Theoretical Physicist Job Description

  • Helena Kudiabor
  • Aug 15 2023

Theoretical physicists are keen to answer unanswered questions, and create and solve equations to better understand how the universe works. The theories they devise are then tested in experiments by experimental physicists, and the results allow us to learn more about the world around us and how it can be improved.


What do theoretical physicists do?

There’s so much about physics and the universe that we still don’t know. Just think about the different areas of the universe that we still can’t travel to: from the bottom of the ocean to planets in outer space. This is where theoretical physicists come in: they work to help us learn more about the universe. They use complex maths to come up with different theories to better understand the fundamental properties of matter, which experimental physicists test by designing and conducting experiments.

What does a day in the life of a theoretical physicist involve?

Day to day responsibilities vary, but typically include: using computers and other software to learn more about physical phenomena, developing and refining different theories, working with other physicists to discuss equations and formulae, trying out different calculations to prove/disprove theories, design equipment to make the research process smoother and writing proposals to request research funding.

Who employs theoretical physicists?

Theoretical physicists conduct research into a variety of physics topics, such as quantum mechanics, theory of relativity and dark matter. However, their work is very interdisciplinary, and they often work for many different industries. Theoretical physicists can be found advising governments, collaborating with space agencies, or applying their expertise to industries like healthcare and electronics. 

What skills do I need to be a successful theoretical physicist?

As a theoretical physicist, you’ll be using maths everyday. You’ll need to have solid maths skills to be able to solve complex problems precisely and accurately, create new formulae and interpret the results of your calculations.

Research skills are also key. While you’ll spend a lot of time developing new theories, you’ll need to understand the research that influenced your current work. Many theoretical physicists also work to further expand on old theories.

Problem solving skills are also important. Not only will you need to come up with solutions to complex equations, but you’ll also need to address any issues (equations that don’t work) that crop up during the process.

How can I become a theoretical physicist?

To become a theoretical physicist, it’s recommended to have a master’s and/or PhD, especially for research positions. Although this is expensive, there are ways to find financial support, such as UK government loans and grants from your university. 

Who are some notable theoretical physicists?

Some famous theoretical physicists include: Albert Einstein, one of the most famous physicists in the world who came up with the theory of relativity; Archimedes, a mathematicians and physicist whose came up with the physical law of buoyancy, and Shirley Ann Jackson, the first African American woman to gain a PhD in nuclear physics.