Learn about undergraduate and graduate degree programs that cover low-temperature and solid state physics. Read about some careers you could pursue with an education in this field, and get outlook and salary info for positions such as physicist and physics teacher.
Low-temperature physics deals with the properties and behaviors of materials at or near zero on the Kelvin temperature scale. Solid state physics explores matter in the solid state, where it's often in crystal form. Together, these disciplines are known as condensed matter physics. As a research scientist in one of these areas, you might experiment with cryogenics and refrigeration, superconductivity, the creation of new materials or reaching ever-colder temperatures. If you became a university professor, you might have the opportunity to do research in addition to teaching. You could also become a high school physics teacher. Employers could be secondary schools, universities, government agencies and private research institutions.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for physicists in general is expected to be 10% from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). High school physics teachers can anticipate a job growth rate of 6%, while postsecondary physics teachers can expect an increase of 19% during that same period. The BLS further reports that in May 2013, the median annual wage for physicists was $110,110 and for high school physics teachers it was $55,360. Postsecondary physics teachers made a median wage of $80,590 during the same year.
Low-temperature and solid state physics are usually taught at the doctoral (Ph.D.) level as part of a physics degree. You could start your path to such a program with a bachelor's degrees in physics. Core classes typically emphasize calculus, quantum mechanics and chemistry, with advanced courses that might explore molecular and atomic physics, nuclear physics, astrophysics and photonics.
While there are some master's degrees in low-temperature and solid state physics, most graduate programs in physics - and later, physicist jobs - call for a doctoral (Ph.D.) degree. In a Ph.D. program, you'd have a chance to focus more intensely on low-temperature and solid state physics. Training would likely include computational and mathematical modeling, field theory, quantum mechanics, solid state physics and thermodynamics. You might explore research applications in theoretical physics, mathematical physics and chemical physics. As a Ph.D. candidate, you'd be required to conduct independent research, culminating in a written thesis and oral defense. A Ph.D. in physics usually takes about five to six years to complete; some students also spend significant time doing post-doctoral research.