Chemical Physics


UCAS Code: F335
Typical offer:
Four years

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How to apply for this course

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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 Dr 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 new developments 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. At the same time, our focused careers module will help equip you for whatever you choose to do after your degree.

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.

Course structure

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.


  • First year: electric and magnetic fields, thermal physics, quantum mechanics
  • Second year: electromagnetism, thermodynamics, atomic and nuclear physics, quantum physics, programming
  • Third year: particle physics, atomic and laser physics, solid state physics

Organic chemistry

  • First year: functional groups and their reactivity, reaction mechanisms
  • Second year: stereochemistry, designing syntheses of complex target molecules
  • Third year: designing synthetic routes by retrosysnthesis

Inorganic chemistry

  • First year: structure and bonding of main group and transition metal compounds
  • Second year: solid state materials, environmental chemistry
  • Third year: organometallic chemistry, coordination chemistry, crystallography

Physical chemistry

  • First year: electronic structure of molecules, kinetics, thermodynamics
  • Second year: electrochemistry, elementary quantum mechanics
  • Third year: polymers, catalysis, statistical thermodynamics

Fourth year
You'll do a major research project in your fourth year, working with professional researchers in one of our research labs. You'll also have a range of advanced lecture modules to choose from. Current options include:

  • Advanced Spectroscopy and Theory
  • Biomimetic Nanoparticle Synthesis
  • Biophysical Chemistry
  • Chemistry in Space
  • Chemistry of High-Energy Materials
  • Graph Theory for Chemists
  • Heterogeneous Catalysis
  • Homogeneous Catalysis
  • Metals in Medicine
  • Nanochemistry
  • New Materials
  • Photochemistry and Molecular Photonics
  • Physical Chemistry of Heterogeneous Catalysis
  • Quantum Chemistry
  • Supra-molecular 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.