What will I learn about Matter in Physics?
Per the national curriculum, KS4 students studying matter in physics can expect to learn about:
- Relating models of arrangements and motions of the molecules in solid, liquid and gas phases to their densities
- Melting, evaporation, and sublimation as reversible changes
- Calculating energy changes involved on heating, using specific heat capacity; and those involved in changes of state, using specific latent heat
- Links between pressure and temperature of a gas at constant volume, related to the motion of its particles (qualitative)
Have you always been fascinated by crystals? If so, you’ll enjoy a career as a crystallographer. Crystallography is the science that examines crystals. Although we typically think of crystals as gemstones, they can also be found as salt and snowflakes.
Crystallographers study the atomic and molecular structure of crystal forms of material, using scientific methods like X-rays. The research conducted can be used to develop drugs to treat diseases, create low-energy devices, purify water and tackle antibiotic resistance.
Crystallographers have even helped with the discovery of insulin and penicillin, so it’s a very exciting field! To become a crystallographer, you’ll need a degree in a science subject, with many jobs requiring a master’s degree or a PhD.
Particle physicists work with the smallest elements of matter: elementary particles. There are two types of particle physicists: theoretical and experimental. Theoretical particle physicists develop the mathematical theories behind the observed data, using computer programs and mathematical proofs. Experimental physicists look at the observational side of physics, designing and building experiments used to discover new particles. They conduct high-energy collisions between particles, to understand their structure and function.
The field made waves in 2012 with the discovery of the Higgs Boson, and experts are currently researching a range of different theories, like dark matter and particle decay. To become a particle physicist, you’ll need an undergraduate degree or apprenticeship in physics, maths, or a related field, and a postgraduate degree to secure a research position.
Condensed Matter Physicist
Condensed matter physicists, sometimes known as material physicists, study the macroscopic and microscopic properties of matter. They study how matter arises, and how it behaves. The field is typically split into ‘hard’ condensed matter, which studies quantum properties of matter, and ‘soft’ condensed matter, which studies properties of matter where quantum mechanics doesn’t play a role.
It’s one of the largest and most diverse fields of physics, and one of the most exciting. The field was responsible for the discovery of the Bose-Einstein Condensate, modern plastic and composite materials. To enter the field, you’ll need an undergraduate degree in a physics or a related field, but a PhD is necessary to conduct research.
Don’t be put off by the masters or PhD requirements for many of these careers. The UK government provides loans to students who are interested in a postgraduate degree. The loan can be used to pay for things like your tuition fees and living expenses, and you won’t need to pay it back until you’re earning over the threshold. A number of universities and independent institutions also offer grants for students, which don’t need to be paid back.