“The Physics is theoretical but the fun is real” – The Big Bang Theory (2007). Some people think that learning physics is difficult and tedious when memorizing many complicated formulas. But for those really into the subject, immersing themselves in the study of physics or tinkering with experiments is a joy for them (and maybe a way to relieve stress!). 

The following article will show physics lovers an overview of physics, a career path related to this science subject. So what do physicists do? How much do physicists make? Are you more suitable to become a theoretical or experimental physicist? Below are the most apparent answers.

Want to learn more about other physics-based jobs? Maybe a robotics engineer career is for you. Try reading Salary of Robotics Engineer and How To Jump Start Your Career

A Brief Physicist Job Description

  • Conduct research on overall forces, structures, and phenomena that affect the natural world (They may focus on a specialized topic of study in physics).
  • Make a hypothesis for each research based on methodology and predictions.
  • Plan then control the research and experiments process to collect relevant data.
  • Review experiment outcomes and run quality control tests.
  • Report outcomes and give result presentations.
  • Contribute to and assist with technical research papers.
  • Lecture and teach students about the physics laws according to the curriculum.

Difference Between Theoretical and Experimental Physicist

Job Overview

Theoretical Physicists

In brief, theoretical physicists focus on physical phenomena. They also research on the laws governing the interactions and interrelations of matter and energy at all scales, such as gravity, the nature of time, and the universe’s origin. To study the universe’s nature, they conceive and develop models to describe the phenomena (both observable and non-observable). Also, their work is published in scientific journals.

Generally, most of their tasks is in an office and involves using mathematics to describe observations about the basic laws and principles of the universe.

Experimental Physicists

On the other hand, experimental physicists’ primary focus is performing tests and experimentation on models and theories. Some pay more attention to exploring Atomic structure, properties of light, superconductors, and nuclear energy. By and large, they design experiments to test hypotheses about the interactions of matter and energy in specific ways using sophisticated equipment.

Indeed, applications of their research are important in medicine, manufacturing, alternative energy technologies, and the military. In addition to time spent in laboratory settings, experimental physicists may also write proposals to get funding for their work.

Main Duties, Workplace, and Job Outlook

Theoretical PhysicistsExperimental Physicists
Main duties– Building conceptual models of the physical properties (using computers).
– Comparing their mathematical analysis with those made by peers.
– Making analysis and predictions about complex natural phenomena.
– Preparing papers and presenting at scientific conferences.
– Observing, recording, and analyzing data for the efficiency and utility of the models and theories made by theoretical physicists.
– Developing ways to use the properties of matter and energy in industrial applications.
– Analyzing data on the efficiency of specific instrumentation.
Workplace– Theoretical physicists often teach at large universities. They may also work at federal agencies such as NASA.– Experimental physicists work in labs, researchers for commercial or industrial companies, universities, and the federal government.
Job growth– 9% for both in the period from 2018 to 2028 (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

In case you want to work at federal agencies, we have many other recommendations for you: Top Career Opportunities At Federal Agencies.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein – a legendary theoretical physicist – Source: www.minhtrietmoi.org 

Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford – one of the greatest experimental physicists of all time – Source: en.wikipedia.org

How Much Do Physicists Make?

As of August 6, 2021, the average annual pay for a Physicist in the United States is 120,239 USD a year. In other words, this figure is the equivalent of 57.81 USD per hour, 2,312 USD per week, or 10,020 USD per month. Additionally, a physicist’s hourly wage may range from 55 USD to 214,5 USD nationally.

In addition, most physicists can expect benefits such as paid vacation, health insurance, sick leave, and a retirement plan.

Next, let’s look at the percentile wage estimates for physicists. To clarify, this term is to indicate the value of a wage below which a certain percent of workers fall. According to the latest data in May 2020 from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are the percentile wage estimates for physicists nationally:

Percentile10%25%50% (Median)75%
Hourly Wage32.43 USD45.68 USD62.43 USD82.12 USD
Annual Wage 67,450 USD95,020 USD129,850 USD170,810 USD

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

To clarify, this table indicated that:
  • 10% of employees earn less than 32.43 USD per hour; therefore the remaining 90% earn more than 32.43 USD per hour.
  • 25% earn less than 45.68 USD; 75% earn more than 45.68 USD.
  • 50% earn less than 62.43 USD; 50% earn more than 62.43 USD (The 50th percentile is called the Median).
  • 75% earn less than 82.12 USD; 25% earn more than 82.12 USD.

Moreover, let’s take a look at the top 5 states where physicists earn most:

StateHourly mean wageAnnual mean wage 
Connecticut83.64 USD173,970 USD
New Mexico81.00 USD168,480 USD
South Carolina79.38 USD165,120 USD
New York78.51 USD163,290 USD
Louisiana78.33 USD162,930 USD

How much do physicists make in the top 5 highest-paying states? – Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

how much do physicists make

How much do physicists make: More than money, it’s their passion satisfaction – Source: www.brainscape.com 

We mentioned the difference between the 2 types of physicists. So is there any gap between theoretical and experimental physicists? How much does a theoretical physicist make? To sum up, Study.com provided us with a clear answer based on PayScale.com’s data.

Job TitleMinimum Education RequiredMedian Salary (2020)
Theoretical PhysicistsDoctoral degree67,752 USD
Experimental PhysicistsDoctoral degree111,567 USD

Source: PayScale.com and Study.com

Our Recommendation

If you want to follow another career path involving physics, you might consider becoming a physics professor. Besides teaching and grading students’ classwork, paper, or assignments, physics professors can also do a combination of teaching and research. So how much do physics professors make in the United States per year? It ranges from 56,000 USD to 131,000 USD, with an average of 109,000 USD as of July 28, 2021,

What are the typical salaries in other careers? Explore here Job overview – What The Job Entails – Plan Your Way to Success section.

Visit Jobandedu for more.

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By Layla Anderson

Layla Anderson is a full-time career consultant and joined JobandEdu in 2021 as a freelance writer. Before joining, Layla helps students and entry-level worker finds their career path and guides them through the application process. She starts taking on writing as she believes all people deserve to know about job details and the application process as well as the working environment before actually making their life-changing choices. She also writes to share her interests and valuable and useful knowledge.

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