How many types of physics are there?

  • Helena Kudiabor
  • Jan 26 2024

One of the most exciting things about physics is how diverse and innovative it is. Keep reading to learn more about the different physics specialities, and the unique contributions they’ve made to the modern world.


Classical physics

Classical physics is a category of physics that refers to research conducted before 1900. Thus, these branches of physics discuss the fundamentals of physics theories:


Classical mechanics is the study of movement, and how the laws of motion and force apply to physical objects. Mechanical physicists research things like how an object acts at high velocity, and how our understanding of drag could help us build more efficient vehicles. 


Electromagnetism refers to the interactions that take place between electrically-charged particles. two charged particles either attracting or repelling each either creates electricity, while the interaction between charged particles in motion creates magnetism. These two effects combine to create electromagnetic forces, which play a crucial role in many physical phenomena and modern technologies (fibre optic)


Thermodynamics is the study of heat and the laws governing it, for example how heat energy can be transferred. Our understanding of the relationship between heat, work, temperature and energy allows us to use energy efficiently, and heat and cool homes effectively.


Acoustic physics deals with sound waves: its production, properties, transmission and effects. Acoustic physicists consider questions such as how sound waves behave in different states of matter, and how our understanding of sound waves can help reduce unwanted noise. 

Modern Physics

The branches of physics classified as modern build on classical physics theories:


Quantum physics explores the smallest parts of the universe: how the particles that make up atoms function. Quantum physicists research how the fundamentals of physics change when we’re working on a microscopic scale, for example wave-particle duality, which is the idea that particles may behave as waves and waves may behave as particles. Concepts like this could revolutionise our understanding of the universe. 


Special relativity argues the interconnectedness of space and time, while general relativity builds on this theory further. General relativity showcases how gravity affects the space-time continuum. The theory of relativity transformed our understanding of space, time and gravity, even leading to new discoveries like gravitational waves.


In contrast to quantum physics which consider the microscopic particles that make up atoms, nuclear physics considers the structure and function of the atom’s core, or nuclei. Our understanding of nuclear physics has helped us develop radiotherapy treatments and even date archaeological discoveries. 


Atomic physics is the study of the structure of individual atoms. Atomic physicists consider how and why atoms are arranged the way they are (i.e why electrons are arranged around the nucleus), how their structure changes, and how our understanding of atoms can help us better understand the universe.

Applied physics specialities

Physics theories have helped us make new discoveries in a range of industries:

Medical physics

Medical physics is the application of physics theories to help improve the healthcare system. Medical physicists utilise physics to design and build new healthcare technologies, ensuring diseases can be diagnosed and treated earlier. 


Geophysics refers to how physics theories help us better understand the earth. Geophysicists collect data on Earth’s physical processes (from motion in the earth’s tectonic plates to the structure of the atmosphere), allowing us to better understand how the earth has changed over time. This understanding also helps scientists protect Earth for generations to come. 


As the name suggests, astrophysics is the study of space. Astrophysicists study celestial bodies, galaxies, and other aspects of the universe, collecting and analysing data to help improve our understanding of the cosmos. Not only is it pretty cool to understand how the stars we see at night were formed, but astrophysics has also contributed to the development of wireless communication. 

Interdisciplinary physics fields

It can be difficult to decide which part of science you want to specialise in. However, biology, chemistry and physics are all interconnected, with advancements in physics often contributing to breakthroughs in other scientific fields.


Biophysics study about biological systems, and how they’re affected by the laws of physics. Biophysicists consider topics like how physics allows blood to travel around the body and plants to pollinate, thus improving our understanding of biological processes.

Chemical physics

Chemical physicists consider how chemistry and physics overlap. They study how electrons, nuclei and atoms behave in different states of matter, and how they interact with their environment. 

Materials physics

Materials physics is the study of the physical properties of various materials, from metal to ceramic. Understanding the structure and function of different materials means we can develop new materials or use new ones for various industries. 

Navigating career paths

Given the wide range of physics specialities, it can be difficult to decide which sector to pursue a career in. Some factors to consider include: what you enjoyed most in physics lessons, general hobbies and interests, what your skills are, what type of company you’d like to work for and how much you’d like to earn.

Once you have a couple of sectors in mind, the best way to narrow down your options is to get some experience. Apply for internships, attend networking events and reach out to people already working in the sector for shadowing or mentorship opportunities.

It’s also worth staying up to date on developments in physics. You can do this through reading books, attending public lectures and reading science websites. Some recommendations include:, Physicsworld and the Institute of Physics

As you can see, there are so many different types of physics, from classical physics which underpins modern discoveries, to interdisciplinary physics which uses physics to solve different problems. If there’s an area of physics that you found particularly interesting, why not do some research and explore your interest further?