American Institute of Physics
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A course in physics can be the beginning of a career in science or an important building block for another profession. The course will give you a powerful and beautiful way to look at and understand the world around you.

If you like mathematics and science, a physics career offers many opportunities. You should take algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus (if it's available) in high school. When you get to college, you'll take more mathematics. Studying mathematics will help you in physics_and physics will help you to understand and begin to appreciate many applications of mathematical concepts.

During the training camp prior to the 1992 International Physics Olympiad, the U.S. team visited NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center where solar physicist Carol Jo Crannell detailed upcoming missions. (Photo courtesy NASA.)
Other fields of science overlap physics. Many parts of biology, chemistry, geology, and engineering use physics. If you have taken both biology and chemistry, you may have used physics. In college, if you decide to major in physics, you'll take more science but concentrate in physics. After you have taken general physics, with laboratory work, you will study some of the fields within physics such as classical mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, relativity, astrophysics, optics, and geophysics.

Did you know that shaking a ketchup bottle before opening it will produce a smoother flow? Ketchup is a plastic solid. It is thicker when resting than when agitated. Rheology -- a field that uses physics -- is the study of how matter flows.

Graduate students pursuing master's and doctoral degrees concentrate fully on physics. The master's program usually takes two years and may require a research project. An additional two to four years may be needed to earn a Ph.D. One of the most important parts of the Ph.D. program is a piece of original research (either theoretical or experimental) conducted with the guidance of a faculty advisor. You will write up the results for your thesis and perhaps publish it in a scientific journal.

As in other fields, computers are important tools for physicists. Computer programming classes will teach you the skills necessary for the modelling and analysis that are important in physics.

But don't plan on spending all of your time in the lab or in front of a computer screen! You'll need speaking and writing skills to communicate your discoveries, which means that English and composition are required. Scientists need to be able to write clear, concise reports about their research. The editors and reviewers at scientific journals won't re-write your paper, and publishing your work may be very important to your career as a scientist. You will also need to speak before different audiences: you may present a lecture on your research at professional meetings of physicist explain your research to non-scientists, and even answer questions from reporters for newspapers and magazines. If you decide to teach, being able to explain technical material in understandable language is particularly important. Science is international and hasn't been translated into English.

If you become a scientist, you can contribute not only through your research, but also by helping others to understand how scientific research is important to them.