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Physicists study the behaviour of the physical world at the most basic level and find practical ways to apply new knowledge gained from their research in areas of science and technology.

Physicists are usually identified within three broad roles:

There is interaction between all three roles and physicists generally have skills in each of these areas.

Physicists may perform the following tasks:



An astrophysicist studies the characteristics of the solar system, stars and galaxies, as well as the universe as a whole. See the separate entry for Astronomer for more information.

Atmospheric and Environmental Physicist

An atmospheric and environmental physicist studies how our environment works and how various aspects of the environment interact.

Atomic and Molecular Physicist

An atomic and molecular physicist studies the behaviour and structure of atoms and molecules.

Condensed Matter Physicist

A condensed matter physicist studies the properties and behaviour of condensed matter (solid state) under many conditions, often in the development of new devices for computers and consumer products.


A cosmologist studies the characteristics and development of the universe as a whole.

Medical Physicist

A medical physicist studies the practical applications of physics in hospitals, and develops and monitors radiation safety limits in workplaces. Medical physicists also develop and operate medical radiation therapy equipment.


A nanotechnologist designs and manipulates structures at the atomic and subatomic level to create materials and devices of increased durability and efficiency. Nanotechnologists use a combination of techniques from across the sciences, including physics, chemistry, biosciences, material science and engineering.

Nuclear/Particle Physicist

A nuclear/particle physicist studies the structure of the nuclei of atoms and the particles that make up those nuclei.

Optical Physicist

An optical physicist investigates the properties and behaviour of light in order to develop or refine devices such as lasers and optical fibre components for applications such as photonic communications. Physicists may also work in many other areas, including acoustics, biophysics, thermal physics, geophysics and teaching.

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