|About the course
This specialist course brings together the core elements of chemistry and physics to give you a comprehensive understanding of matter. Chemical physics is one of the University of Sheffield's research strengths and our researchers have worked on major cross-disciplinary chemistry and physics collaborations. These include:
- Professor Tony Ryan OBE's work with Professor Richard Jones FRS on polymers and nanotechnology, captured in the book Soft Machines
- Professor Julia Weinstein and Professor Anthony Meijer's recent work on photochemistry and artificial photosynthesis using advanced laser spectroscopy and theory, and world-leading facilities at the Science and Technology Facilities Council
- our Polymer Centre, which includes many chemistry and physics lecturers, and is the UK's largest polymer science academic network
- the new Sheffield Antimicrobial Resistance Network addresses pressing issues in healthcare and food safety by applying new developments in chemistry, physics, and engineering
Sheffield is also home to excellent research and teaching facilities, including:
- the Sorby Centre for microscopy, where researchers study surfaces of all kinds of materials down to a few nanometer resolution
- the Kroto Research Institute's light microscopy equipment, which is used to interrogate biophysical machinery at work
- Our new laser facility, where researchers can study chemical reactions from femto- to milliseconds
- The longest Small Angle X-ray Scattering apparatus available in a UK university, allowing researchers to solve the structure of soft materials such as polymers, which are 'invisible' for the X-rays
These projects and facilities give Sheffield a critical mass of chemical physics expertise. Many provide the background to the topics you'll study on your course and you'll be taught by lecturers and professors working at the forefront of these areas. Roughly half of the course content is taught by the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and half is taught here in Chemistry. You'll have practical laboratory classes and tutorials in both departments. The chemistry and physics content of your course is integrated so that you can study chemical physics as a discipline in its own right.
Studying Chemical Physics has made some unique avenues of study more accessible than either discipline would in isolation. Reading physics in tandem gives valuable background insight into understanding many ideas in chemistry, especially as the course progresses. There is always help available if you ever run into trouble.
John Cully, MPHys Chemical Physics
At the start of your first year, you will be given a laboratory resource pack, including a lab coat, safety glasses and safety gloves, so you can start practical work right away in both departments. There are also maths classes, designed specifically for physics students. You'll do more practical work as the course progresses and by third year, you'll be able to handle sensitive chemicals, program in several languages, and conduct experiments over multiple days.
The fourth year has more freedom to specialise, with a range of advanced lecture modules in physics and chemistry to choose from, covering topics including nuclear physics and relativity, soft condensed matter and quantum mechanics, photochemistry, and astrophysics. The fourth year also has the most practical work: you'll run an even bigger chemical physics research project, working with professional scientists in Sheffield's world-class chemistry and physics research groups. This can lead to your work being published in respected scientific journals before you've even graduated. You choose which project you want to do. Projects are often co-supervised by researchers from both Physics and Astronomy, and Chemistry.
This degree is accredited by the Institute of Physics, which means that it covers all the topics and training that you need to complete the first steps towards a professional physics career and Chartered Physicist status. This degree also covers all the essential topics and training that you need to graduate into a professional chemistry career, with chemistry content structured around three areas: organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry and physical chemistry. Some of the subjects you'll cover are set out in the 'Course structure' tab.
Below are some examples of topics covered in this degree from the current academic year. There may be some changes before you start your course. For more details see our online prospectus.
- Physics: electric and magnetic fields, thermal physics, quantum mechanics.
- Organic Chemistry: functional groups and their reactivity, reaction mechanisms.
- Inorganic Chemistry: structure and bonding of main group and transition metal compounds.
- Physical Chemistry: electronic structure of molecules, kinetics, thermodynamics.
- Laboratory Chemistry: developing your key skills in analytical chemistry, spectroscopy and synthetic chemistry.
- Mathematics for Physicists and Astronomers: covering the core maths needed for students taking physics and/or astronomy degrees.
- Physics: electromagnetism, thermodynamics, atomic and nuclear physics, quantum physics, programming.
- Experimental Physics: developing your skills in carrying our experimental physics, using instrumentation and data analysis.
- Programming in Python: learning key elements of Python programming to design of programs for tasks from computational and numerical physics to data analysis and visualisation.
- Inorganic Chemistry: solid state materials, environmental chemistry.
- Physical Chemistry: electrochemistry, elementary quantum mechanics.
- Chemistry Laboratory: students gain experience in modern methods of separation, characterisation and analytical techniques, and advanced synthetic techniques such as Schlenk techniques for manipulating air and moisture sensitive compounds.
- Physics: particle physics, atomic and laser physics, solid state physics.
- Problem Solving and Advanced Skills in Physics: developing further skills in problem solving, data analysis, information retrieval, scientific writing.
- Inorganic Chemistry: organometallic chemistry, coordination chemistry, crystallography.
- Physical Chemistry: polymers, catalysis, statistical thermodynamics.
- Advanced Chemistry Laboratory: further laboratory skills utilised in contemporary inorganic and physical chemistry. Students also complete a research-style project as part of a small group.
Students choose also choose two of the following topics:
You will do a major research project in your fourth year, working with professional researchers in one of our research labs. You can choose whether this is based in Physics or in Chemistry, with some projects having supervisors from both disciplines.
Lectures in Year 4 allow students to explore a broad range of topics at the cutting edge of both physics and chemistry research. By choosing which courses to take, students are able to develop their own interests and specialities.
- Physics: Students currently select 4 of the following topics over the whole year.
- Magnetic Resonance: Principles and Applications
- Optical Properties of Solids
- The Physics of Soft Condensed Matter
- Biological Physics
- Advanced Particle Physics
- Physics in an Enterprise Culture
- Further Quantum Mechanics
- Semiconductor Physics and Technology
- Chemistry: Students currently select 6 of the following topics over the whole year.
- Supramolecular Chemistry
- Metals in Medicine
- Quantum Chemistry
- Advanced Spectroscopy and Theory
- Homogeneous Catalysis
- New Materials
- Graph Theory for Chemists
- Physical Chemistry of Heterogeneous Catalysis
- Heterogeneous Catalysis
- Chemistry in Space
- Photochemistry and Molecular Photonics
- Biomimetic Nanoparticle Synthesis
- Chemistry of High-Energy Materials
- Biophysical Chemistry
The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research, funding changes, professional accreditation requirements, student or employer feedback, outcomes of reviews, and variations in staff or student numbers.