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Laser Physicist

What does a Laser Physicist do?

Laser physicists look at the theory and applications of lasers and optic light. They are concerned with the construction and applications of lasers, their design, and the physics involved in their future development. Their findings act as the scientific basis for developments in all kinds of technology, from communications and energy efficiency to space and satellites. Careers that are available to laser physicists include: the engineering and automotive industries; some areas of medicine; lecturing; the entertainment industry and event management; the business sector; research posts.

Laser physicists normally work in one of two areas: theoretical analysis – developing ideas, using computer simulations and mathematical modelling techniques to make predictions and explain behaviours; or experimental and applied research – devising controlled experiments to test how well theories stand up to results. Their work also includes writing reports on findings for project managers, scientific journals and funding organisations, and presenting work at scientific meetings and conferences.


What qualifications do I need?

A Bachelor of Science degree with physics as a major, followed by an honours or master’s level degree, is required in order to become a laser physicist. Students may be able to start on a company’s graduate training scheme after completing a degree. For a research post with a company or university, graduates will usually need further postgraduate qualifications, or be working towards a PhD and have several years’ experience in the field. It is important to continuously keep up to date with developments in this field.

What subjects do I need?

Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: 
• Mathematics
• Physical Science


Where can I study?

Laser Research Institute
University Programme in Laser Physics

University of the Western Cape
Bachelor of Science: Physics

University of the Witwatersrand
Bachelor of Science: Physics

University of Johannesburg
Bachelor of Science: Physics

North-West University
Bachelor of Science: Physics

University of Pretoria
Bachelor of Science: Physics

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Bachelor of Science: Physics

University of Stellenbosch
Bachelor of Science: Physics

Bachelor of Science: Physics

Where can I get more info?

Photographic Society of South Africa – www.pssa.co.za
Southern African Freelancers’ Association – www.safrea.co.za


Interview with a Laser Physicist

Pieter Neethling | LASER PHYSICIST | Postdoctoral Fellow (Laser Research Institute, Department of Physics, Stellenbosch University)

Pieter Neethling | LASER PHYSICIST | Postdoctoral Fellow (Laser Research Institute, Department of Physics, Stellenbosch University)


Why did you choose this profession?
Experimental physics literally allows me to tackle interesting physical problems hands-on, since I have to design and build experiments with the aim of addressing a certain problem. The field of laser research is an expanding research area.

What training did you undergo?
I recently completed my PhD in Laser Physics at the Laser Research Institute, Stellenbosch University.

Is there a certain type of personality best suited to this profession?
One needs to be inquisitive, hard working and stubborn. Perseverance is probably the most important characteristic.

Do you think experience is as important as formal training?
Definitely. Fortunately you obtain experience by completing advanced degrees (BSc Hons, MSc, PhD). Without the hands-on experience (and the basic theoretical knowledge) it would be impossible to do my job.

Describe a typical day spent on the job
That depends on the progress of a project. A day can either be spent planning experiments, performing the experiments in the lab (for me this is by far the most fun) or analysing the results of the completed experiment. I am fortunate because I also get to lecture.

What do you enjoy the most?
I have a lot of freedom when it comes to the experiments I perform; this allows me to tackle problems that I find interesting. This, along with flexible working hours, a relaxed working environment and a great group of people, means I really enjoy my job.

What aspects aren’t you keen on?
As with any job, there is always admin that needs to be done. In my case, usually funding applications or writing reports.

Mention some highlights of your career to date
I received a number of awards during my studies and they count amongst my highlights, along with publishing my first scientific paper, presenting at my first conference and obtaining my PhD.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Believe in yourself and never be afraid to ask questions. Know what you want to achieve. Don’t assume that people who are older or more experienced than you are always right.