2021 start


Department of Physics and Astronomy, Faculty of Science

Explore the key topics at the cutting edge of modern astrophysics. You’ll get training in the practical skills used by professional astrophysicists and be able to conduct your own astronomical observations.
Astrophysics: field trip

Course description

This course explains the formation and evolution of stars, galaxies and the Universe itself. It includes training on how to perform your own astronomical observations using our 0.5m telescope, which is located on La Palma in the Canary Islands but can be operated remotely from Sheffield. You can also take part in a subsidised field trip to La Palma and visit some of the world’s top observatories.

There are a number of modules to choose from, covering topics to deepen your understanding of the Universe, such as cosmology, dark matter, general relativity and astrobiology. We can run projects on topics including galaxies, quasars, supernovae, massive stars, white and brown dwarfs, star formation, star clusters, planet formation and the evolution of the solar system.

Field trip

MSc Astrophysics students can go on a subsidised field trip to the international observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands. The island is home to a number of world-leading telescopes that our astrophysicists use, and is an ideal environment for astronomy, being both close to the equator and 2,400m above sea level.


Core modules:

Star Formation and Evolution

The module will cover advanced astrophysics topics involving observations and theory of star and planet formation, plus the evolution of low, intermediate and high mass single stars, close binary evolution including their end states (white dwarfs, neutron stars, black holes), supernovae and gamma ray bursts.

10 credits
Galaxy Formation and Evolution

This module will cover one of the most exciting and fast moving topics in current astrophysics research, the formation and evolution of galaxies from an observational perspective. Starting with a brief historical introduction, the module will then summarise what we can learn about galaxy evolution from studies of galaxies in the local Universe, before discussing the results obtained from recent deep field observations of the high redshift Universe. The final part of the module will concern the important role that active galactic nuclei play in galaxy evolution.

10 credits
Research Project in Physics or Astrophysics

This is a project based module that gives students an opportunity to apply their background scientific knowledge to a range of real research problems. Along with the application of knowledge, students will gain experience of managing their own scientific research project and developing skills in time management, project planning, scientific record keeping, information retrieval and analysis from scientific and other technical information sources. Through data analysis and information synthesis new knowledge will be created, summarised and presented. A range of projects will be offered for students to choose from. There will be a mix of both academic and industrial problems and projects ranging from laboratory experimentation to simulation based.

60 credits
Physics Research Skills

This 30-credit module is to enhance and support the Physics MRes course. It 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 UG level.

30 credits

Optional modules - six or seven from:

Introduction to Cosmology

The module will cover advanced astrophysics topics involving observations and theory of star and planet formation, plus the evolution of low, intermediate and high mass single stars, close binary evolution including their end states (white dwarfs, neutron stars, black holes), supernovae and gamma ray bursts.

10 credits
Dark Matter and the Universe

Dark matter, though still unidentified and not yet directly detected, is established as a major constituent of the universe according to modern cosmology. In this course, we will review the astrophysical and cosmological evidence for the existence of dark matter, critically assess the various candidates that have been put forward, and discuss direct detection methods for the two most popular candidates¿WIMPs and axions. The course has a multidisciplinary flavour combining work in astronomy, particle physics, solid state physics, detector technology and philosophy, encouraging development of skills in all these.

10 credits
History of Astronomy

The module aims to provide an introduction to the historical development of modern astronomy. After a brief chronological overview and a discussion of the scientific status of astronomy and the philosophy of science in general, the course is divided into a series of thematic topics addressed in roughly chronological order. We will focus on the nature of discovery in astronomy, in particular the interplay between theory and observation, the role of technological advances, and the relationship between astronomy and physics.

10 credits
An Introduction to General Relativity

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.

10 credits
Particle Astrophysics

The LHC 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

10 credits
The Development of Particle Physics

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 recommended text includes reprints of key papers). 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, CP violation etc.

10 credits
Extra-Solar Planets and Astrobiology

Does other life exist, what might it be like, and how could we find it? In this course we examine how planets are found, and what we know about them. We consider what we know about 'life' looking at what we know about the processes, origin, and evolution of life on Earth and how life has changed the planet. This leads us to ideas about how to look for alien life and to think about what that life might be like. We finish by discussing the possibilities of intelligent technological civilisations, and the future of the human race.

10 credits
Physics in an Enterprise Culture

This is a seminar and workshop based course with a high level of student centred learning. The unit will introduce students to the methods and skills associated with innovation, business planning, costing and marketing. It will broaden students understanding of the mechanics of project planning and research commercialisation. The course is divided into two components:

Part 1: Coming up with ideas. Students will take part in guest lectures and workshop classes to explore different ideas for business. They will learn about the innovation process and what makes a sucessful business. They will finish part 1 by submitting a draft business proposal that will be reviewed by academic staff and student peers and feedback will be given.

Part 2: Armed with the feedback from part 1 students will refine thier ideas and work towards a final pitch for thier business. Further support will be given to students to develop a costing of the idea.

10 credits
Physics Communication and Impact

This module explores how physics ideas and concepts can be communicated to non-specialist audiences. We discuss how to design a communication, and the importance of knowing the purpose, message, and audience to pick the right medium and narrative. The main goal is to design your own communications to target particular audiences with a particular purpose and message. We will also discuss what impact is and how to assess it, analyse other people’s communications, and consider aspects of communication, such as accessibility and some communication theory.

10 credits
Observational Astronomy with field trip

This level 7 module equips the student with the knowledge and skills needed to carry out research in observational astronomy. Students will learn the skills necessary to plan, obtain and analyse optical imaging data of astronomical objects and then carry out research projects using the 16-inch telescope in Sheffield and the robotic telescope on La Palma. Taught topics include astronomical telescopes, instrumentation, electronic detectors and data analysis in the Python computing language.

20 credits

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 are no longer offering unrestricted module choice. If your course included unrestricted modules, your department will provide a list of modules from their own and other subject areas that you can choose from.


You will be taught through lectures, seminars, tutorials, workshops, presentation skills training, and one-to-one research project meetings with your supervisor.


You'll be assessed by examinations, coursework, essays and other written work, and a dissertation and viva.


1 year full-time

Your career

The advanced topics covered and the extensive research training make this degree great preparation for a PhD and a career in astrophysics research. University of Sheffield graduates have gone to work for organisations such as the UK and European Space Agencies, the European Southern Observatory and top universities around the world.

Astrophysics 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.


We run a 0.5m telescope with the University of Durham on La Palma, which you can operate remotely from Sheffield as part of your training, or during the optional annual field trip. There are also a computer controlled 0.4m telescope and a robotic 0.25m telescope on the roof of our building, which you can use during the course.

Entry requirements

Undergraduate degree in the physical sciences or a related subject (for example mathematics or computer science). We usually ask for a 2:1 degree in physics, astronomy or astrophysics.

Overall IELTS score of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component, or equivalent.

We also accept a range of other UK qualifications and other EU/international qualifications.

If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.


You can apply for postgraduate study using our Postgraduate Online Application Form. It's a quick and easy process.

Apply now

+44 114 222 3789

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