How to Become a Nuclear Physicist


Those who become nuclear physicists have a keen interest in fundamental scientific processes, as well as a keen interest in conducting research. They are individuals who enjoy the challenge confronting technological problems, and developing practical applications for scientific knowledge.


It's critical that they have a strong background in physics, mathematics, and computer science. Nuclear physicists have advanced academic degrees, and have spent years studying their field and conducting independent research.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a nuclear physicist in the United States (and Canada). We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Nuclear Physicist

To set the proper educational foundation for this career, you'll need to develop a strong background in physics, engineering and mathematics. It is also important to have skills in research, and skills working with various computer programs, such as mapping programs and data collection and analysis programs.


To acquire this knowledge base and skill set, you likely have to pursue an undergraduate degree in science, with a major in physics, nuclear physics or a closely related field such as electrical engineering. Having an undergraduate degree in one of these areas will help qualify you to work an entry-level to medium-level nuclear physics job.


If you aspire to eventually work as a consultant or a researcher, you will need a Master of Science degree in any of the aforementioned fields, or a closely related field. To work in a senior research and university teaching position, you'll need a Ph.D. in physics with a focus in nuclear physics or nuclear engineering.


Success Tip: While a thorough knowledge of physics and nuclear engineering is essential for becoming a nuclear physicist, a background in other fields can also be an asset for related careers. Knowledge of computer programming, marketing or business management, for example, can prepare you for employment such as executive management or technical sales.





Nuclear Physicist Job Description

Nuclear physicists study the way atoms interact with each other, as well as how the characteristics of the nuclear world can be applied to human endeavors. Nuclear physicists may focus on one of several subspecialties including theoretical work, experimental examinations of nuclear particles and equipment design.



Typical Duties of the Job

• If conducting research, liaise with engineers to produce new forms of equipment and new techniques for nuclear systems, such as those found in power plants

• May perform work for regulatory bodies for the purpose of developing rules, regulations, policies and procedures pertaining to safe levels of nuclear exposure

• May be involved in testing or auditing the safety procedures of an industry or facility

• May be involved in managing research projects and envisioning the direction of the research team

• Publish studies in academic journals if working in the research or academic field

• Develop mathematical equations to represent the actions of the physical nuclear world

• May be involved in developing computer programs related to equations within nuclear physics

• Respond to e-mails from collaborating scientists from different research facilities 



Who Employs These Physicists?

Nuclear physicists are employed in all aspects of the nuclear research in industry, academia, and government. Organizations that hire nuclear physicists include:


• Private research, development and quality control laboratories

• Medical research laboratories and product development companies

• Energy companies and energy research laboratories

• Government agencies

• Colleges and universities





Skills and Traits Needed to Be Successful

To be effective in a career as a nuclear physicist, you need to possess a certain set of personality traits and skills. These skills and traits will not only allow you to perform your job with competence; they will allow you to endure the more difficult aspects of this career.


• A keen interest in physics and mathematics

• A strong academic background in physics, mathematics, and computer science.

• Willingness to keep up with the latest advances in nuclear physics

• An analytical approach to problem solving

• Approach work activities with perseverance, patience and dedication

• Excited by the idea of achieving results, both expected and unexpected

• Must not be easily discouraged; desired outcomes aren’t always, or quickly achieved

• Able to work and collaborate well with others

• Able to communicate effectively with collaborators 



Salary Levels Typical to This Field

The salary level of nuclear physicists can vary depending on their level of education, their level of experience, where they work, the specific responsibilities of their job, and many others.


Nuclear Physicist Salary - Canada (Alberta only): According to the 2016 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Physicists occupational group earn a mean salary of $126.434 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reputable sources for the rest of Canada.


Nuclear Physicist Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of workers in the Physicists and Astronomers occupational group is $105,430 per year.



Actual Job Postings

Check our job board below to find open positions in nuclear physics close to you.


Typical Working Conditions

Work Environment: Nuclear physics research is usually done in medium or large-sized laboratories, as the experiments in nuclear physics typically require extremely large and expensive equipment, such as particle accelerators and nuclear reactors. Although Their research may require extensive experimentation in laboratories, physicists still spend much of their time in offices, planning, analyzing, and reporting on research, as well as responding to e-mails and communicating with international collaborators.


Working Hours: The working hours of nuclear physicists may vary from employer to employer, but are usually normal weekday working hours; between 35-45 hours per week. Occasionally, they may be required to put in extra hours during evenings, weekends and national holidays in order to meet research deadlines.



Similar Occupations in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Nuclear Physicist, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Electrical Engineer

Energy Researcher

Health Physicist

Nuclear Chemist

Nuclear Engineer




Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career in this field.


Wages & Salaries in Alberta:Engineering Physicist.” (March 20, 2014). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 5, 2020.

Life, Physical, and Social Science:Physicists and Astronomers.” (September 10, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved January 5, 2020.

Articles:10 Questions for a Nuclear Physicist: Christine Aidala.” Niketa Kumar (March 3, 2011). U.S. Department of Energy website. Retrieved January 5, 2020.



Scholarships for Becoming a Nuclear Physicist

Scholarships listed for majors that are relevant for becoming a nuclear physicist can be found on our Physics Scholarships page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant University Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent way to lay a proper educational foundation for this career. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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