Physics: an Adventure, a Career
you wish to know how the things around you work?
Are you excited by the natural phenomena of daily experience:
Would you like to feel the joy of discovery of contributing to the world's knowledge of performing new experiments of establishing fundamental theories?
If so, physics may be the career for you!
Today the explosion of Science is opening up unlimited fields of endeavour.
This is where you will find tomorrow's adventure.
Here is the future!
The following list contains links to further information. Just click on a topic to access it.
Physics concerns itself with the most universal aspects of Nature, forces, energy structure of matter, and their interactions.
Physics is thus a basic Science and permeates all other Sciences, Engineering, and Technology. Physics is an exact Science. But to state exactly what Physics is or is not is difficult, simply because its scope is so wide-ranging and ever expanding.
The scales of Physics are vast:
- in size and mass, from elementary particles to the edges of the observable universe;
- in wavelength, from gamma rays through the visible and infrared region to microwaves and radio waves;
in temperature, from near absolute zero to the plasmas of the hottest stars;
and in time, from near zero to the age of the universe.
Even the methods of investigation, whether theoretical or experimental are numerous, and provide an infinity of challenges in problem solving.
Why Study Physics? Of what use is it?
Physics is so basic a subject that there is scarcely a single area of modern life which is not affected by Physics.
With its deep probing of our natural world, and consequent development of classical and quantum mechanics and of relativity theory, Physics is as much a part of our culture as are literature, philosophy, music, and the arts. If we are to consider ourselves as educated and part of a civilized society, it is important that each of us studies the main ideas of Physics even if we do not pursue a career using Physics. It is therefore advisable for you to take a course in Physics as early as possible in secondary school.
You may find that you enjoy Physics with its variety of challenges and uses. You may wish to pursue a career in Physics, or a career such as engineering, medicine, oceanography, archaeology, or patent law, which make use of your background in Physics.
In fact, you should note that study in some disciplines, or entry into many careers including those just mentioned is not possible without a good knowledge of Physics.
The study of Physics has resulted in many products, processes, and services which are important to our Society.
In the past 10 to 20 years there has been a dramatic outpouring of results from laboratories into all facets of Society, and the realization by scientists and the public of the value of this process.
The communications industry, for example, without which the modern world would be unthinkable, has evolved almost entirely from research in Physics. Every facet of communications systems, from generation to transmission and receipt of signals depends on the laws of Physics and on solid-state and electronic devices such as transistors, magnetrons, microphones, orbiting satellites, solar cells, antennas, detectors, cables, amplifiers, and TV tubes. And today, some of these systems are being improved with the latest in optical communications using lasers, integrated optics, and optical fibres.
Another area of important applications is in the medical field. The use of x-rays, electrical signals, labelled isotopes, and most recently, nuclear magnetic resonance are all standard diagnostic techniques. Measuring instruments of all kinds, hearing aids, heart-pacers, and radiation treatment, all have their basis in physical principles.
What do Physicists do?
Men and women physicists are involved in a variety of activities in education, in industrial and government research and development labs, in private business or in interdisciplinary fields.
In research, physicists perform experiments and test and modify available theories to interpret and explain their results; others who are more interested in the mathematical aspects of physical theories, spend their time deriving equations, and sometimes carrying out complicated calculations on big computers.
Many physicists are engaged in the application of Physics to meet the needs of today's Society. Some are teachers at the secondary school, college, or university level.
Finally, some physicists become administrators, in government, in university, and in industry, sometimes in companies which they themselves have founded in the areas of consulting, high technology, and research and development.Physics could be as exciting a career for you.
Some of the Main Fields of Physics
Physics includes a vast area of scientific knowledge and exploration, with continually changing frontiers and ever expanding applications. Here, we review very briefly some fields of current interest in Canadian Universities, Industries, and Research Institutes.
Plasmas are very hot and ionized gases as in electrical arcs and stars, or the focus of a laser beam, and may reach temperatures of millions of degrees. The study of plasma modes and their behaviour in magnetic and electromagnetic fields is an active research area, with the ultimate aim of producing controlled thermonuclear fusion as a new source of energy.
The search for the ultimate constituents of matter is the concern of this field of Physics. It is here that new particles such as quarks and gluons appear with wholly new properties of charm and strangeness. This search usually involves the study of matter at extremely small distances, and experiments in this subject are normally carried out with high energy particle accelerators. About forty years ago only the proton, neutron, electron, neutrino and photon were known. Nowadays many hundreds of particle states have been discovered, and the search continues to understand the fundamental forces which govern their interactions.
Optics and Quantum Optics.
Optics deals with the interaction of light from all regions of the electromagnetic spectrum (X-ray, ultraviolet, visible, infra-red and microwave) with matter. It involves physical phenomena such as reflection, refraction, scattering, dispersion, interference, diffraction, and quantum models of light. Optics is also concerned with the development of a wide range of instruments such as cameras, microscopes, telescopes, interferometers, and spectrometers. Quantum optics includes the physics and development of lasers and their applications to many branches of modern technology including holography, digital image processing and fibre-optic communications.
Nuclear forces, nuclear transitions and reactions, and the properties of nuclei and their description in terms of various models are the main concerns of this area of research. In accelerators, particles are given a very high energy and then used to bombard target nuclei breaking them up into lighter fragments which tell us about the make-up of nuclei and the forces holding them together.
In this applied area physical techniques are developed and used in the diagnosis and treatment of illness and disease. For example, X-ray and radioisotopes are used with computers to make accurate cross-sectional images of parts of the body. High energy X-rays, radioactive sources and recently radio frequencies are used in treatment.
Geophysics covers the vast areas of geology, meteorology, aeronomy (study of upper atmosphere) and oceanography. It includes investigations of the properties of matter under extreme conditions, and the formation of the earth, mountains, volcanoes, and earthquakes. Exploration for minerals, oil, and gas on land and under the sea, and the harnessing of new sources of energy such as solar, tidal, and geothermal are examples of important applications of geophysics.
Condensed Matter Physics.
This is the study of solids and liquids: systems in which the number of particles (atoms, electrons, etc.) is so large as to be effectively infinite. Condensed matter physicists study crystalline materials such as silicon (which is the basis of all computer technology), amorphous solids, polymers, surfaces, materials which display a rich variety of magnetic phenomena, and more recently, biological materials. They sometimes work at extremely low temperatures where metals become superconducting and liquids are superfluid, and they study "phase transitions" from one state of matter to another. Experimental methods include neutron and light scattering, spectroscopy, and refined electric and Magnetic measurements. Applications are many, for example, in metallurgy and micro-fabrication as applied to integrated circuitry, transistors, photodiodes, laser diodes, bubble memories, and solar cells to name a few. In recent years the connection between transitions, such as condensation of gases into liquids, and the condensation of matter at high energy and in the early universe have brought condensed matter and elementary particle physicists closer together.
Biophysics deals with the physical properties of living systems and the mechanisms of life functions. This large area covers subjects such as the structure and function of components of a single cell, membranes, the eye, or physical processes responsible for the treatment of disease.
Atomic and Molecular Physics.
The properties of materials and chemical reactions depend in a basic way on knowledge of the structures and interactions of atoms and molecules. Various techniques are employed in such studies including, for example: spectroscopy-the absorption, transmission and emission of electromagnetic radiation, of electrons and other low energy particles; and atomic and molecular beam scattering including chemical reactions. The knowledge gained is applied in the areas of atmospheric pollution, studies of the upper atmosphere and of stellar atmospheres. The atomic clock, based on a very fundamental property of caesium, provides us with the most accurate measurement in all physics, where time is known to 15 significant figures.
Acoustics deals with the generation, propagation, and detection of sound from low to high frequencies, in various media. its applications are many and varied, including studies of musical instruments, investigations of the shape, size, and contents of a concert hall on the quality of sound, development of improved techniques for reproducing and recording high fidelity sound, as well as the means of suppressing noise. Ultrasound is used in testing materials and structures, and in medical imaging. At the highest frequencies, ultrasound becomes an important tool in the study of the properties of condensed phases of matter.
The physics of the atmosphere deals with all atmospheric phenomena from the most gentle, such as "dew" and "sea-breeze", to the most violent-thunderstorm, hurricane, and tornado, including the relevant elements of wind, humidity, pressure, precipitation, and temperature. The goal of such studies is the explanation, prediction, and eventually, the control of weather for application to various socio-economic areas: agriculture, air and sea transportation, hydrology, tourism, and environment.
This is the study of components of our universe-the solar system, stars, galaxies - their age, structure and formation, their energy sources, and how they change with time. Optical and radio astronomy have revealed quasars, pulsars, and black holes, and satellites with infrared and x-ray detectors are gathering new data on such bodies and the interstellar medium. Theoretical investigations are intimately connected to the basic laws of Physics and in particular, with general relativity. Recent questions include: Is our universe expanding? Is there intelligent life elsewhere, or just on our planet?
In the above summary, we have tried to give you an idea of the many areas of Physics of current interest and importance. Many other topics should be included: classical mechanics, fluid mechanics, statistical physics and thermodynamics, cryogenics, space physics, quantum theory, electromagnetic and relativity theory, quantum electrodynamics, the history and philosophy of science.Physics could be both an adventure and a career for you.
Where Can I Study Physics?
Physics programmes are available at all Canadian universities. Most of them offer an undergraduate degree (B.Sc.) with specialization in Physics. Many also include graduate studies leading to the Master's degree (M.Sc.) in Physics, and some are equipped with the advanced research facilities for experimental and theoretical work necessary for the Doctorate degree (Ph.D.).
Find out more about Physics now. Every Canadian University has a good Department of Physics. The Chairman of any of them will be delighted to send you their current brochure.
You will also be interested to know that students working towards their M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in Physics in Canada can usually count on obtaining stipends of $16,000/year and higher. Many will also be awarded scholarships from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). And beyond the Ph.D. degree, NSERC also offers Fellowships to work in Canadian Industry, and in Canadian Universities, or to pursue special research abroad.
Several recent national surveys have indicated that at the present time, there is a shortage of physicists in almost all parts of Canada. This situation will become even more acute in the next decade, so physicists will continue to find good jobs. Further information may be found on the Canadian Association of Physicists Web site