Difference Between Physicist & Astrophysicist

Physicists and astrophysicists work in the same field and have very similar professions. What distinguishes each from the other is the respective focus of their research and the objectives of their work.

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Comparing Physicists to Astrophysicists

Since astrophysics is a specialized branch of physics, astrophysicists and physicists perform a lot of the same duties and work in similar environments. Physicists are interested in things like matter and study universal laws. Astrophysicists focus on the universe and study things that are found in outer space.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Outlook (2014-2024)**
Physicists Doctoral Degree $87,172 8%
Astrophysicists Doctoral Degree $81,165 8% (for all physicists)

Sources: *PayScale, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Physicists vs. Astrophysicists

Most of the work that physicists and astrophysicists do involves comparable tasks. Depending on the focus of their work they may come up with a theory and then seek funding for research related to that theory. Their work can involve gathering data, making observations and keeping detailed notes of their research. Their knowledge can be used for practical purposes, such as helping to design equipment. In their work they may also operate different types of equipment; astrophysicists use things such as telescopes while physicists may use things such as lasers.

Physicists

Physicists use their scientific skills to understand the laws that govern matter. They can specialize in a wide range of areas, and may work on developing ways to treat illnesses or understanding how to combine elements to make new technology. It is possible for some physicists to obtain entry-level work with a bachelor's degree, but most careers in this field require a doctoral degree. It's also necessary to have a Ph.D. to pursue promotion. Common employers include companies that conduct research, postsecondary institutions and the government.

Job responsibilities of a physicist include:

  • Obtaining funding for research
  • Determining how to prove or disprove a theory
  • Performing experiments
  • Calculating data
  • Developing new equipment or materials
  • Publishing the results of their work

Astrophysicists

Astrophysicists explore the universe. They typically work for the government, at colleges or universities, or for organizations that conduct scientific research. Most employment opportunities in this field require applicants to have a doctoral degree. If there is life on other planets, astrophysicists are the ones who are going to find it. Their work contributes to our understanding of how the universe has evolved and what it contains.

Job responsibilities of an astrophysicist include:

  • Identifying a focus for their studies
  • Determining what type of information they need to gather in their research
  • Observing things like planets and stars
  • Tracking the movements of things in space
  • Developing ways to access more data about the universe
  • Maintaining records of their research

Related Careers

Aspiring physicists may also be interested in becoming aerospace engineers, because aerospace engineers also design scientific equipment. Those considering a future as an astrophysicist may also be interested in a career as an astronomer, since astronomers also study things like planets and galaxies.

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