Particle Physicist Job Description

  • Helena Kudiabor
  • Jun 07 2022

Have you always been fascinated by the smallest elements of matter, and how everything is made up of millions of tiny particles? If so, you’ll enjoy a career as a particle physicist.


What is a particle physicist?

Particle physicists work with the smallest elements of matter we know about: elementary particles. As a particle physicist, you’ll study how these particles exist, and how they interact with each other. This will allow you to develop and test theories. Given the fact that particles make up everything, all physics laws can be derived from particle theories, so it’s a very exciting field.

What’s the difference between a nuclear physicist and a particle physicist?

Within the world of physics, the science is typically divided between particle and nuclear physics. While nuclear physicists study the atom and its main components (protons, neutrons, electrons), particle physicists study the tiniest particles.  

What are the typical responsibilities of a particle physicist?

There are two types of particle physicists: theoretical and experimental.

Theoretical particle physicists develop the mathematical quantum theories behind observed physics. However, sometimes these theories are developed based on observations made by experimental physicists, in order to understand the observed data. 

They develop theories using computation and written mathematics, then attempt to verify them using mathematical proofs and experimental data. Often, these computations are being completed for the first time ever, so they must be careful not to make mistakes. Thus, to ensure they complete their calculations successfully, they also develop new methods for computation. 

Experimental particle physicists deal with the observational side of physics. They design and build the experiments used to discover new particles aside from the Standard Model, such as the Higgs Boson. Once the experiments are conducted, they analyse the results. In addition to this, they design and develop innovative technology needed for modern experiments, like sensors, detectors and magnets. This is done using laboratory testing methods or computer simulation software. 

What qualifications do you need to be a particle physicist?

You’ll need an undergraduate degree in a physics or maths-related field. However, to secure a research position, you’ll need a relevant MSc or PhD.

Instead of doing a Master's, there’s also the option to complete a level 7 research scientist degree apprenticeship. Once you finish the apprenticeship, which combines paid work experience and fully funded training, you’ll receive a qualification equivalent to an MSc.