Find Your Career

This page is part of the Careers in Physics toolkit.

This tool matches students to relevant physicist profiles, which they can then research and discuss with the class. Encourage your students to take this interactive Career Matching Survey to see what careers best fit their interests.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Joining STEP UP

STEP UP gives you access to an online community where you can have access to our email newsletter, share questions and experiences with other physics teachers, and explore our resource library. You can register or sign up here.

Hey future physicists!

When you explore a career in physics, you're bound to learn some new terms. We've included this glossary in case you encounter anything unfamiliar.

Academia The environment or community concerned with the pursuit of research, education, and scholarship. Many people say they work in “academia” if they work at a college or university.
Astrophysics The field of science that aims to discover how the universe works, explore how it began and evolved, and search for life on planets around other stars.
Biomedical engineering A field that designs technology, such as insulin pumps, to improve human health.
Biotechnology A field that creates technology that mimics the actions of living organisms. An example is an insulin-pump or a prosthetic hand.
Carbon nanotubes Tiny little tubes of carbon atoms that are very tough and hard to break.
Chemical signatures Like a chemical fingerprint, a chemical signature is a unique pattern produced by an analytical instrument identifying molecular makeup in the test sample.
Consultant Someone that helps and advises other people and companies.
Dark energy A force that counteracts gravity and causes the universe to expand in size.
Dark matter The stuff in space that has gravity, but it is unlike anything scientists have ever seen before. Together, dark matter and dark energy make up 95% of the universe.
Dean The head of the college, kind of like a school principal.
Diodes Electrical components that only allow the electricity to pass through them in one direction.
Electroluminescence When a material emits light in response to being exposed to an electrical field.
Exoplanets Planets that have been discovered outside of our Solar System.
Fellowship In academic settings, when people say “fellowship,” they are generally referring to an award of money given to a student to pay for his or her academic pursuits. A fellowship is similar to a scholarship.
Fiber optic cable Made of thin strands of glass and is used to transfer data signals using light for applications like high-speed internet.
Freelance When someone works for many different companies at the same time, under many contracts.
GAO The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is a government office that works to make sure other companies are doing what they say they will do.
Graphene A substance made of carbon atoms arranged in an interlocking hexagon pattern.
Gravitational waves Gravitational waves are ‘ripples’ in space-time caused by some of the most violent and energetic processes in the Universe. Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916 in his general theory of relativity.
Humanities A field of study that includes arts, literature, and history.
Intellectual property A type of law that deals with protecting and enforcing the rights of the creators and owners of inventions, writing, music, designs, and other works.
Interferometer A machine that works by merging two or more sources of light to create an interference wave pattern, which can be measured and analyzed to see how the lights interact.
LHC The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, built beneath the ground along the border of Switzerland and France.
LIGO Stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. At LIGO, scientists study, detect, and measure gravitational waves in space.
Machine learning A part of artificial intelligence (AI) where we give machines data and let them use it to learn for themselves and do tasks not specifically programmed.
Medical physics A branch of medicine that deals with preparing treatment machines for clinical use by measuring and modeling how radiation interacts with tissues in the body.
MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a really famous university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for math, science, and engineering.
Nano-photonics The behavior of light and nanoparticles on the nanoscale.
Nanoparticle Very small particles. Particles on the “nano” scale which are 1 billion times smaller than a millimeter.
Nanotechnology Involves the study and manipulation of extremely small particles, such as individual atoms and molecules.
Neutrino A subatomic particle that is very similar to an electron, but has no electrical charge and a very small mass, which might even be zero. Neutrinos are some of the most abundant particles in the universe.
Patents A patent is given to an inventor so that they are the only person who can produce their invention for a specific amount of time.
Polytechnic Offering courses in many subjects, especially vocational or technical subjects (like engineering, physics, computer science).
Positional astronomy A field of astronomy in which scientists locate astronomical objects on the celestial sphere, as seen at a particular date, time, and location on Earth.
Post-baccalaureate A job that happens after you graduate from college or university with a bachelor’s degree.
Quarks Smaller particles that make up subatomic particles like protons and neutrons.
Radiation treatment A type of treatment that uses intense beams of energy to destroy cancer cells.
Solid-state physics The study of how the properties of solid materials result from their atomic-scale properties.
Spectrograph A machine that breaks the light from a single material into its component colors the way a prism splits white light into a rainbow.
STEAM A broad term used to group together the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, art, and math.
United Nations The United Nations is a group of multiple countries with goals of maintaining international peace and security.
Wall Street Wall Street is a real street in New York City, but also is the hub of all financial markets in the U.S. (stock exchange, bond market, large banks, etc.).