What is a computational physicist?
A computational physicist is someone who uses computers to solve physics problems. They work with a range of technical software like algorithms and programming languages to analyse large amounts of data and solve statistical problems.
What are the typical responsibilities of a computational physicist?
Day to day responsibilities include: generating computer simulations, developing new algorithms to automate monotonous or long winded tasks, using computer modules to replicate physical processes and phenomena, using their maths knowledge to conduct experiments and writing reports of their findings.
Where do computational physicists work?
The work of computational physicists has a number of real-life applications. Their findings have been used to help clear toxic waste (nuclear, radioactive), improve environmental modelling (which helps us better understand how our environment evolves) and for medical imaging.
Thus, computational physicists are sought after by a range of industries, including the energy, environment and healthcare sectors. Common places of work include research facilities, government bodies and academic institutions such as universities.
What skills do I need to be a successful computational physicist?
Firstly, IT skills are crucial. Computational physicists work with a range of different computer algorithms and simulations, and you’ll need to be able to use these with ease. It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with programming languages like C++ and Python.
Attention to detail is also a valued skill. Much of your work involves complex calculations, and you’ll need to be able to remain focused, and spot mistakes quickly. Making mistakes could lead to you producing incorrect data, and having to restart the calculations from scratch.
Analytical thinking is also important. As a computational physicist, you’ll apply your calculations to a range of scenarios. Thus, you’ll need to be able to apply your data in new and innovative ways.
How can I become a computational physicist?
To become a computational physicist, it’s recommended that you pursue postgraduate study (a PhD is often a requirement for research positions). After completing an undergraduate degree in physics (or a related field), further study will give you the opportunity to specialise in an area of physics that interests you, and develop your research skills.
Don’t let financial worries be a barrier to study: there are UK government loans as well as a range of scholarships and grant opportunities on offer.