Physics Laboratory Technician
Physics laboratory technicians help and support the work of physicists and engineers. They set up equipment, prepare and carry out experiments, take measurements and report on their findings. They work in a wide range of areas, including industry, education, medical science and research institutions.
Also known as
- Laboratory Technician, Physics
Physics laboratory technicians are responsible for day-to-day activities in the laboratory. They have a variety of duties, including:
- Managing equipment stocks, ordering replacements when necessary.
- Disposing of laboratory waste.
- Preparing and maintaining equipment.
- Taking and testing samples.
- Recording and analysing experiment results.
- Reporting findings to the scientist, verbally or in writing.
- Identifying potential hazards in the lab and assessing risks.
In schools, colleges and universities, they set up materials and equipment for demonstrations, and prepare teaching aids such as slides, samples and models. Increasingly, they also help learners with their work and add their ideas and experience to help teachers prepare lessons. In universities, technicians may need to work closely with students and staff.
Physics laboratory technicians work in a very wide range of manufacturing and technological industries. For example, in aerospace companies, they set up tests to develop lighter and stronger materials for aeroplanes, spacecraft and satellites.
In the automotive industry, they help to develop cars that are safer, quieter and make better use of fuel.
They test how materials, such as metals, react to conditions such as temperature, pressure and stress. This might involve using X-rays to examine a material's internal structure.
Technicians working in hospitals are responsible for maintaining equipment in areas such as radiotherapy and ultrasound scanning.
In industry, technicians are likely to work in a team alongside physicists and other technicians.
Laboratory technicians work at different levels of responsibility. Senior technicians might have more responsibility for experiment work, report writing and lab management. They might have duties such as giving on-the-job training to other technicians, supervising staff, or managing health and safety procedures.
For many types of work, technicians need to wear protective clothing such as coats, gloves, eye protection and safety footwear.
Technicians use a wide variety of laboratory and workshop equipment in their work. They also use computers, for example, to monitor stock levels and record experiment results.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To be a physics laboratory technician, you'll need:
- Observation skills and attention to detail.
- A thorough and methodical approach to your work.
- The ability to record test results accurately and write reports of your findings.
- Teamwork skills: you might work closely with scientists, technologists, teachers, lecturers, students and other technicians.
- Initiative and the ability to work without supervision.
- The ability to use a wide variety of laboratory equipment.
- Computer and word-processing skills.
- An enquiring mind, with willingness to learn and develop new skills.
Some technicians work with potentially dangerous equipment and hazardous substances. It's important to follow instructions carefully, learn and use safe working practices, wear protective clothing and use protective equipment when needed.
Pay and Opportunities
Salaries vary depending on the company and range of responsibility. The pay rates given below are approximate.
Physics laboratory technicians earn in the range of £15,000 - £17,500 a year, rising to £21,500 - £28,000 with experience. Salaries of over £30,000 are possible for people in senior positions.
Hours of work
Physics laboratory technicians usually work a 35- to 39-hour week, Monday to Friday.
Where could I work?
Employers include firms involved in electronics, power generation (including nuclear power), telecommunications, and the motor and aerospace industries.
Physics laboratory technicians also work with meteorologists and geophysicists, and in government departments, schools, colleges, universities and hospitals.
Opportunities for physics laboratory technicians occur in towns and cities throughout the UK.
What's happening in this work area?
There is a shortage of laboratory technicians, with many more people urgently needed to fill the gaps. A 2012 report by the Technician Council states that 450,000 more laboratory technicians will be needed by 2020, if we are to sustain an innovation economy.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised in science magazines and journals, including New Scientist (which also posts jobs on its website). They also appear on job boards, in local/national newspapers, at Jobcentre Plus and on the Universal Jobmatch website.
Entry Routes and Training
It's possible to enter and train through an Intermediate, Advanced Level or Degree Apprenticeship.
Apart from training on-the-job, you might have part-time study by day- or block-release for relevant qualifications. These could include Edexcel (BTEC) level 3 Nationals, higher national qualifications, foundation degrees and degrees.
You might work towards a qualification such as a:
- Level 2 NVQ Certificate or level 3 NVQ Diploma in Laboratory and Associated Technical Activities.
- Level 2/3 NVQ Diploma in Laboratory Science.
The Institute of Science & Technology (IST) has developed the Certificate in Laboratory Technical Skills. This is available at levels 1-3, with a fourth level planned. The Certificate is awarded by PAA/VQ-SET, and delivered through registered centres.
Usually after some years' experience, you can take the IST's Higher Diploma. This is for specialist technicians working in specific areas of science.
The IST runs a range of other training courses, as well as continuing professional development programmes. For more information, please see the IST website.
Registered Science Technician (RSciTech)
The Science Council has launched a new register for professional technicians. Registration recognises technicians' vital role and raises their profile: becoming a Registered Science Technician (RSciTech) will help ensure that your expertise is properly recognised by employers and others within the science community. Registration is through membership of one of a number of recognised professional bodies.
To register, you'll usually need a relevant level 3 qualification, such as an AS or A level, level 3 NVQ or Edexcel (BTEC) level 3 National. For more information, please see the Science Council website.
You could progress to a supervisory, team leader or senior position.
Rehabilitation of Offenders Act
In some posts, for example, in schools and further education colleges, working as a laboratory technician is an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This means that you must supply information to an employer about any spent or unspent convictions, reprimands or warnings, if they ask you to. This is different from other careers, where you only have to reveal information on unspent convictions if you are asked to.
Most employers ask for at least 4/5 GCSEs at grades A*-C, including Maths, English and Science or Physics, or equivalent.
To get onto an Intermediate or Advanced Level Apprenticeship, you’ll usually need five GCSEs at grade C or above, possibly including English and Maths.
To get onto a Degree Apprenticeship, you will usually need at least 2 A levels.
Laboratory technicians often have higher qualifications, such as A levels or equivalent, and some have HNDs, foundation degrees or degrees.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A-level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
Some entrants have a background in laboratory work, for example, as a routine tester or assistant.
It is possible to enter and train through an Intermediate Level Apprenticeship or Advanced Level Apprenticeship (Laboratory and Science Technicians).
- 7% of laboratory technicians work part-time.
- 16% have flexible hours.
Apprenticeships: Get In. Go Far
National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)
Tel: 0800 015 0400
Skills Development Scotland - Modern Apprenticeships
Tel: 0800 9178000
Publisher: Reed Business Information Ltd
Address: Brooke House, 24 Dam Street, Lichfield, Staffordshire WS13 6AA
Tel: 01543 254223
Institute of Physics (IOP)
Address: 76 Portland Place, London W1B 1NT
Tel: 020 7470 4800
Institute of Science & Technology (IST)
Address: Kingfisher House, 90 Rockingham Road, Sheffield S1 4EB
Tel: 0114 2763197
Careers Wales - Welsh Apprenticeships
Tel: 0800 028 4844