Surprisingly green physics careers

From astronomers to quantum scientists, physicists of every kind have a big role to play in building a better, more sustainable world.

Physicists are renowned for being driven by the desire to unravel the mysteries of how the world and universe work. Less well known is that they are crucial to solving the greatest challenge facing society: how to improve the lives of everyone, everywhere while also protecting the planet. If your students have a knack for physics and a passion for our planet, honing their skills might be key to ensuring a more sustainable world.

There are plenty of careers out there where students will be able to apply physical principles to environmental and sustainability problems. Some are obvious, like geophysicists who study the inner workings of the Earth to discover energy resource supplies or estimate the risk of natural disasters. Environmental physicists are also in demand, building atmospheric models to track climate change and pollution, or developing clean energy technology.

But there are other physics roles where the link to sustainability may be less obvious. And even more exciting are sustainabilityfocused physics jobs that don’t even exist yet.

 

Share these careers ideas and videos with your students

Quantum coders

Quantum computers use the properties of quantum physics to store data and perform computations that would take a normal supercomputer the lifetime of the universe to solve. So far, no one has built a useful quantum computer. But the likes of Microsoft, Google and IBM think a breakthrough is just around the corner and are already plotting how quantum computing could be applied to climate change and environmental sustainability. Someone working in this area could code algorithms that set a quantum computer on the path to discovering new materials for energy production and storage. They could task the quantum computer with solving global societal issues, modelling and optimising how we should use the world’s land and water to minimise the impact on our planet while still comfortably feeding and housing society.

Planetary scientists

Planetary scientists study every type of moon and planet, both in the Solar System and beyond. What has that got to do with sustainability? As it turns out, quite a lot. ‘Earth’s twin’ Venus is so hostile probes can’t even survive on the surface for more than minutes. But researchers studying Venus have discovered that in the planet’s early life it was habitable. Venus was home to liquid-water oceans and boasted temperatures similar to today’s Earth. At some point, something triggered a catastrophic greenhouse effect. Using measurements of the atmosphere and geology to model how the planet evolved over time, some planetary scientists aim to discover why this happened – to help us avoid a similar fate here on Earth.

What can understanding the surface of Venus tell us about the fate of our planet?

What can understanding the surface of Venus tell us about the fate of our planet?

Condensed matter physicists

More potentially green physics roles can be found in condensed matter physics. Studying the condensed states of matter (liquids and solids), people in this field are investigating and developing electronic materials to build, for example, more efficient photovoltaic cells for solar power or thermoelectric materials that can convert waste heat into clean energy.

 

 

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