Where do physicists work?

February 27, 2009 at 5:55 am Leave a comment

Many physicists work in research laboratories — in industry, in universities, and in national laboratories — but that is only a beginning of a catalog of places where physicists can be found. Many teach in high schools, colleges, and universities. Others can be found in hospitals, the military, oil fields, power plants, in the astronaut corps, in museums, in patent law firms, and in management positions in business and government. A young person trained in physics acquires a set of skills that makes him or her a valued employee in many settings.

In research laboratories
Most research scientists are required to teach as well as do research, so a typical day would involve some hours of both, or at least preparation for lectures in addition to research. Experimental research would involve work in the laboratory that could be confined to some part of the day or sometimes days together without a break if the experiment requires continuous data collection that is time bound. Meeting with the research team to plan and discuss the work would take up part of the day. The scientist may need to spend part of her day in the library (although these days, journals on the Net and information available on various topics on the world wide web have cut the time a scientist needs to spend in a library, some amount of time in actual libraries is still essential). Entering experimental data into the computer and obtaining results would take hours on a computer and theoretical and experimental scientists would spend at least fifty percent of their working hours on the computer. With micro labs in place, not only data collection and recording but also drawing inferences from such data is all computerized, and some part of the scientist’s day would go in upgrading her knowledge of essential software.

In industry
Physicists who work in industry may work in the research wing of companies as diverse as those that make aeroplanes and those that make, say, soap. Physics and soap? Listen to what Pramila Sharma, an MSc in Nuclear Physics who now works in the Hindustan Lever Resarch Centre (HLRC), has to say, “My work at HLRC is mainly concerned with making soaps ‘feel’ better. The work has much to do with physics (even though it doesn’t have much to do with my MSc subject, Nuclear Physics). At my job, I try to measure the difference in coefficients of friction of various soaps to see which soap feels better and why it does so. Then I try to incorporate some chemicals (polymers) into the already existing soaps and see if the foam has a better, smoother ‘feel’ now. I keep doing this until the soap ‘feels’ perfect. For carrying out the measurements I mentioned earlier, I have to work on sophisticated instruments like the rheometer, the texture analyser, and do various studies like DSC(differential scanning calorimetry), SEM (scanning electron microscopy) etc.” So, you see, even making a soap that feels right involves a lot of physics!

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Entry filed under: Pure Sciences. Tags: , , .

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