2017 Physicists and Astronomers
Median Pay: US$110,980
Entry Level: Doctoral or professional degree
Physicists and astronomers study the ways in which various forms of matter and energy interact. Theoretical physicists and astronomers may study the nature of time or the origin of the universe. Some physicists design and perform experiments with sophisticated equipment such as particle accelerators, electron microscopes, and lasers.

Physicists and astronomers typically do the following:

  • Develop scientific theories and models that attempt to explain the properties of the natural world, such as the force of gravity or the formation of atoms
  • Plan and conduct scientific experiments and studies to test theories and discover properties of matter and energy
  • Write proposals and apply for research grants
  • Do complex mathematical calculations to analyze physical and astronomical data, such as data that may indicate the existence of planets in distant solar systems
  • Design new scientific equipment, such as telescopes and lasers
  • Develop computer software to analyze and model data
  • Write scientific papers that may be published in scholarly journals
  • Present research findings at scientific conferences and lectures

Physicists explore the fundamental properties and laws that govern space, time, energy, and matter. Some physicists study theoretical areas, such as the fundamental properties of atoms and molecules and the evolution of the universe. Others design and perform experiments with sophisticated equipment such as particle accelerators, electron microscopes, and lasers. Many apply their knowledge of physics to practical areas, such as developing advanced materials and medical equipment.

Astronomers study planets, stars, galaxies, and other celestial bodies. They use ground-based equipment, such as radio and optical telescopes, and space-based equipment, such as the Hubble Space Telescope. Some astronomers focus their research on objects in our solar system, such as the sun or planets. Others study distant stars, galaxies, and phenomena such as neutron stars and black holes, and some monitor space debris that could interfere with satellite operations.

Many physicists and astronomers work in basic research with the aim of increasing scientific knowledge. These researchers may attempt to develop theories that better explain what gravity is or how the universe works or was formed. Other physicists and astronomers work in applied research. They use the knowledge gained from basic research to affect new developments in areas such as energy, electronics, communications, navigation, and medical technology. For example, because of the work of physicists, lasers are used in surgery and microwave ovens are used in most kitchens.

Astronomers and physicists typically work on research teams together with engineers, technicians, and other scientists. Some senior astronomers and physicists may be responsible for assigning tasks to other team members and monitoring their progress. They may also be responsible for finding funding for their projects and therefore may need to write applications for research grants.

Although all of physics involves the same fundamental principles, physicists generally specialize in one of many subfields. The following are examples of types of physicists:

Astrophysicists study the physics of the universe. "strophysics" is a term that is often used interchangeably with "astronomy."

Atomic, molecular, and optical physicists study atoms, simple molecules, electrons, and light, as well as the interactions among them. Some look for ways to control the states of individual atoms, because such control might allow for further miniaturization or might contribute toward the development of new materials or computer technology.

Condensed matter physicists study the physical properties of condensed phases of matter, such as liquids and solids. They study phenomena ranging from superconductivity to liquid crystals.

Medical physicists work in healthcare and use their knowledge of physics to develop new medical technologies and radiation-based treatments. For example, some develop better and safer radiation therapies for cancer patients. Others may develop more accurate imaging technologies that use various forms of radiant energy, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound imaging.

Particle and nuclear physicists study the properties of atomic and subatomic particles, such as quarks, electrons, and nuclei, and the forces that cause their interactions. 

Plasma physicists study plasmas, which are considered a distinct state of matter and occur naturally in stars and interplanetary space and artificially in neon signs and plasma screen televisions. Many plasma physicists study ways to create fusion reactors that might be a future source of energy.

Unlike physicists, astronomers cannot experiment on their subjects, because they are so far away that they cannot be touched or interacted with. Therefore, astronomers generally make observations or work on theory. Observational astronomers observe celestial objects and collect data on them. Theoretical astronomers analyze, model, and theorize about systems and how they work and evolve. Some astronomers specialize further into other subfields. The following are examples of types of astronomers who specialize by the objects and phenomena they study:

Cosmologists and extragalactic astronomers study the entire universe. They study the history, the creation and evolution, and the possible futures of the universe and its galaxies. These scientists have recently developed several theories important to the study of physics and astronomy, including string, dark-matter, and dark-energy theories.

Galactic, planetary, solar, and stellar astronomers study different phenomena that take place in the universe, specializing in certain parts of it. For example, solar astronomers study the sun, while stellar astronomers study other stars and associated phenomena.

High-energy astrophysicists collect and analyze x rays, gamma rays, and other forms of high-energy rays that can help locate and study black holes or neutron stars.

Observational astronomers and optical astronomers use optical telescopes to study their subjects.

Radio astronomers use radio telescopes to analyze the radio spectrum for data about their subjects.

Growing numbers of physicists work in interdisciplinary fields, such as biophysics, chemical physics, and geophysics. For more information, see the profiles on biochemists and biophysicists and geoscientists.

Many people with a physics or astronomy background become professors or teachers. For more information, see the profiles on high school teachers and postsecondary teachers.

Physicist III

Type: Full Time, Full Time Alumnus
Responsible for conducting independent testing and analyses, primarily involving microscopy techniques, to solve product/process and customer problems, interpreting results and preparing related reports. Also will develop new test methods, conduct independent research projects, present results in...
Apply Share


Type: Full Time, Full Time Alumnus
DutiesSummaryThis position is part of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.ResponsibilitiesAs a GEOPHYSICIST at the GS-1313-14 some of your typical work assignments may include:Acts as the senior subject matter expert in geophysics on assigned projects, tests, investigations, explorations,...
Apply Share

Supervisory Geophysicist, GS-1313-13 (DEU-YMJ)

Type: Full Time, Full Time Alumnus
DutiesSummaryWhat General Information Do I Need To Know About This Position?Salary: $94,618 (Step 01) to $123,004 (Step 10); NOTE: First time hires to the Federal Government are typically hired at the Step 01.There is one vacancy however, this announcement may be used to fill additional vacancies...
Apply Share


Type: Full Time, Full Time Alumnus
DutiesSummarySelection for this position will be made at either the grade 12, 13 or 14 level. If selection is made at the grade 12, or 13 level the selectee may be non-competitively promoted to the next higher level up to the grade 14 upon recommendation of the Professional Accomplishments...
Apply Share

Research Geophysicist, GS-1313-13/14 (DEU-YMJ)

Type: Full Time, Full Time Alumnus
DutiesSummaryWhat General Information Do I Need To Know About This Position?There is only one vacancy which may be filled at Pasadena or Menlo Park, California. The location of this position will be determined when a selection is made.There is one vacancy however, this announcement may be used to...
Apply Share


Type: Full Time, Full Time Alumnus
Under the supervision of the Principal Investigator, independently carries out and designs highly sophisticated and independent experiments. Will work in laboratory space dedicated to Principal Investigator or in clinical space under supervision of senior physicists. Will potentially also establish...
Apply Share

Ultrasound Technologist PRN

Type: Full Time, Full Time Alumnus
The Ultrasound Technologist PRN, under general supervision of a Radiologist, performs ultrasound procedures on ambulatory and hospital patients in a physician office, clinic, and hospital setting as requested by a physician or other licensed provider for the diagnosis of disease and injury in...
Apply Share

Radiation Therapist

Type: Full Time, Full Time Alumnus
Position SummaryJob DescriptionTexas Center for Proton Therapy (Texas Oncology) is searching for a Staff Radiation Therapist. The Staff Radiation Therapist position is 100% clinical with direct involvement in daily treatment delivery and after appropriate tenure, cross training for diagnostic...
Apply Share

Genetic Counselor

Type: Full Time, Full Time Alumnus
OverviewGenetic CounselorFull Time, 80 hours per pay period, Day ShiftWelcome to Thompson Cancer Survival Center. We are more than a world class cancer center. We are a cancer survival center, where leading cancer specialists use the most advanced technologies to achieve breakthrough successes in...
Apply Share


Type: Full Time, Full Time Alumnus
POSITION TITLE: Medical Physicist IJOB SUMMARYAddresses problems related to diagnosis and treatment of human disease by performing the following duties..ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIESClinical ApplicationsActs as a resource to the Physician(s), Dosimetrist(s), and all partners as it relates...
Apply Share
Janesville, WI

BC/BE Radiation Oncologist

Type: Full Time, Full Time Alumnus
Central Care, PA, a private practice in Salina, KS, has an opportunity for a full-time board certified/board eligible Radiation Oncologist. This position will work with a full time team of physicists and dosimetrists. The successful candidate will join an independent multidisciplinary oncology team...
Apply Share

Certified Medical Dosimetrist

Type: Full Time, Full Time Alumnus
Medical Dosimetrist - New York Proton CenterThe New York Proton Center (NYPC), located in Manhattan, is one of the most unique and respected clinical partnerships in the world of radiation oncology. The collaboration between ProHEALTH, Mount Sinai Hospital, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center...
Apply Share