Jobs in Nuclear Physics: Career Information and Education Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a nuclear physicist. Get a quick view of the career requirements and employment outlook statistics as well as details about degree programs and job duties to find out if this is the career for you.

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Nuclear physicists can work in a number of industries. To work as a physicist, you'll need advanced education, and though the job growth in this field is average, the salary for these professionals can be an influencing factor on your decision to pursue a career in nuclear physics.

Essential Information

Physicists study how matter is influenced by naturally occurring phenomena, such as gravity, movement and energy. Nuclear physicists often focus on utilizing the energy within an atom's nucleus. A doctorate is usually needed to pursue this career.

Required Education Ph.D. in physics or astronomy
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 8% (for physicists)
Median Annual Salary (May 2015)* $111,580 (for physicists)

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Nuclear Physics Career Information

Professionals with a background in nuclear physics may consider careers in alternative energy research or radioactive medicine. Military defense research, astronomy or post-secondary education are other career possibilities for those who have earned the necessary degrees.

Most nuclear physicists conduct research projects, which can include harnessing nuclear energy, examining the medicinal properties of nuclear radiation or documenting the breakdown of radioactive nuclear particles. To conduct a research project, nuclear physicists must first choose a topic, create a research proposal, identify important research variables and, in some cases, apply for project funding.

During research projects, physicists conduct tests, document results and analyze the results. Some nuclear physicists apply their research to creating new products or technologies, such as alternative forms of energy.

Employment Outlook and Salary Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that between 2014 and 2024, employment for physicists would increase by 8% (www.bls.gov). Although exact salary statistics were not listed for nuclear physicists, in 2015 the BLS noted that the median annual salary for all physicists was $111,580.

Nuclear Physics Education Requirements

Individuals interested in becoming nuclear physicists will most likely need a doctoral degree, according to the BLS. Nearly all doctoral degree programs in physics require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in physics or a closely related field. Applicants will also need experience with working in laboratories.

Most doctoral programs in physics provide students with concentration options in various specialty fields, including nuclear physics. Possible courses may include electricity and magnetism, physics mechanics, atomic physics, nuclear physics, particle physics, quantum theory and statistical physics.

Besides completing coursework, the majority of doctoral candidates are expected to teach lower-level physics classes. Candidates must also write a dissertation about an approved physics research project.

Understanding what it takes to work in nuclear physics, what kind of work you could do, as well as the expected job growth and median salary you could earn, can help you decide if this is the career for you.

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