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:

  • theoretical physicists, who develop theories or models of how particular aspects of the world work
  • experimental physicists, who test these theories, determining their limits and suggesting new approaches to them
  • applied physicists, who apply these findings in practical settings, such as within industry and through the introduction of new technology.

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

Duties & Tasks

Physicists may perform the following tasks:

  • observe and measure phenomena in the physical world, from the smallest subatomic particle through to the universe as a whole
  • propose theories and models to explain phenomena
  • use computers to explore the consequences of theories and models
  • build equipment to make new types of measurements, which in many cases have never been attempted before
  • create new ways of understanding observations that have been made
  • develop new materials, products and processes for use in industry, medicine, defence and other areas of research and development.



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.

Personal Requirements

  • aptitude for analysis and problem-solving
  • enthusiasm for research
  • aptitude for mathematics and computing
  • able to visualise and explain ideas clearly
  • able to work independently or as part of a team.

Related Courses:

For more information about this occupation contact:

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (RANZCR)

Related Careers

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