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What are the requirements for being a great physicist?

  1. Apr 14, 2015 #1
    I am currently a high school student, and have been studying advanced physics and mathematics on my own since I was thirteen. I don’t know what my true IQ is, although I have taken some online tests and it claims it’s between135 and 145. I have a deep love for physics, but I fear failure due to not being intelligent, or skilled enough, and I’m not sure how to proceed.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 14, 2015 #2
    Don't worry about IQ, of course you need to be smart enough, but IQ alone does not determine your chances that you might make a sensational breakthrough of some kind.
    But if a making a sensational breakthrough is your ambition, it doesn't happen every day in physics.
    Theories get gradually improved, and measurements get gradually more accurate.
  4. Apr 14, 2015 #3
    IQ tests are rubbish whether they are online or not. The first thing you need to do is define what a great physicist is. If you mean Einstein or Feynman, you need foremost a tremendous amount of luck, and then secondarily mysterious talents whose biological and social origin are so poorly understood that having any degree of attachment to replicating them is hopeless, if enjoyable to ponder as a hobbyist diversion into psychology.

    If you mean being an average physicist, I suspect without proof that most people are capable of this, even if they require more or less effort than others. You can probably in principle do it. Because theorists typically have fewer things to do and less need for grunt work the academic bar is higher than for experiment where the demand for grunts is higher, but you'll need to be hard working either way. The demand for theory also depends upon the discipline.
  5. Apr 14, 2015 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    To decide your fate on something like this will prevent you from pursuing your dream. Forget the IQ number. It might not even be valid coming from some online resource.

    The real skill is to be insatiably curious, to have an open mind and to learn all you can in science, math and art. You never know how your imagination will put things together to come up with a new discovery or great theory.
  6. Apr 15, 2015 #5
    Thanks for the help!
  7. Apr 15, 2015 #6


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    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    And internal motivation to help you put in the extra time and to help you through the difficulties. Good luck, learn plenty and prosper.
  8. Apr 15, 2015 #7


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    I'm an engineer and I work with physicists on a daily basis. The best ones have the following traits in common:

    1. Intensely curious. A good physicist is typically curious about everything. They want to understand their research and how to solve the technical problems, of course, but they also want to know how the CAD tools I use work, or how integrated circuits are processed, or in the cafeteria at lunch they want to know details about how social security payments are calculated or how driving techniques to increase your MPG. Every great physicist I've ever met is just wired that way.

    2. Not afraid to get their hands dirty. Now this one is not universal, especially with a couple of theoretical physicists I have met, but when it comes to experimentalists a common trait is "no job is beneath them". They will write Python scripts, move racks of equipment, attend technical engineering design reviews, and even bring in coffee to an early meeting. It really sets the tone of the group.

    3. Don't put on airs. Again, there are exceptions, but I have a couple of Nobel prizewinners that work in my building and they are amazingly down to earth and easy to talk to. I actually worked on a proposal with one of them and was amazed at how he was a regular guy. The Nobel prize didn't change him at all.
  9. Apr 15, 2015 #8
    I would like to echo what the other have said, especially analogdesign, but I'm going to talk about IQ. If the OP is anything like me, and I think he/she is since I had the same thoughts at that age, then he/she will also think that they know better and are smarter than most other people. and that their thoughts are probably more accurate, though the experience of others is helpful. I know I thought that IQ was imperfect but still extremely accurate, party out of arrogance (I pretty much thought I was the smartest person on Earth lol), but I now know that a simple test designed by the conscious human mind cannot, and can never, accurately judge the conscious and subconscious mind of others, it is simply to difficult with too many sources of error. If we can ever really accurately determine how smart someone is, then it will be by the analysis and scanning of someone's brain activity over a period of years.

    I would like to stress that I am in no way implying that the OP is anywhere near as arrogant as I was, or that he/she even had any of these thoughts in the first place. But the possibility that they are like me exists, and I want to say this in case that possibility is true. Please do not take any offense from this, anyone.
  10. Apr 15, 2015 #9


    Staff: Mentor

    One of my favorite role models has been the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz movie. He always appeared to not know what to do until something needed to be done. Many of his solutions were out of the box opportunities that he recognized and made great movie magic too.

    I value creativity and an open mind willing to learn over IQ any day.
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