and quantitative reasoning, Analytical mind, Clear and effective communication, Computer and IT skills, Excellent Problem-solving skill, Patient, Hardworking.

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