Why Study Physics?

Article _physics 01

The theory of everything

Article _physics 02Physics is behind the technology that put the man on the Moon, made the internet possible and iPods ubiquitous. Physics will underpin the technology that shapes tomorrow's world - from new, abundant, clean energy sources like nuclear fusion to awesomely powerful quantum computers. 

Yet physics is even more than this. Physics is the search for the fundamental laws of the Universe, a hunt for the building blocks of nature and a "theory of everything".

Scientists use physics to really scrutinise nature, from the innermost workings of the atom to the edge of the visible Universe. And it all starts with a degree in physics. 

Depending on the course you choose, you can specialise in studying earthquakes and volcanoes (geophysics), the building blocks of matter (particle physics), or the workings of stars (astrophysics). 

Every physicist needs a solid grounding in mathematics and the underlying theories of physics, such as special relativity and thermodynamics, and, on many of the physics courses available in the UK, you are taught these fundamentals in your first year to prepare you for the area you choose to specialise in over the years following.

From these 'basics', the different areas of study are wide and varied.  Henry Lau, a physics graduate from the University of Leicester, remembers, "My favourite part of the course was lab work; the best bit was probably programming a robot dog to act like a planetary rover - we had to give it instructions so that it could detect and avoid obstacles, as if it was exploring a distant planet that was out of communication range."

After a physics degree, many can't resist the lure of sticking with physics and choose to become either academic or industrial researchers.

Kate Lancaster, a laser fusion scientist who undertakes research into nuclear fusion, a clean and almost endless energy source, says, "I play around with lasers all day, get sent to different countries courtesy of the lab and work with lots of other young people.  What could be better?" 

However, physics graduates are also found across the widest range of industrial sectors.  There are wealthy "rocket scientists" in the City, quantum physicists in management consultancy, and even a few scientists in Government.

Physics graduates are highly-prized by employers for their analytical and problem-solving skills, their computing skills and high level of sophistication in mathematics, as well as their ability to work well in a team; all things they have gained on their physics degree course.

Simon Singh, science writer and broadcaster, said, "I think that physicists can do pretty much anything. Our [physics] training can be applied to almost any activity, and it allows us to see things in ways that might not be obvious to others."

With physics degrees available in universities across the country and a wide range of course options available - everything from physics with maths to physics with music- deciding between courses can be a bewildering prospect. That's why the Institute of Physics (IOP) has designed a one-stop-shop website for all information related to undergraduate physics degree. Go for a browse at www.myphysicscourse.org.