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MSc(Res) Particle Physics

Particle physics has been at the centre of some of the 21st century's biggest scientific discoveries. Researchers in Sheffield have worked on the discovery of the Higgs boson and the detection of gravitational waves, and they are involved in searches for dark matter and ground-breaking neutrino experiments.

This one-year masters course is designed to teach you the concepts that help us understand the universe, and give you the practical skills to run experiments that put complex theories to the test. It's a research-based degree, so you will spend around half your time on your own research project, working alongside experts here in Sheffield or at another lab where our scientists work, such as CERN.

You'll also take modules on topics such as dark matter, electrodynamics and quantum mechanics. Options include semiconductor physics and general relativity, or modules on enterprise and statistics, where you can develop skills to help you stand out in the graduate job market.

The course is great preparation for a PhD, or roles in industries that physics graduates excel in, such as computing, data science and technology.

Debating Dark Matter: Axions and WIMPS

In this University of Sheffield podcast, Professor Dan Tovey and Dr Ed Daw debate two of the theories that may explain dark matter – axions and weakly interacting massive particles.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

If you are looking for a masters course that covers more of the theories behind particle physics, visit our theoretical physics course webpage: MSc Mathematical and Theoretical Physics


To apply for this course, complete the University of Sheffield's postgraduate online application form.

Online application form

You can find more information about the application process on the University's postgraduate webpages.

How to apply: applying essentials

Deadlines for 2019 entry

Students requiring visas: Friday 2 August
Students not requiring visas: Friday 16 August


Course Director: Professor Davide Costanzo

For general queries contact: 

Telephone: +44 (0)114 22 23789

You can also visit us throughout the year:
Postgraduate open days, visit afternoons and online chats

About the course

This one-year course covers the complex theories and experimental techniques that particle physicists use to explain nature and the universe. It will develop your understanding of the Standard Model by going into even greater depth on topics you might have covered in your undergraduate degree, such as quantum mechanics, electrodynamics and dark matter.

You'll learn about the methods particle physicists use to study the universe, the experiments that led to the discoveries of neutrons, positrons and neutrinos, and the experimental evidence for quarks and gluons. You can examine the possible explanations for dark matter with scientists who are leading searches for it, and take modules led by researchers who were involved in the Higgs boson and gravitational wave discoveries.

There are also optional modules to choose from, including general relativity, particle astrophysics, semiconductor physics and statistical physics.

The biggest part of your degree is your research project, which you might be able to work on at a research facility such as CERN. You'll choose your own topic, and work closely with a member of academic staff from Department of Physics and Astronomy, who is an expert in the area you want to explore. Possible topics include:

  • Background events in the LUX-Zeplin dark matter experiment
  • Characterising ultra-fast imaging photon sensors for neutrino experiments
  • Design a masterclass for high-school students using ATLAS open data
  • Searching for supersymmetry with the ATLAS detector at the CERN Large Hadron Collider
  • The WATCHMAN Project: Using anti-neutrinos for nuclear threat reduction
  • Using tau leptons in collider experiments to search for new physics

You will take part in a research training programme that teaches you how to interpret and evaluate research papers, and how to communicate your own findings. There is also optional enterprise training, where you can use your physics expertise to develop an idea for a new business and pitch it to a panel of experts.

Jack Hall

Your project can be on basically anything the department researches, so I chose to do my work within the ATLAS collaboration at CERN. The department has so many areas that contribute to ATLAS research, from detector upgrades to extended Higgs sector and supersymmetry searches.

Jack Hall, MSc(RES) Particle Physics


Freya Bottom

I worked at CERN where I was a technical student testing the optical data links for the particle detector upgrades. I did radiation tests on the devices, and some days I would be simulating the semiconductor devices and radiation damage they would experience in the detectors.

Freya Bottom, Masters Student


After your degree

The advanced topics covered and the extensive research training make this degree programme great preparation for a PhD:

Physics graduates also develop numerical, problem solving and data analysis skills that are useful in many careers, such as computer programming, software engineering, data science or technology research and development. Below are some examples of the kinds of roles and organisations our students end up in.

Example roles:

  • CERN Fellow
  • Data Scientist
  • Graduate Software Engineer
  • Network Engineer
  • Research Engineer
  • Senior Information Analyst
  • Senior Research Analyst

Example employers:

  • BAE Systems
  • Bank of England
  • CERN
  • Channel 4
  • Ministry of Defence
  • National Space Agency
  • Sony

The University's Careers Service runs workshops on CV and application writing, job hunting and preparing for interviews. They offer events where you can meet employers, and opportunities to get work experience while you study. The Careers Service will even continue to support you for three years after you graduate.

I am currently working as a CERN Fellow on the ATLAS experiment. Right now I am convener of the ATLAS Physics Modelling Group. The group is responsible for producing the most precise and accurate possible simulations of what we expect Large Hadron Collider collisions to look like.

Josh McFayden, Sheffield Physics Graduate


Josh McFayden

Entry requirements

For this course we usually ask for a first class undergraduate degree in physics or a related subject.

We can also accept qualifications from other countries. You can find out which qualifications we accept from your country on the University's webpages for international students.

Prospective international students: Your country

International pathway programmes

If you are an international student who does not meet our entry requirements, the University of Sheffield International College offers a Pre-Masters in Science and Engineering programme. This programme is designed to develop your academic level in your chosen subject, introduce you to the study skills that will be vital to success and help with language if you need it.

Upon successful completion, you can progress to this degree at the University of Sheffield.

Pre-Masters in Science and Engineering

English Language Requirements

If you have not already studied in a country where English is the majority language, it is likely that you will need to have an English language qualification. We usually ask for:

  • International English Language Testing Service (IELTS): Overall grade of 6.5 with 6 in each component

You can find out whether you need to have an english language qualification, and which other English language qualifications we accept, on the University's webpages for international students.

English language requirements

The English Language Teaching Centre offers English language courses for students who are preparing to study at the University of Sheffield.

English Language Teaching Centre

Funding and scholarships

Funding is available, depending on your fee status, where you live and the course you plan to study. You could also qualify for a repayable postgraduate masters loan to help fund your studies.

Funding your postgraduate course

UK/EU scholarships

100+ scholarships image

We're offering 100+ scholarships worth £10,000 each for home students starting a taught postgraduate course in 2019 that can be used towards fees or living expenses.

Find out more

International scholarships

International scholarships image

We're offering 100 International Postgraduate Taught Merit Scholarships, each worth 25% of the original tuition fee for a postgraduate taught programme starting in September 2019.

Find out more

Alumni rewards

Alumni rewards

If you’ve previously graduated from the University and intend to pursue further studies with us then you may be eligible to receive a 10% discount on your tuition fees.

Find out more

Up-to-date fees can be found on the University of Sheffield's webpages for postgraduate students:

Tuition fees


New study shows that identity of dark matter remains a mystery

Starry sky

Professor Neil Spooner was part of a new study, published in Nature, which has shown that dark matter remains as elusive as ever.

Full story


Gravitational waves detected 100 years after Einstein's prediction

Dr Ed Daw was part of the LIGO collaboration that first observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime, known as gravitational waves.

Full story


Professor Davide Costanzo, ATLAS Computing Co-ordinator

Large Hadron Collider

As well as leading our MSc(Res) Particle Physics course, Professor Davide Costanzo has a senior role at the CERN research centre.

Learn more

Current modules

The modules listed below are examples from the current academic year. There may be some changes before you start your course.

Compulsory modules:

Advanced Electrodynamics (10 credits)

Module leader: Dr Pieter Kok

In this course, our starting point is Maxwell's equations, after a brief recap of vector calculus. We describe the electric and magnetic fields in terms of potentials, and present two general classes of solving Maxwell's equations. We treat fields in macroscopic media, waveguides and cavities, and we end with the relativistic formulation of electrodynamics.

Dark Matter and the Universe (10 credits)

Module leader: Professor Neil Spooner

The aims of this optional course are to review galactic dynamics relevant to the origin of the dark matter problem, evidence for dark matter from galaxy rotation curves and gravitational lensing, the abundance of dark matter from cosmic microwave background observations, an introduction to cold, warm and hot dark matter candidates, WIMPs and axions as dark matter candidates and finally dark energy and the fate of the Universe. Searches for dark matter particles are covered with some lectures given by world-leading experts in the field.

Further Quantum Mechanics (10 credits)

Module leader: Professor David Whittaker

This module builds on quantum mechanics, developing the Heisenberg matrix formulation of the theory from the Schrodinger wave picture. Methods are developed for solving time dependent problems, treating problems involving magnetic fields and spin, and introducing many particle wave functions for fermions and bosons.

The Development of Particle Physics (10 credits)

Module leader: Professor Vitaly Kudryavtsev

The module describes the development of several crucial concepts in particle physics, emphasising the role and significance of experiments. Students are encouraged to work from the original literature. The module focuses not only on the particle physics issues involved, but also on research methodology, the design of experiments, the critical interpretation of data, the role of theory, etc. Topics covered include the discoveries of the neutron, the positron and the neutrino, experimental evidence for quarks and gluons, the neutral kaon system and CP violation, neutrino mass and oscillations, etc.

Physics Research Skills (30 credits)

Module leader: Dr Matt Mears

This module is designed to allow students to explicitly reflect on various aspects of the research process and its communication. Students will be required to keep a diary of their project and reflect on their progress; write a literature review of the project area reflecting on how and why they chose their sources; reflect on the process of learning a new skill for their project; communicate what their research is about and why it is important to a general audience; consider how to teach what they are researching at undergraduate level.

Research Project in Physics (90 credits)

Module leader: Professor Mark Geoghegan

This module will give students the opportunity to develop skills relevant to a career in physics research. It will consist of a laboratory or analytical based research project in one of the Department’s research groups. Each student will work under the supervision of a member of academic staff and will formulate the hypotheses and questions to be addressed and plan and carry out experiments or simulations to test these hypotheses. The outcome of the project will be summarised in a dissertation and the student will keep a notebook of the research, deliver an oral presentation of their work, and prepare a poster of their findings.

Optional modules – students take two:

Advanced Particle Physics (10 credits)

Module leader: Professor Dan Tovey

The module provides students with a comprehensive understanding of modern particle physics. Focussing on the standard model it provides a theoretical underpinning of this model and discusses its predictions. Recent developments including the discovery of the Higgs Boson and neutrino oscillation studies are covered. A description of the experiments used to probe the standard model is provided. Finally the module looks at possible physics beyond the standard model.

Advanced Quantum Mechanics (10 credits)

Module leader: Dr Pieter Kok

In this course, we will build quantum mechanics from the ground up, starting with linear vector spaces and Hilbert space. We introduce the postulates of quantum mechanics and explore important topics in modern quantum mechanics such as mixed states, decoherence, entanglement, and quantum teleportation. We also give a thorough treatment of spin and orbital angular momentum. In the second part, we look at many body problems in quantum mechanics. We explore the physics of identical particles, and apply this theory to many-electron atoms, spin waves in solids, and atoms in an optical cavity. Finally, we will briefly introduce the basic principles behind quantum field theory.

An Introduction to General Relativity (10 credits)

Module leader: Dr Ed Daw

This module introduces coordinate systems and transformations in Euclidean space. The principles of special relativity are reviewed, with emphasis on the coordinate transformations between systems moving at constant velocities. Our discussion of general relativity begins with an introduction to the principle of equivalence. We introduce the Christoffel symbols and the curvature tensors. We study examples of phenomena affected by general relativity, the rate of clocks and the redshift and bending of light in a gravitational field. Finally, we examine space time in the vicinity of the event horizon, the geometry of a non-spinning black hole, and the geometry of wormholes.

Particle Astrophysics (10 credits)

Module leader: Dr Susan Cartwright

The Large Hadron Collider accelerates protons to kinetic energies of up to 7000 times their rest mass: a huge technological achievement. Yet, every second, over 500 million particles with energies greater than this collide with the Earth. Where do these particles come from, and how are they accelerated to these astonishing energies? These are, in fact, still open questions in astrophysics. In this module, we will look at the observational evidence for particle acceleration in astrophysical objects, the mechanisms available to accelerate particles, and some of the likely sources, including supernovae and supernova remnants, neutron stars, and active galaxies.

Physics in an Enterprise Culture (10 credits)

Module leader: Professor David Lidzey

This is a seminar and workshop based course with a high level of student centred learning. The unit will introduce students to the need for innovation and creativity in thinking, together with practical ways to develop, present, and critique, ideas. The course is based around the development of new innovative business or sustainable ventures. Students are tasked with developing ideas for a new business venture that they will modify and improve throughout the course as a result of critical feedback from a number of sources. As part of the course, students will have to pitch their ideas to a panel of experts, and also help ‘road-map’ the development of a new business venture. This course is designed to encourage entrepreneurship, creativity and critical thinking, and will help students in understanding the mechanics of starting a business venture.

Semiconductor Physics and Technology (10 credits)

Module leader: Dr Luke Wilson

This module builds on the core solid state physics modules to provide an introduction to semiconductor electronic and optoelectronic devices and modern developments in crystal growth to produce low dimensional semiconductor structures (quantum wells, wires and dots). Band structure engineering, the main physical properties and a number of applications of low dimensional semiconductor structures are covered.

Statistical Physics (10 credits)

Module leader: Dr Buddhapriya Chakrabarti

Statistical physics is the derivation of the thermal properties of matter using the underlying microscopic Hamiltonians. The aims of this course are to introduce the techniques of statistical mechanics, and to use them to describe a wide variety of phenomena from physics, chemistry and astronomy.

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. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.

We timetable teaching across the whole of our campus, the details of which can be found on our campus map. Teaching may take place in a student’s home department, but may also be timetabled to take place within other departments or central teaching space.

Sheffield physics students explore CERN

We took a group of our students on a field trip to the CERN research facility in Switzerland, where many of our particle physics researchers are working on projects including the ATLAS collaboration that was behind the Higgs boson discovery.

Main image: © CERN