Chemical physics uses the basic rules of chemistry and physics to study and advance theoretical and laboratory chemical processes. Explore degree programs, careers in this field, employment outlook and salary potential.
Is Chemical Physics for Me?
Chemical physicists examine the structure of chemical particles, such as ions, molecules and polymers. They watch how this structure is altered when it goes through various chemical processes, such as combustion or sublimation, and test various other reactions, including energy-flow or the states of quantum particles. Students learn to do all of these things in courses like quantum theory, mathematical physics and chemical mechanics.
Graduates of a chemical physics degree program may find work in the fields of astronomy, natural sciences, meteorology, molecular and laser spectroscopy, ultra-fast processes or optical physics, among others. Most chemical physicists are employed by the government, universities and/or private corporations.
Salaries and Employment Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median wage for chemists was $72,350 as of May 2013 (www.bls.gov). Physicists had a median wage of $110,110 in the same year. Physicists can also expect moderate job growth from 2012-2022, at a rate of 10%, notes the BLS. Most secondary school teachers, including physics teachers or chemistry teachers, made between $37,230 and $86,720 annually, as of May 2013.
How Can I Become a Chemical Physicist?
In high school, you can take chemistry, physics and mathematics courses. At a 4-year accredited undergraduate university, you could major in both chemistry and physics if possible - some universities offer combined programs. Courses leading to a bachelor's degree could include electromagnetism, quantum mechanics and applied mathematics. If you are considering a graduate degree program in chemistry and physics, you can find both master's degrees and Ph.D. programs in chemical physics.
In a master's degree program, you might focus on research in areas such as biophysics, meteorology or electrical engineering. At the Ph.D. level, you could specialize in a specific area of chemical physics, such as solid state physics. Courses typically cover training in organic, inorganic and quantum chemistry, thermodynamics, spectroscopy and advanced mathematics. Usually, much of your time is spent in a research position doing laboratory work, which could act as a gateway into your professional career.