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Particle Physicist

Experiment with subatomic particles.

What does a Particle Physicist do?

A Particle Physicist’s job is crashing subatomic particles into one another to find out what happens. It’s like a high-speed car chase, which isn’t what usually comes to mind when one hears the word “physics.” Yet, that’s exactly what particle physics is: It’s an extreme game of atomic-level bumper cars, and the Stunt Driver behind the wheel is the Particle Physicist.

The result — an explosion of particles and energy, including protons, neutrons, and electrons, as well as other, less common particles like quarks, neutrinos, and gravitons — offers insight into the structure of matter, which in turn helps Scientists understand the fabric of the universe.

As a Particle Physicist, you’re interested mostly in theory, although Engineers might eventually use your work to develop new materials, tools, and products. ( Nuclear Engineers, for instance, owe the development of nuclear energy, medicine, and bombs to a Particle Physicist.)

That’s not to say you spend your days daydreaming. You don’t. Instead, you spend them designing and executing complex experiments into the production, observation, and measurement of particles. Because these experiments typically involve subatomic collisions in machines called particle accelerators, or “atom smashers,” your work is often called “high-energy physics” instead of “particle physics.”

Whatever you call it, you typically do it as an employee of a university, government agency, or private research laboratory, where you’re required to not only conduct research but also present it at conferences, write about it in journals, and perhaps even teach it in classes.

Galileo? Sir Isaac Newton? Albert Einstein? You’re like them — but with a dash of Dale Earnhardt Jr., too!