How Do I Become a Nuclear Physicist?

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  • Written By: Alan Rankin
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
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  • Last Modified Date: 22 February 2020
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A nuclear physicist is a scientist specializing in the production of energy from radioactive materials. Nuclear physicists can work in the production of nuclear energy or weapons, in nuclear medicine, or in other related fields. Some also work for the government agencies that oversee the safety and regulation of nuclear materials. A person who wishes to become a nuclear physicist needs a strong background in physics, mathematics, and computer science. Successful nuclear physicists have advanced academic degrees and have spent years studying their field.

To become a nuclear physicist, you should focus on scientific studies as early as possible. While a thorough knowledge of physics and nuclear engineering is of course essential, a background in other fields can also be an asset. Knowledge of computer programming, education, or business management, for example, can prepare you for employment in a field related to nuclear physics. Some of these jobs will only be stepping stones to a desired position. These ancillary skills can also be useful for jobs within the field, however, such as university teaching positions.


An advanced degree, usually a Ph.D. in physics with a focus on nuclear engineering, is required to become a nuclear physicist. If you are still in high school, a guidance counselor may be able to help you choose a university with a strong science program. Even before you complete your bachelor’s degree, you may be able to find employment as a research assistant or in a private lab. These jobs will not only help you gain experience, but they can provide valuable contacts within the nuclear industry. These contacts can help you find employment once you have completed your education.

It is important to keep up with the latest advances in nuclear physics both during and after your university studies. As you advance to doctoral and post-doctoral courses, you will need to decide which specialized field to focus on if you have not done so already. If you wish to go into nuclear medicine, for example, you will also need to study medicine and physiology. You should also bear in mind that high security clearances are required to become a nuclear physicist in certain fields. Your behavior, even in early life, can determine your qualifications for these clearances, so you should examine these qualifications and plan accordingly.

Once you have finished your doctorate, you can add to your credentials with research papers in peer-reviewed scientific and academic journals. Many of those who become a nuclear physicist find positions in private industry, overseeing nuclear power plants or the assembly or disassembly of nuclear weapons. Other jobs are government positions, such as the security analysts who work for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Nuclear physics is a challenging field that attracts some of the brightest minds in science. To compete in this field, your credentials must include top grades and achievements, both inside and outside of the academic world.


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