Originally published in March 2003 in the Engineering Physics Group Newsletter (EPG), Institute of Physics (IOP), UK

Chartered Physicist (C.Phys.) and Chartered Engineer (C.Eng.)

(A Brief Outline of the Institute’s History and its Efforts to Improve Physicist’s Lot)

The Institute of Physics, as we know it today, was formed from an amalgamation of the Physical Society, formed in 1874, and the Institute of Physics formed in 1920.

At its formation the Physical Society had just 29 members. Its aim was simply to be a ‘society for physical research’ and to this end it obtained for its members free use of laboratory facilities in South Kensington.

The Institute of Physics was incorporated by special charter of the Board of Trade in 1920 and had its first meeting in 1921. Within a few years the Physical Society and the Institute of Physics were sharing administrative arrangements but it was not until 1960 that they merged under the name, ‘The Institute of Physics and the Physical Society’. In 1970 this unwieldy title was changed to simply, the ‘Institute of Physics’ (IoP) and the institute obtained a Royal Charter.

During its path to obtaining a Royal Charter the IoP had various objectives. Its membership during the 19th. century included; schoolteachers, amateur scientists and eminent professors. Its objective was to help them indulge in ‘practical and experimental science’. In 1917 it started to explore ways to improve the professional status of physicists which manifested itself in a number of ways including; the start of publication in the 1920’s, the introduction of the membership grade, ‘Graduateship’ in 1949 and the introduction of its own graduateship examinations in 1952. At various times it also had a number of close associations with other learned societies, notably; the Optical Society, the Roentgen Society, the Royal Microscopical Society, the Faraday Society and the British Institute of Radiology.

During Britain’s industrial revolution those involved in various diverse engineering pursuits also formed societies for the benefit of their members. Eventually in 1982, perhaps encouraged by the country’s relative decline in scientific and engineering activity, many of these decided to gather under the umbrella of an institution named the Chartered Institution, an organization tasked with promoting and regulating the engineering profession. It bestowed on its members, the style, chartered engineers who could thus append their names with the letters, C.Eng. One aspect of the regulation was that chartered engineers, of whatever discipline, could be thought of as in some ways comparable in terms of expertise and experience within the confines of their chosen field. In 2002 the Engineering Council (UK) was formed to take over the regulatory and promotional role of the Chartered Institution. The designation, ‘chartered engineer’ and appendage ‘C.Eng.’ stayed the same.

Because the Chartered Institution was seen to be successful in benefiting the lot of members, the IoP sought to likewise improve the situation for its members. In 1986 it therefore introduced the style ‘Chartered Physicist’ ‘C.Phys’, for its corporate members and, following a period --- from 1987 to 1994 --- of affiliation through the Institution of Electrical Engineers, became a direct member of the Chartered Institution in 1994. As such they were then able to offer their own route to chartered engineer status from within their own ranks. Such is the current situation.

There has probably always been some activities, e.g. optical instrument manufacture, in which companies have had engineers which were initially trained as physicists. To add to this the ever changing world keeps throwing up new industries, e.g. nuclear technology, optical communication, and optical logic, with need for engineers perhaps best originally trained in physics. Those of you in such areas may naturally gravitate to obtaining C.Eng. status by way of the IoP but others, working in more traditional fields; e.g. electrical or chemical engineering, may feel inclined to join one or other of the other Engineering Council’s institutions to achieve this qualification. As outlined above it is no longer necessary to do this. You can save money and remain a member of the IoP alone while still obtaining your objectives.

The IoP is one of the more dynamic and well funded of the learned societies. As a member you have the benefit of a much respected institute with a particularly diverse disciplinary background. It now allows you to both pursue your newer engineering aspirations while, at the same time, keeping in touch with all those fascinating scientific aspects of the physical world which initially drove you to study physics in the first place.

If you wish to pursue C.Eng you might do well to do so by way of the IoP. Look at the web site :


for further information about the qualifications C.Phys. and C.Eng., and how to apply for them. You can download application forms directly from the web page.