Physics and Astronomy

Earnings Potential

Physicists typically earn between $57,532 and $155,659 per year (Salary.com). 

Facts at a glance

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a less than 8% job growth for Physicists and Astronomers through 2014.
  • Physicists and astronomers held about 16,000 jobs in 2004.  Astronomers accounted for only 5 percent of that total.  A third of physicists and astronomers worked for scientific research and development services firms. 25% were employed by the Federal Government, mostly in the U.S. Department of Defense.  Some worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Energy.  Others worked in colleges and universities in nonfaculty, usually research, positions, or for State governments, IT companies, pharmaceutical companies, or electronic equipment manufacturers (USDL).

 

Summary of what this career entails

Physicists explore and identify basic principles and laws governing motion and gravitation in the universe.  They study the macroscopic and microscopic behavior of gases, the structure and behavior of matter, the generation and transfer between energy, and the interaction of matter and energy.  They study the nature of time and the origin of the universe; others apply their expertise the fields of nuclear energy, electronics, optics, materials, communications, aerospace technology, and medical instrumentation (BLS).

Astronomy is considered a subfield of physics that uses the principles of physics and mathematics to learn about the fundamental nature of the universe, including the sun, moon, planets, stars, and galaxies.  Astronomers apply their knowledge to solve problems in navigation, space flight, and satellite communications and to develop the instrumentation and techniques used to observe and collect astronomical data (BLS).

Examples and or details of work

In an online article published on October 29, 2006, Physics Web writer Belle Dumé reported that "physicists from the Collider Detector (CDF) collaboration at Fermilab near Chicago have discovered two new particles, called sigma-b baryons. The particles are the heaviest baryons ever discovered and weigh about 5.8 GeV, or around six times more than the proton. One sigma-b comprises two "up" quarks and one "bottom" quark, while the other contains two "down" quarks and a "bottom" quark. The discovery provides further insights into the "strong" force that binds quarks together" (Dumé).

"Build astronomical observatories on the Moon?"  Yes, says Paul Lowman Jr. in the Nov. 2006 issue of Physics TodayLowman, a geophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland says that "for decades astronomers have recognized the Moon as an ideal site for optical and submillimeter interferometry.  Recently, however, some have proposed plausible concepts for space-borne interferometry, such as the free-flying Terrestrial Planet Finder and the rigid-beam Space Interferometry Mission. These concepts face formidable technological challenges, such as keeping the distance between telescopes constant to within a fraction of a wavelength of visible light (Lowman).

Degrees that lead to this career


A doctoral degree (Ph.D.) is an educational requirement for physicists and astronomers.  Additional experience and training in a postdoctoral research appointment, although not required, is important for physicists and astronomers aspiring to permanent positions in basic research in universities and government laboratories.  Many physics and astronomy Ph.D. holders ultimately teach at the college or university level (BLS).

References

Dumé, Belle.  "New particles turn up in the US".  PhysicsWeb.com.  29 Oct. 2006.  5 November
2006.  <http://physicsweb.org/articles/news/10/10/17/1>.

Lowman Jr., Paul.  "Build astronomical observatories on the Moon".  PhysicsToday.org. 2006.
5 November 2006.  
<http http://www.physicstoday.org/vol-59/iss-11/p50.html>.

Salary.com. 2000-2006.  5 November 2006.
< http://www.salary.com>. Path: Enter title; Physicist; National Base Salary.

Salary.com. 2000-2006.  5 November 2006.
< http://www.salary.com>. Path: Enter title; Astronomer; National Base Salary.

U.S. Department of Labor.  Bureau of Labor Statistics.  "Physicists and Astronomers". 4 Aug. 2006.  5 November 2006.
<http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos052.htm>.

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