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What Does a Theoretical Physicist Do?

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  • Written By: Nick Mann
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
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  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2016
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Working as a theoretical physicist is a job that's best suited for individuals with strong mathematical abilities and a love of science. To obtain this type of position, a person will usually need an advanced degree and expertise in physics. In most cases, a theoretical physicist will work at a university or scientific laboratory. Some common job duties include performing research, performing experiments, analyzing data, publishing findings and teaching students.

One of the most essential aspects of this job is doing research and formulating theories on a variety of physics related subjects. For example, a theoretical physicist might research topics such as black holes, quantum mechanics and string theory. To formulate substantive theories, the scientist must come up with hypotheses based on his knowledge of the body of research in his specialty of physics. As he uncovers new information, a theoretical physicist will often need to tweak his original ideas.

Performing experiments also plays a large part in this position. For example, the physicist might solve complex mathematical equations to validate a theory. He may also engage in experiments on the micro-level to gain knowledge on the macro-level. An example would be observing how a force works on earth to understand how it works in space. Being effective at this requires a person who is capable of applying mathematical laws on both the large and small scale.

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As a theoretical physicist performs research and experiments, he must also analyze the data that he acquires. For his findings to become practically applicable and accepted by the scientific community, it's important for him to interpret them. This is often the most intricate and time consuming part of the job. Being successful usually requires a person to be organized and very detailed.

Sharing findings in scientific journals and other publications is another important aspect of the job. It doesn't do a theoretical physicist much good if he makes scientific breakthroughs but does not publicize them. Consequently, most individuals in this career will write about theories and present findings for an audience of other physicists or the general public. In some cases, a theoretical physicist will also give presentations to other professionals in this field.

In addition, many individuals will also spend a significant amount of time teaching students. In most cases, it's the physicists who work at a university who give lectures. During these lectures, a theoretical physicist might break down his theories and explain how he came to reach his findings. In some schools, he may also lead students in labs where the students get to perform experiments and test his theories.

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