He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1966, received his bachelor"s degree from the University of Michigan in 1969, and his Doctor of Philosophy in 1974 from Harvard University, where his graduate advisor was Sidney Coleman.
In his first published article, which appeared in 1973, Politzer described the phenomenon of asymptotic freedom: the closer quarks are to each other, the weaker the strong interaction will be between them. When quarks are in extreme proximity, the nuclear force between them is so weak that they behave almost like free particles. This result—independently discovered at around the same time by Gross and Wilczek at Princeton University—was extremely important in the development of quantum chromodynamics.
With Thomas Appelquist, Politzer also played a central role in predicting the existence of "charmonium", a subatomic particle formed of a charm quark and a charm antiquark.
Politzer was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows from 1974 to 1977 before moving to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he is currently professor of theoretical physics. In 1989, he appeared in a minor role in the movie Fat Manitoba and Little Boy, as Manhattan Project physicist Robert Serber.
He was also the lead vocalist in the 1980s for "Professor Politzer and the Rho Mesons", which put out their single, "The Simple Harmonic Oscillator".