Nuclear scientists work in academic, industrial, and medical settings to conduct research on the minutest of fundamental particles found inside and around atomic nuclei. Many scientists specialize in theoretical physics, performing detailed calculations to better understand the function of particles and predict their behavior in hypothetical situations. A nuclear scientist may also work in applied research, conducting experiments and helping to develop new technologies based on the principles of nuclear physics and chemistry. With the appropriate education and training, nuclear scientists can obtain jobs at universities, laboratories, power plants or hospitals, among many other settings.
A nuclear scientist conducts experiments, makes observations, and develops mathematical formulas to contribute to the collective knowledge of particle physics and nuclear chemistry. Professionals often specialize in a certain area of study, such as radioactivity, decay, fusion, or atomic interactions. Using established scientific methods, nuclear chemists and physicists design highly-detailed, controlled experiments. Depending on the nature of research, a scientist may work in a small, private laboratory or a facility that contains a miles-long particle accelerator. In any setting, it is essential for a nuclear scientist to be organized, objective, and thorough in his or her research to ensure meaningful results.
Many nuclear scientists apply their knowledge and research experience to the development of new technology in medicine and industry. A scientist who specializes in nuclear medicine investigates the potential roles of different radioisotopes in medicines, diagnostic imagining technology, and practical treatment techniques. Scientists may also help develop new plastics, metal alloys, or packaging materials at a manufacturing plant by manipulating ionic and molecular compounds.
A large number of theoretical and experimental physicists work as university professors either full- or part-time to help prepare the next generation of physicists and chemists for their careers. Working at a college also gives a nuclear scientist a source of funding for his or her research and access to excellent facilities and technology. In addition, he or she has the distinct advantage of working alongside highly-trained professors in other scientific disciplines.
A person who wants to become a nuclear scientist usually needs to obtain an advanced degree in the subject from an accredited college. Scientists who want to work in research and development positions may be able to find jobs with master's degrees, though people who plan on designing and conducting independent research projects typically need to hold doctorates. In addition, many hopeful clinical laboratory scientists choose to attend medical school to earn official doctor of medicine credentials.
New scientists in any setting typically begin their careers as assistants or associates. They build upon the experience gained during laboratory courses in college to develop expert research techniques. With experience, a nuclear scientist usually earns more responsibilities and gets the chance to design his or her own studies.