# Any industry job for physics grads requiring no programming?

• Job Skills
Hi all, my question is as title. I am a fourth year PhD student in US and planning to graduate early to get in industry or community college.

I major in high energy theory, and I have no coding/simulation skills at all (not interested at all). Thus, my situation is that professionally I have no skills other than learning and teaching theoretical physics.

Does anyone know if there is any industry job that requires no programming? I know it is too ideal, but I am looking for non-academic jobs that I consult people with theoretical physics. It also seems like this requirement is so specific that there is nowhere to look for this kind of job postings.

## Answers and Replies

It's always been true that you can't do much Physics without doing any Math. It seems to me that nowadays it's true that you can't do much Math without doing some programming. About 40 years ago I had a friend who was studying for a Civil Engineering PhD -- he knew how to do Fourier transforms by hand, but couldn't handle the problems when there were too many variables -- I showed him how to use the university's IBM mainframe computer, gave him a Fortran textbook, and he proceeded to the head of the class -- I can't count one-by-one to more than a billion each second, but my computers can do that all the time . . .

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Locrian and ParlorPink
Dr Transport
Gold Member
It is assumed that with a PhD, you are a competent programmer. If you never learned to program, you'll have a really hard time in industry, that is if you can get a position.

Getting into a community college faculty position isn't going to be any easier, they are far and few between.

ParlorPink
Staff Emeritus
There are very few "knowledge worker" positions that do not involve some level of programming.

Community college faculty positions are not all that easy to get.

ParlorPink
hutchphd
Homework Helper
I worked for thirty years doing R and D with my PhD (mostly electronic, optical, and thermal design for medical devices). I never did any coding. I did do a lot of high level systems design however. My employers were smart enough to pay others to code! Excel was my good friend.

ParlorPink
Choppy
Something to consider is that the pool of technical jobs that require "minimal programming" is a vastly larger pool than the jobs where "no programming" is a necessity. You may not enjoy it, but mastering a set of rudimentary programming skills is generally a small step to take for someone who can handle the math-heavy side of theoretical physics, and will vastly increase your employment prospects.

That said, a few avenues for a "STEM but little programming" skill set include:
- technical sales
- project management
- regulatory (i.e. radiation safety officer)
- teaching, education, and tutoring
- fact checking, consulting
- technical writing

moontiger, atyy, Vanadium 50 and 3 others
At the PhD level, this should have been a discussion you had with your advisor 4 years ago, and if he couldn't provide you with an answer, you should have chosen a different advisor.

ParlorPink
phyzguy
That said, a few avenues for a "STEM but little programming" skill set include:
- technical sales
- project management
- regulatory (i.e. radiation safety officer)
- teaching, education, and tutoring
- fact checking, consulting
- technical writing
However, I think most of these jobs would consider a PhD over-qualified for the job.

Staff Emeritus
With one exception, every RSO I worked with had a PhD. The exception spent a zillion years in the Navy doing that.

All of them were familiar with instrumentation in the way a theorist is not. I would be more worried about being underqualified than overqualified. And while they are not programming in procedural languages, they need to deal with Excel.

atyy and phyzguy
berkeman
Mentor
With one exception, every RSO I worked with had a PhD.
Sorry, what is an RSO? Hopefully not one of the ones on this list...

docnet and atyy
Staff Emeritus
RSO = Radiation Safety Officer (See Message #8)

berkeman
However, I think most of these jobs would consider a PhD over-qualified for the job.
I don't believe in the over-qualified thing. I've been interviewed for minimum wage jobs with data science experience and a master's degree on my resume. However, I think OP, having a PhD and expertise in high energy physics, is capable of securing a better career than what was listed.

CrysPhys
OP:

* I’d like to broaden your question a bit. Lack of programming experience per se will not stop you from getting a job in industry. But lack of any experience that is of value to industry will. My industry experience is similar to that of hutchphd in Post #5. I did little to no programming. Whenever I was involved in a project that required extensive programming, a programmer was assigned to work with me. That is, I did all the analysis and modelling and algorithms, and someone else wrote the code.

* But some important caveats. My PhD was in experimental solid-state physics, and I got my degree in the early ‘80s, when PhD physicists were more highly valued in many segments of industry. So for me, whether I could program or not was totally irrelevant when I graduated, since I had special skills, experience, and expertise that were of value to the semiconductor device industry. Later on, as industry needs changed, I successfully transitioned to other fields such as quality improvement engineering, systems architecture and engineering, network architecture and engineering, and patent prosecution. I successfully leveraged my overall PhD Physics education and training, though not my specific niche expertise anymore.

* In some of the options that Choppy listed in Post #6, lack of programming experience will likely not hinder you, and a PhD Physics per se will not necessarily cause you to be rejected as overqualified (and in some instances can be a plus). Your lack of experimental background, however, will be a hindrance. E.g., consider technical sales. At one time, I bought specialized equipment and systems in the $100K and$1M range. The technical sales engineers I dealt with often had a PhD, and they had direct experience with the equipment and systems. And if you're selling pricey software systems these days, lack of a software background will likely hurt your chances. As another example, consider project management. If you’ve ever built a complex lab from scratch, you’ve likely acquired a lot of project management experience that you can pitch in an interview. You've likely not gained such relevant experience in high-energy theory.

* In some instances, however, a PhD Physics will cause your resume to be trashed because you are overqualified. E.g., if you’re applying for an entry-level project management or technical writer position, the hiring managers will likely figure that you just want to park yourself temporarily to earn money and that you’ll split once you find something better (or that you’ll be disgruntled doing low-level work). But there are always exceptions (see below), so it doesn't hurt to try.

* In the past, I've known theoretical physicists (little to no programming) who were hired in various industries such as telcom, finance, and consulting (such as McKinsey) based primarily on their conceptual, analytical, and modelling capabilities. I don't have any recent examples, but it doesn't hurt to check.

* But all is not lost. I’ll give you two recent examples. I previously served as an industry mentor to STEM students. Two of them got their PhDs in materials science and engineering; little to no programming experience. Upon graduation, they found jobs in R&D. Within the past two years, for various reasons, they’ve both switched careers. One is now doing data analysis and modelling (no coding) for a small company. The other is doing quality process engineering and project management for Amazon.

* In your Post #1, you wrote: “I know it is too ideal, but I am looking for non-academic jobs that I consult people with theoretical physics.” A critical question for you: Are you willing to transition to a job that isn’t primarily a “physics job”? As industry needs shifted, I was willing to, but many of my colleagues weren’t: I stayed employed, and didn't have to move to other states; they didn't stay employed, or had to move to other states.

* ETA: Are you fluent in languages other than English? That can be a plus for some positions.

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olivermsun, ParlorPink, sysprog and 1 other person
OP:

* I’d like to broaden your question a bit. Lack of programming experience per se will not stop you from getting a job in industry. But lack of any experience that is of value to industry will. My industry experience is similar to that of hutchphd in Post #5. I did little to no programming. Whenever I was involved in a project that required extensive programming, a programmer was assigned to work with me. That is, I did all the analysis and modelling and algorithms, and someone else wrote the code.

* But some important caveats. My PhD was in experimental solid-state physics, and I got my degree in the early ‘80s, when PhD physicists were more highly valued in many segments of industry. So for me, whether I could program or not was totally irrelevant when I graduated, since I had special skills, experience, and expertise that were of value to the semiconductor device industry. Later on, as industry needs changed, I successfully transitioned to other fields such as quality improvement engineering, systems architecture and engineering, network architecture and engineering, and patent prosecution. I successfully leveraged my overall PhD Physics education and training, though not my specific niche expertise anymore.

* In some of the options that Choppy listed in Post #6, lack of programming experience will likely not hinder you, and a PhD Physics per se will not necessarily cause you to be rejected as overqualified (and in some instances can be a plus). Your lack of experimental background, however, will be a hindrance. E.g., consider technical sales. At one time, I bought specialized equipment and systems in the $100K and$1M range. The technical sales engineers I dealt with often had a PhD, and they had direct experience with the equipment and systems. And if you're selling pricey software systems these days, lack of a software background will likely hurt your chances. As another example, consider project management. If you’ve ever built a complex lab from scratch, you’ve likely acquired a lot of project management experience that you can pitch in an interview. You've likely not gained such relevant experience in high-energy theory.

* In some instances, however, a PhD Physics will cause your resume to be trashed because you are overqualified. E.g., if you’re applying for an entry-level project management or technical writer position, the hiring managers will likely figure that you just want to park yourself temporarily to earn money and that you’ll split once you find something better (or that you’ll be disgruntled doing low-level work). But there are always exceptions (see below), so it doesn't hurt to try.

* In the past, I've known theoretical physicists (little to no programming) who were hired in various industries such as telcom, finance, and consulting (such as McKinsey) based primarily on their conceptual, analytical, and modelling capabilities. I don't have any recent examples, but it doesn't hurt to check.

* But all is not lost. I’ll give you two recent examples. I previously served as an industry mentor to STEM students. Two of them got their PhDs in materials science and engineering; little to no programming experience. Upon graduation, they found jobs in R&D. Within the past two years, for various reasons, they’ve both switched careers. One is now doing data analysis and modelling (no coding) for a small company. The other is doing quality process engineering and project management for Amazon.

* In your Post #1, you wrote: “I know it is too ideal, but I am looking for non-academic jobs that I consult people with theoretical physics.” A critical question for you: Are you willing to transition to a job that isn’t primarily a “physics job”? As industry needs shifted, I was willing to, but many of my colleagues weren’t: I stayed employed, and didn't have to move to other states; they didn't stay employed, or had to move to other states.

* ETA: Are you fluent in languages other than English? That can be a plus for some positions.
Thanks for your detailed response!

No, I think the answer to your critical question is that I wish to still do primarily physics related work. I know that this severely limits the range of job (almost completely).

Chinese is my native language and English is my second. Is it of any help to positions within US?

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ParlorPink said:
Chinese is my native language and English is my second. Is it of any help to positions within US?
If you mean Mandarin or Cantonese (along with your English, which I think is very good) it could perhaps be helpful; however, Fortran or C++ might be even more so.

russ_watters and ParlorPink
CrysPhys
OP:

* In Post #14, sysprog quoted one of your responses, which appears to have been deleted. [ETA: The OP's response has suddenly reappeared as Post #14, and sysprog's post that I originally referred to now appears as Post #15.] I don’t know whether that was intentional or unintentional. But I’ll give a general discussion of instances in which bilingual fluency (fluency in English plus another language), as well as native experience in a non-US culture, can be a plus when applying for a job in the US.

* Some jobs are directly tied to bilingual fluency.

--The obvious one is translation. With your general coursework in a PhD physics program, you should be capable of translating a variety of technical documents. To get your foot in the door, you’ll probably need to work initially for an established translation service. They don’t pay well, but enough to tide you over. Once established, you can become an independent translator, either as a side gig or as your main gig.

--Another is tutoring (as mentioned above). Obvious subjects to tutor are math and physics. If you are fluent in a trendy language such as Mandarin, you could also tutor in that. Again, to get your foot in the door, you’ll probably need to work initially for an established tutoring service, then become an independent tutor. If you live in an area with a lot of dumb rich kids, you can make a very good living as an independent tutor.

* Many businesses these days serve a global clientele. If you work for a large US corporation, there will often be sales teams focussed on specific countries or regions (such as China, Japan, Europe, Latin America, Africa ....). Depending on the business, these teams will include both business and technical staff. Members who can speak the local language and, more importantly, are intimately familiar with the local culture, of the client are greatly valued.

--Example 1. At one time I worked as a telcom engineer for a US-based telcom Megacorp. I was involved with the international launch of a new network offering. An otherwise mediocre product manager was promoted to lead the sales team for an Italian client, because the product manager was an Italian-American who spoke fluent Italian and had family in Italy.

--Example 2. Latin America is a major market. In most of Latin America, Spanish is the primary language. It’s not too difficult to find staff in the US who speak Spanish to serve many Latin American clients. The biggest market in Latin America for many businesses, however, is Brazil, in which the primary language is Portuguese. Much more difficult to find staff in the US who speak Portuguese. Well, one of the students I mentored got her PhD in atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) physics from a US university. She happened to be from Brazil. Upon graduation, she was hired straightaway by a major business consulting firm to serve the Brazil market.

A telcom project manager I knew was making slow progress in his career. Then we went after the Brazil market. He just happened to have been from Portugal originally. He was assigned to the Brazil team, made rapid progress, got several promotions, and became a department-head level product manager for the Brazil market.

--Example 3. Another student I mentored was from China and got her PhD in materials science and engineering from a US university. After serving a stint as a staff engineer, she eventually transitioned to project management and product management at a US contract manufacturing house, whose suppliers and manufacturing facilities are in China. She’s now an executive director there [ETA: By "there", I mean still at the US contract manufacturing house, not in China]. Now, she’s really technically competent, hard working, and aggressive. No doubt that she would have risen to a high position at some point in her career. But she effectively leveraged her bilingual fluency and cultural background to great advantage.

* So my general advice to you is to take inventory of all your skills, education, and experience and determine how best you can best leverage them. At this point, you don’t want to learn programming languages just to end up competing with legions of CS grads for coding jobs. Depending on the specific position (and of course on the pool of competing candidates), bilingual fluency and native cultural experience may help overcome some of your other deficiencies and help get your foot in the door. Remember: managers will rarely find their ideal candidate, and it's a question of how they weight the pluses and minuses of each candidate.

* One suggestion, if you’re willing to transition away from a mainstream physics job, is to apply for positions at major business consulting firms. Again, I don’t know what their recent hiring practices are (especially since the start of the pandemic), but it’s worth a shot. Check the APS website. I remember there was at least one article in APS News, and maybe an APS webinar, on careers for physicists in business consulting. Good luck!

* ETA: I wrote the above response when your Post #14 was deleted for some reason. Now that it has re-appeared and I've read it, I see that you are not willing to transition from mainstream physics to something else. Since you have no experimental background and no software background, I have no further suggestions for you. Even in the heyday of physics research at AT&T Bell Labs and IBM Watson, positions for people with your background were few and super-competitive (and those days are long gone). The positions in which Chinese is a plus would be those that involve interactions with Chinese customers or suppliers (as described above). If you want to stay squirreled away in an office doing physics theory, there's no advantage.

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berkeman and sysprog
OP:

* In Post #14, sysprog quoted one of your responses, which appears to have been deleted. [ETA: The OP's response has suddenly reappeared as Post #14, and sysprog's post that I originally referred to now appears as Post #15.] I don’t know whether that was intentional or unintentional. But I’ll give a general discussion of instances in which bilingual fluency (fluency in English plus another language), as well as native experience in a non-US culture, can be a plus when applying for a job in the US.

* Some jobs are directly tied to bilingual fluency.

--The obvious one is translation. With your general coursework in a PhD physics program, you should be capable of translating a variety of technical documents. To get your foot in the door, you’ll probably need to work initially for an established translation service. They don’t pay well, but enough to tide you over. Once established, you can become an independent translator, either as a side gig or as your main gig.

--Another is tutoring (as mentioned above). Obvious subjects to tutor are math and physics. If you are fluent in a trendy language such as Mandarin, you could also tutor in that. Again, to get your foot in the door, you’ll probably need to work initially for an established tutoring service, then become an independent tutor. If you live in an area with a lot of dumb rich kids, you can make a very good living as an independent tutor.

* Many businesses these days serve a global clientele. If you work for a large US corporation, there will often be sales teams focussed on specific countries or regions (such as China, Japan, Europe, Latin America, Africa ....). Depending on the business, these teams will include both business and technical staff. Members who can speak the local language and, more importantly, are intimately familiar with the local culture, of the client are greatly valued.

--Example 1. At one time I worked as a telcom engineer for a US-based telcom Megacorp. I was involved with the international launch of a new network offering. An otherwise mediocre product manager was promoted to lead the sales team for an Italian client, because the product manager was an Italian-American who spoke fluent Italian and had family in Italy.

--Example 2. Latin America is a major market. In most of Latin America, Spanish is the primary language. It’s not too difficult to find staff in the US who speak Spanish to serve many Latin American clients. The biggest market in Latin America for many businesses, however, is Brazil, in which the primary language is Portuguese. Much more difficult to find staff in the US who speak Portuguese. Well, one of the students I mentored got her PhD in atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) physics from a US university. She happened to be from Brazil. Upon graduation, she was hired straightaway by a major business consulting firm to serve the Brazil market.

A telcom project manager I knew was making slow progress in his career. Then we went after the Brazil market. He just happened to have been from Portugal originally. He was assigned to the Brazil team, made rapid progress, got several promotions, and became a department-head level product manager for the Brazil market.

--Example 3. Another student I mentored was from China and got her PhD in materials science and engineering from a US university. After serving a stint as a staff engineer, she eventually transitioned to project management and product management at a US contract manufacturing house, whose suppliers and manufacturing facilities are in China. She’s now an executive director there [ETA: By "there", I mean still at the US contract manufacturing house, not in China]. Now, she’s really technically competent, hard working, and aggressive. No doubt that she would have risen to a high position at some point in her career. But she effectively leveraged her bilingual fluency and cultural background to great advantage.

* So my general advice to you is to take inventory of all your skills, education, and experience and determine how best you can best leverage them. At this point, you don’t want to learn programming languages just to end up competing with legions of CS grads for coding jobs. Depending on the specific position (and of course on the pool of competing candidates), bilingual fluency and native cultural experience may help overcome some of your other deficiencies and help get your foot in the door. Remember: managers will rarely find their ideal candidate, and it's a question of how they weight the pluses and minuses of each candidate.

* One suggestion, if you’re willing to transition away from a mainstream physics job, is to apply for positions at major business consulting firms. Again, I don’t know what their recent hiring practices are (especially since the start of the pandemic), but it’s worth a shot. Check the APS website. I remember there was at least one article in APS News, and maybe an APS webinar, on careers for physicists in business consulting. Good luck!

* ETA: I wrote the above response when your Post #14 was deleted for some reason. Now that it has re-appeared and I've read it, I see that you are not willing to transition from mainstream physics to something else. Since you have no experimental background and no software background, I have no further suggestions for you. Even in the heyday of physics research at AT&T Bell Labs and IBM Watson, positions for people with your background were few and super-competitive (and those days are long gone). The positions in which Chinese is a plus would be those that involve interactions with Chinese customers or suppliers (as described above). If you want to stay squirreled away in an office doing physics theory, there's no advantage.
Thanks for your advice. I will look into these.

I think I edited my #14 once after posting. It might cause some cache problem.

sysprog
If I was in your situation I would seriously consider enrolling in law school with the goal of becoming a patent attorney. With your technical background and your bilingual ability you would be a desirable prospect for an industry with a dearth of qualified candidates. (Most law school students are "humanity" majors.) Big bucks and you can play with theoretical physics in your spare time.

russ_watters, vela and berkeman
CrysPhys
If I was in your situation I would seriously consider enrolling in law school with the goal of becoming a patent attorney. With your technical background and your bilingual ability you would be a desirable prospect for an industry with a dearth of qualified candidates. (Most law school students are "humanity" majors.) Big bucks and you can play with theoretical physics in your spare time.
Well, I'm a PhD physicist who transitioned to a career as a patent agent (not a patent attorney, because it made no sense for me to go to law school at the time). I would disagree.

* As a patent attorney, you could make big bucks, but to do so, you'll be working long hours; in which case, you will have no spare time.

* To become a patent attorney in the US, in addition to a JD from a law school, you must have a BS (or equivalent) in a science or engineering field prescribed by the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office). Art history majors with a JD, but without a proper technical background, cannot become patent attorneys, as defined by the USPTO (they can represent clients in court during patent litigation proceedings, but they cannot represent clients before the USPTO for patent prosecution proceedings).

* Unlike PhD programs in physics, you typically need to pay your own way for law school. So you'll have a lot of accumulated debt to pay off, once you start working.

* A JD with a PhD in high-energy theory, no software background, no experimental background, and no industry background will have a hard time getting his foot in the door of a patent law firm: not impossible, but certainly not a cakewalk.

* Being native Chinese can provide an advantage in some instances for firms dealing with Chinese clients, but it is not an overwhelmingly strong enough plus to automatically overcome the many minuses.

ParlorPink, vela and berkeman
vela
Staff Emeritus
Homework Helper
Getting into a community college faculty position isn't going to be any easier, they are far and few between.
That's certainly true if you're looking for a full-time position, but part-time positions are fairly easy to get (at least here in California). Part-time positions, however, may pay very poorly depending on where you live, but they can give you the experience you need to even have a chance of getting a full-time spot.

berkeman and ParlorPink
OP could do a post doc in high energy physics.

I know some people who got post docs and even offered faculty positions at renown national laboratories, coming from a tiny little state college no one has ever heard of. Mostly because their advisors already worked at those places.

Regardless, we should focus on the positives here. OP has a PhD in high energy physics, which is worthy of praise in and of itself. Many hiring managers will be very impressed with what he has been able to achieve. OP has the foundation to pretty much pursue whatever career path he wants.

The question is what career path will that be? Has OP found any luck applying to post docs, internships and employment in high energy physics? Are there professors in OP's physics department who are already working on projects for the DOD or a national lab?

Does OP actually have to abandon a career in physics? I was offered a job as a research physicist which would have required no programming, which is why I turned it down. OP is like in the opposite predicament LOL. I'm just saying, I think it's a bit early to suggest abandoning a career in theoretical physics, if that's what OP ultimately wants to do. My friends wife got a PhD in some kind of nuclear physics theory and managed to get a job in just that. It's certainly possible.

Dr Transport
Gold Member
That's certainly true if you're looking for a full-time position, but part-time positions are fairly easy to get (at least here in California). Part-time positions, however, may pay very poorly depending on where you live, but they can give you the experience you need to even have a chance of getting a full-time spot.

That is true, but I'm assuming the OP wants a full time paid position, not a part time, not even subsistence level job.

I also don't remember whether or not the OP is a US citizen, green-card holder or other work-visa holder.

OP could do a post doc in high energy physics.

I know some people who got post docs and even offered faculty positions at renown national laboratories, coming from a tiny little state college no one has ever heard of. Mostly because their advisors already worked at those places.

Regardless, we should focus on the positives here. OP has a PhD in high energy physics, which is worthy of praise in and of itself. Many hiring managers will be very impressed with what he has been able to achieve. OP has the foundation to pretty much pursue whatever career path he wants.

The question is what career path will that be? Has OP found any luck applying to post docs, internships and employment in high energy physics? Are there professors in OP's physics department who are already working on projects for the DOD or a national lab?

Does OP actually have to abandon a career in physics? I was offered a job as a research physicist which would have required no programming, which is why I turned it down. OP is like in the opposite predicament LOL. I'm just saying, I think it's a bit early to suggest abandoning a career in theoretical physics, if that's what OP ultimately wants to do. My friends wife got a PhD in some kind of nuclear physics theory and managed to get a job in just that. It's certainly possible.
Thank you for the response!

Here is a more detailed story of my study. I wished to work on HEP theory (formal theory) before grad school. The grad school I got admitted to, unfortunately, has no active formal theory professors. Thus, I have worked on HEP phenomenology (HEP-ph) for 2.5 years.

My supervisor and I have many conversations, but in the end he still refuses to supervise or find collaboration for me to do more formal research. I am in my fourth year of PhD with no training in mathematics and formal theories, thus I expect that it is difficult for me to get hired as a formal theory postdoc.

I can certainly do HEP-ph in academics and eventually look for tenure track academic jobs. With zero interest in this field, I foresee myself as a mediocre researcher, having bad mental health and taking 15+ years to settle down. Considering this, I am planning to quit the academia.

That is true, but I'm assuming the OP wants a full time paid position, not a part time, not even subsistence level job.

I also don't remember whether or not the OP is a US citizen, green-card holder or other work-visa holder.
I am not a US citizen, have no green-card. I do have the 1-3 years OPT available.

StatGuy2000
I am not a US citizen, have no green-card. I do have the 1-3 years OPT available.
@ParlorPink , I have the following questions for you:

1. You mentioned you are fluent in Chinese (I'm assuming here you mean Mandarin Chinese), and you are not a US citizen. Are you a citizen of China?

2. If yes to question #1, have you considered academic or research positions in China? The country has been investing funds in various areas of research. Not sure about high-energy particle physics though.

3. I'm wondering how you can be well through your PhD program without having any programming skills. Have you never done any simulations at all in your education? Even theorists and phenomenologists do simulations, from what I've been told by my physicist friends.

4. Are you fluent in any other languages other than Chinese and English? From what I've been told, European countries like Germany and Switzerland are among the major centres for research in high-energy physics.

ParlorPink