If you want to become a plasma physicist, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for a career as a plasma physicist:
Those who become plasma physicists have a keen interest in specific areas of plasma physics, and they desire to become leading experts in those areas. They typically take great pleasure out of conducting research and furthering our knowledge in the emerging field of plasma physics.
To become a plasma physicist, you need to have aptitude in science and mathematics, and an advanced education in plasma physics. You also need to be effective working in a team environment, have excellent communications skills, and be skilled working with specialized instrumentation and computer programs.
A plasma physicist is a scientist that designs and conducts experiments for the purpose of researching plasmas: the fourth state of matter, which are collections of freely moving charged particles (mainly electrons and ions) in which collective phenomena, such as waves, dominate the behavior of the system.
The knowledge gained by the work of plasma physicist is essential to many high-technology applications. One example is fusion energy, for which the fuel is a high-temperature plasma.
The job description of plasma physicists varies greatly from one position to the next. For example, the job description of a plasma physicist that works for a university and is involved in researching the formation of complex microscopic and nanoscopic patterns for microelectronic and micro-optical components, will vary greatly from that of a plasma physicist that works for an energy company and is trying to develop a more efficient fuel source.
The scope of interest of plasma physicists includes fundamental studies of plasmas, their interaction with surfaces and surroundings, and the technologies associated with their applications, such as illumination, display technology, microwave generation, destruction of toxic wastes, lasers, spacecraft propulsion, astrophysics, and advanced-design accelerators for fundamental particle research.
To become a plasma physicist, you need to develop a strong background in physics, quantum mechanics and mathematics. It is also important to have laboratory experience, skills in research and skills working with various computer programs, such as mapping programs and data collection and analysis programs.
To acquire the knowledge base and skill set necessary to become a plasma physicist, you typically need to begin by pursuing an undergraduate degree in science, with a major in physics, or a degree in engineering. Having an undergraduate degree in physics will qualify you to work an entry-level plasma physics job, such as Research Assistant, or Laboratory Technician.
Graduate students of plasma physics generally spend the first two years acquiring a foundation in the many areas that plasma physics is composed of: classical and quantum mechanics, electricity and magnetism, fluid dynamics, hydrodynamics, atomic physics, applied mathematics, statistical mechanics, and kinetic theory. Students also spend time in their first two years conducting research with the teaching faculty, and other faculty scientists.
Obtaining an M.Sc. degree in plasma physics often qualifies graduates to work in responsible positions in industrial or government laboratories, as laboratory instructors at universities, as consultants.
A Ph.D. degree qualifies plasma physicists for permanent positions in industry. Some Ph.D. graduates choose to work as Post-Doctoral Fellows, typically for a period of 1-3 years, during which time their skills and reputations as independent plasma physics researchers are enhanced. After the fellowship, long-term employment as a plasma physicist is usually found in university teaching, or in academic, industrial or government research laboratories.
Plasma physicist jobs are available on a part-time, full-time or contractual basis with organizations that are involved in researching plasma physics principles, or with organizations involved in applying the principles of plasma physics to the development or improvement of residential, commercial or industrial products. Organizations that hire plasma physicists include:
• Colleges and universities
• Federal, provincial/state and municipal government departments
• Private and public research laboratories
• Scientific or engineering consulting organizations
• Patent offices, agencies and law firms
• Energy companies
• Companies that develop residential, industrial or commercial products, such as microwaves and televisions
Related Links: Nuclear Physicist