September 22, 2023

STEM Careers Blog – Physics

Have you ever been fascinated by the invisible forces that govern the universe? Maybe pursuing a career in physics is right for you! Physics is the study of matter in its various forms and how it interacts with the universe. This science offers a journey of discovery like no other. Physics delves into the mysteries of motion, energy, matter, and the interactions between them, providing us with the tools to comprehend the forces that shape our everyday lives and the cosmos itself. It's not just about equations and theories; physics is about curiosity and exploration, driving us to answer profound questions about the nature of reality. Its importance lies in its ability to drive technological advancements, solve complex problems, and push the boundaries of human knowledge.

Physics has given rise to countless innovations, from electricity and telecommunications to space exploration and medical imaging, making it an indispensable cornerstone of modern science and a key driver of progress in the world. The applications of Physics stretch far and wide and offer so many possibilities to those who dedicate themselves to learning the fundamental principles of our universe.   Upcoming we will launch into physics’ effect on space exploration and five industries that utilize the expertise of physicists to reach new heights.

Physics in the Journey to Space

Whether plotting a course to the moon or trying to determine how much force materials will be able to withstand, physics plays an integral role in solving the problems that arise in the pursuit of space exploration. From the fundamental laws of motion and gravity described by Newton's equations to the mind-bending concepts of Einstein's theory of relativity, physics has provided the theoretical foundation upon which spacecraft are designed and operated. The precise calculations of orbital mechanics, guided by physics principles, allow for the efficient navigation of spacecraft across vast cosmic distances.

Furthermore, the development of materials science, driven by physics, has led to the creation of lightweight, durable materials necessary for constructing spacecraft that can withstand the harsh conditions of space. Physics has also played a starring role in the propulsion advancements that have fuelled space exploration to greater heights. Relentlessly pursuing the limits of the laws of our universe through physics has taken humanity farther than ever before and continues to expand our potential day by day.

Astronomically Awesome Astronauts

Sally Ride: A Trailblazing Physicist in Space

An astronomically awesome astronaut who studied physics is the first American woman in space, Sally Ride.  She began her journey into higher education at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in 1968 majoring in Physics on a full-ride scholarship for her tennis skills. After three semesters at Swarthmore, she felt she could better pursue her interests in her home state, California, and began considering options to transfer universities.  Ride began studying quantum mechanics at the University of California, Los Angeles as the sole female Physics major in the program and excelled in her courses.  For her junior year, she transferred a final time to Stanford University where she completed her Bachelor of Science in Physics and Bachelor of the Arts in English Literature in 1973.  She continued her studies and earned a Master of Science in Physics in 1975, specializing in astrophysics and free-electron lasers.  Ride also earned a Doctorate in Philosophy in 1978. 

In January of 1977, she came across a newspaper advertisement searching for new Astronaut Candidates which strongly urged women to answer the call so that the first American woman could be sent to space. When faced with this monumental opportunity, Sally Ride sent in a request for the paperwork and filled out her application without hesitation.  Her depth of knowledge in physics and bold tenacity shined through. She was chosen to be an Astronaut Candidate a year later in January of 1978 and completed her training in August of 1979! During the astronaut training program, she was particularly interested in the flight training which drove her to pursue a private pilot’s license.  After completing training she and 34 other candidates were added to the pool of active astronauts eligible for space missions. 

As an active Astronaut, Sally Ride completed missions STS-7 in 1983 and STS-41-G in 1984, both on the space shuttle Challenger. On her first mission, STS-7, Ride performed as a spacecraft communicator (CAPCOM) and helped develop and operate robotic arm equipment, Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (RMS).  She showed remarkable adaptation to the zero-gravity environment. Mission STS-41-G launched with the directive to deploy a satellite and conduct scientific observations of Earth.  A third mission, STS-61-M, was scheduled for Astronaut Ride, but the Challenger disaster in 1986 prevented future missions.  With her two missions, physicist astronaut Sally Ride spent over 343 hours in space.

Don Thomas: Exploring Space with a Physics Degree

Another out-of-this-world physicist and Astronaut is Don Thomas who flew on STS-65, STS-70, STS-83, and STS-94. After he graduated from high school in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Thomas earned a Physics degree at Case Western Reserve University in 1977. He continued his educational journey at Cornell University to earn a master’s in 1980 and a doctorate in 1982 in Materials Science with specialized studies in crystalline formations and abnormalities. Following his graduation, Thomas worked on a technical development team for AT&T and as a professor at Trenton State College in New Jersey. In 1987, he left AT&T to work for Lockheed Engineering where part of his job was to review Space Station payloads. Shortly after, in 1988, Don Thomas joined NASA as a Materials Engineer. He also used his specialized area of study to act as a Principal Investigator to observe changes in crystal growth when disturbed by microgravity.

Thomas had applied to become an astronaut and was turned down twice, so he earned his pilot’s license and invested more in education to give him an extra draw in the next application process. After being declined one final time he was accepted for the astronaut training process in 1990 and became Astronaut Don Thomas in July 1991. Astronaut Thomas was assigned his first mission STS-65 which launched July 8, 1994, on space shuttle Discovery.  The mission flew the second International Microgravity Laboratory (IML-2) and conducted more than 80 experiments focusing on materials and life sciences research in microgravity. On July 13, 1995, he launched mission STS-70, also on space shuttle Discovery. This mission required Astronaut Thomas to oversee the deployment of the last in a series of six Tracking and Data Relay Satellites.

His third mission, STS-83, took place on space shuttle Columbia on April 4, 1997, but was cut short due to technical problems.  Astronaut Thomas’ fourth and final mission, STS-94, took place on July 1, 1997, on the space shuttle Columbia.  This mission was a do-over of the STS-83 Microgravity Science Laboratory (MSL-1) Spacelab mission and focused on materials and combustion science research in microgravity. In total, Astronaut Don Thomas has logged over 1,040 hours in space. Presently, Higher Orbits is proud to have Astronaut Thomas as one of our featured astronauts at our Go For Launch! programs!

Five Careers in Physics to Consider

A physics degree equips students with a strong foundation in mathematics, problem-solving, and analytical thinking. This knowledge can be applied across diverse fields, making physics graduates highly sought after in various industries. Here are some key industries where physicists find rewarding careers:

Research and Academia

Physics is a highly technical field with vast applications.  With so many possibilities and mysteries to unravel in our universe, some Physicists pursue the route of Academia and Research to delve into research projects and teach others the fundamental principles in their educational journeys. Their quest for knowledge drives the advancement of human understanding and scientific progress. Physicists in research institutions and universities are at the forefront of discoveries in fields ranging from particle physics and cosmology to quantum computing and materials science. Their work often leads to the development of new technologies and applications that benefit society as a whole.


In the engineering industries, physicists are vital for the design, optimization, and development of technologies. The different fields of engineering (aerospace, electrical, mechanical, civil, etc.) all integrate physicists into their respective projects to help ensure the best approach to their problem-solving efforts.  Physicists are instrumental in areas like materials science, where they work on designing new materials with desired properties, from superconductors to high-strength alloys.

In fields like aerospace engineering, physicists apply their knowledge of fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and aerodynamics to design aircraft, spacecraft, and propulsion systems. Furthermore, physicists often collaborate with engineers in research and development, bringing their problem-solving skills and expertise in experimental techniques to create cutting-edge technologies.

Information and Technology

New technologies being developed employ the knowledge of physicists to advance and optimize their projects. Physics graduates have a strong mathematical background which helps them to make well-rounded decisions when combined with coding or modeling software. Being able to create and run simulations or research by applying physics to computerized models is a fantastic asset and an incredible application of the principles of physics. Their background in physics equips them to understand complex systems and phenomena, making them adept at developing cutting-edge algorithms, simulations, and data analysis techniques.

Physicists often excel in data science and machine learning roles, where they can apply their quantitative expertise to extract meaningful insights from large datasets and develop predictive models. Moreover, their familiarity with programming languages and computational methods is crucial for software development and system optimization. In emerging fields like quantum computing and cryptography, physicists are at the forefront, leveraging their deep understanding of quantum mechanics to create groundbreaking technologies that have the potential to reshape the IT landscape.


Energy usage and sourcing is a growing topic and Physicists have intimate knowledge of energy principles.  The energy industry is always looking for Physicists for their research, development, and analysis teams to optimize their methods and search for new routes for better, cleaner energy.  Their deep understanding of the fundamental laws of nature enables them to develop advanced materials for renewable energy technologies like solar panels and batteries.

Physicists also play a critical role in nuclear energy research, helping to improve reactor safety and reduce nuclear waste. Additionally, they contribute to the optimization of energy production and distribution systems, utilizing their knowledge of thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, and electromagnetism to enhance the efficiency and reliability of power generation. Furthermore, physicists are at the forefront of fusion research, aiming to harness the same nuclear reactions that power the sun as a potentially limitless and clean energy source for the future. As environmental concerns increase, the demand for Physicists in the energy industries will increase.


Physicists play an indispensable role in the astronomy industry, where they are instrumental in unraveling the mysteries of the universe. Their expertise in fundamental physics principles, such as optics, electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics, is crucial for designing and developing advanced astronomical instruments and telescopes. Physicists also contribute to astrophysics by creating mathematical models and simulations to interpret celestial phenomena, from the behavior of stars and galaxies to cosmic microwave background radiation.

Moreover, physicists are at the forefront of cutting-edge research in areas like dark matter, dark energy, and gravitational waves, pushing the boundaries of our understanding of the cosmos. Their interdisciplinary skills and ability to bridge the gap between theory and observation make physicists essential collaborators in the ongoing quest to explore and comprehend the vast and enigmatic universe.

Embracing the Cosmic Calling

For those who choose to pursue a degree in physics, the possibilities are boundless. Whether you aspire to become a research scientist probing the mysteries of the cosmos, an engineer crafting the next generation of space technologies, or a data scientist using your analytical skills to decode astronomical data, the world of physics offers a rich tapestry of opportunities.

As you embark on your journey in the world of physics, remember that curiosity, persistence, and a passion for understanding the physical world will not only open doors to diverse and rewarding careers but also allow you to contribute to the awe-inspiring saga of space exploration, pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and taking us one step closer to the stars.

About the author

Jodie is a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University pursuing an undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. She has always been fascinated by space and STEM, and has been fuelled by the strong aerospace community at Embry-Riddle. This interest in STEM and a love for writing have pushed Jodie to apply these passions as a Communications Intern at Higher Orbits in 2023.

Jodie Cory

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