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    MSc
    2024 start September 

    Astrophysics

    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.
    Students visiting the telescope facilities on La Palma
    University of Sheffield astrophysics students can visit the telescope facilities on La Palma in the Canary Islands.

    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 optional modules to choose from, covering topics to deepen your understanding of the Universe, such as particle physics, dark matter, general relativity and astrobiology. The biggest part of your degree is your research project. 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

    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.

    Modules

    A selection of modules are available each year - some examples are below. There may be changes before you start your course. From May of the year of entry, formal programme regulations will be available in our Programme Regulations Finder.

    Core modules:

    Star Formation and Evolution

    The module will cover advanced astrophysics topics including observations and theory of star and planet formation, plus the evolution of low, intermediate and high mass stars, close binary evolution and end states (white dwarfs, neutron stars, black holes) plus astrophysical transients originating from stars (novae, supernovae, gamma ray bursts) and their chemical and mechanical feedback on galaxies.

    15 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 last part of the module will concern the important role that active galactic nuclei play in galaxy evolution. Through a series of 18 lectures students will learn the main types of galaxies together with how we currently understand them to have formed and evolved. A key aspect of the module is how astronomers construct theories of galaxy evolution through observations and computer models, with a particular focus on how astronomers convert measured flux into physical properties such as mass and rates of star formation. The latter third of the module focuses on the growth of supermassive black holes and the role we believe that this has had on the formation and evolution of galaxies.

    15 credits
    Introduction to Cosmology

    The aim of this course is to provide students with an understanding of the Universe as its own entity. Students will learn how the contents of the Universe affect its dynamic evolution, and how we can use observations of Type 1a Supernovae and the Cosmic Microwave Background to constrain the properties of the Universe. Students will also learn about key epochs during the history of the Universe, from inflation through to nucleosynthesis, recombination, and reionisation, before learning how the first stars and galaxies started to form. Throughout a series of lectures, students will first learn that spacetime forms the fabric of the Universe, and how the contents of the Universe in the form of dark energy, dark and baryonic matter, and radiation dictate the dynamic evolution of the Universe. Students will next learn about modern precision cosmology, whereby cosmologists use observations of Type 1a Supernovae and the Cosmic Microwave Background to measure various cosmological parameters. This aspect of the course will form the basis of a computer programming-based assessment. Toward the end of the lecture course, students will learn about the epochs of inflation, nucleosynthesis, recombination and reionisation, before learning how today's stars and galaxies began to form. Finally, students will learn about current cosmological research via a literature review.

    15 credits
    Research Project in Physics

    This is a project based module that gives students an opportunity to apply their scientific knowledge to a research problem. Students will develop skills in time management, project planning, scientific record keeping, information retrieval and analysis of scientific information sources.

    Students will choose a project of relevance to their programme of study and will work closely with an academic supervisor who is an expert in the field. The project will involve analysing the literature relevant to the problem and then developing skills relevant to tackling the problem. Projects maybe experimental, theoretical, analytical or computational in nature but will involve a substantial component of new work. The research will culminate with a written dissertation.

    Teaching will be through weekly supervisions with academic staff and interactions with research group members. In the supervisions students will develop research plans, practise applying the scientific method by developing and testing hypotheses, discuss findings from both the literature and from laboratory or simulation based experiments, present results and discuss potential conclusions. Plans will be adapted based on these discussions. Specific experimental and/or simulation based skills will be learnt through a combination of supervised activities and self teaching - building on basic skills learnt in earlier modules in the programme.

    Weekly seminars and workshops will teach students good practice in terms of searching the literature, research ethics and keeping research records.

    90 credits

    Optional modules - three from:

    Physics in an Enterprise Culture

    This is a seminar and workshop based course where students will create a proposal for a new business. Seminars will cover topics such as innovation, intellectual property, costing and business planning. Workshops will support students to develop ideas and communicate them effectively. Both a business proposal and a pitch to investors are assessed. This modules give students an opportunity to develop a business proposal, using their physics knowledge as a starting point. The module starts with a series of seminars and workshops designed to help students come up with possible new ideas for products or services that they are interested in developing further. Further seminars formalise how business ideas are tested to ensure that basic assumptions about customers and markets are sensible and also guidance is given in terms of how to estimate the costs and revenues associated with the idea. Finally seminars to support writing the idea into a proposal are given. Evaluation of ideas using peer feedback is a key part of the module and midway through, a review panel is organised to give an opportunity for students to formally evaluate other ideas to help them develop their own.

    15 credits
    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.

    15 credits
    History of Astronomy

    Astronomy is at once the oldest of the exact sciences, having been practised by most ancient civilisations, and one of the youngest: modern astronomy, with its focus on the physics of astronomical objects, is only a century old. In this course we will study how astronomy developed from a simple awareness of the phases of the Moon and the existence of the planets to its present position as a major branch of physics. Although the heritage of modern astronomy is largely from the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, we will also look at astronomy as it was practised in other cultures, particularly India, China and Mesoamerica.

    This unit aims to provide an introduction to the historical development of modern astronomy, with a focus on the nature of discovery in astronomy, the interplay between theory and observation, the role of technological advances, and the relationship between astronomy and physics. The course is divided into a series of thematic topics arranged in approximate chronological order, prefaced by a brief introduction to philosophy of science. In contrast to the BSc version, this unit also has a focus on non-Western astronomy, with students required to research and write a report on some aspect of the history of astronomy outside the Mediterranean/Mesopotamian area.

    The unit is taught by a combination of lectures and written course resources for the main thread, with students expected to research their report on non-Western astronomy independently, in line with expectations for students at masters level ('holders will have the independent learning ability required for continuing professional development').

    15 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 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, the parity and CP violations, experimental evidence for quarks and gluons, etc.

    15 credits
    Observational Astronomy with field trip

    This masters 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.

    15 credits
    Dark Matter and the Universe

    This course aims to provide students with an understanding of Dark Matter in the Universe from both the astrophysics and particle physics viewpoints. This course is split into two halves. The first half of the course is on the astrophysical evidence for Dark Matter, and the second half of the course is on the detection of candidate Dark Matter particles.

    15 credits
    Advanced Quantum Mechanics

    Quantum mechanics at an intermediate to advanced level, including the mathematical vector space formalism, approximate methods, angular momentum, and some contemporary topics such as entanglement, density matrices and open quantum systems. We will study topics in quantum mechanics at an intermediate to advanced level, bridging the gap between the physics core and graduate level material.   The syllabus includes a formal mathematical description in the language of vector spaces; the description of the quantum state in Schrodinger and Heisenberg pictures, and using density operators to represent mixed states; approximate methods: perturbation theory,  variational method and time-dependent perturbation theory;  the theory of angular momentum and spin; the treatment of identical particles; entanglement; open quantum systems and decoherence. The problem solving will provide a lot of practice at using vector and matrix methods and operator algebra techniques. The teaching will take the form of traditional lectures plus weekly problem classes where you will be provided with support and feedback on your attempts.

    15 credits
    An Introduction to General Relativity

    A course on Einstein's theory of gravity. We start with the principle of equivalence, then move on to tensors. We motivate and then write down Einstein's equations. We use Schwarzschild black holes, Friedmann Robertson Walker cosmology and gravitational waves as examples. Einstein invented general relativity in 1915. The theory makes a link between geometry and the presence of energy and matter. This is expressed in the principle of equivalence, which we introduce and discuss. General relativity calls for a sophisticated mathematics called differential geometry, for which an important tool set is tensors and tensor components. We spend about the first half of the course learning about this, and using the formalism to write down Einstein's equations. We then study solutions that have been found to correspond to black holes without spin or charge, the Friedmann Robertson Walker cosmology thought to provide a useful description of the large-scale structure of the Universe, and gravitational waves that were first detected by the LIGO experiment in 2015. The course has no formal prerequisites, but it is very mathematical. Familiarity with special relativity will be helpful, but is not required.

    15 credits
    Origin of the Chemical Elements

    This course looks at the origin, distribution and evolution of the chemical elements, which are created in the early Universe, during the life cycles of stars and in the interstellar medium. The main teaching method is the standard 50-minute lecture, which is well suited to the delivery of the factual information in this course. The syllabus includes topics such as: Experimental evidence for elemental abundances; Observational evidence for elemental abundances; Primordial nucleosynthesis; Stellar nucleosynthesis; Neutron capture; Supernovae and kilonovae; Cosmic rays; Galactic chemical evolution.

    15 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.

    Open days

    An open day gives you the best opportunity to hear first-hand from our current students and staff about our courses.

    Find out what makes us special at our next online open day on Wednesday 17 April 2024.

    You may also be able to pre-book a department visit as part of a campus tour.Open days and campus tours

    Duration

    1 year full-time

    Teaching

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

    About half of your study time will be spent working on an individual research project under the guidance of a world-leading researcher who is expert in their field. Here you’ll gain first-hand experience as a researcher, and will have access to the outstanding research facilities in Sheffield.

    Assessment

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

    Your career

    The advanced topics you'll cover and the extensive research training make this course 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 many of the world's top 100 universities.

    Astrophysics graduates also develop numerical, problem solving and data analysis skills that are useful in many careers, including computer programming, software engineering, data science, and research and development into new products and services. Employers that have hired Sheffield physics graduates include BT, EDF Energy, HSBC, IBM, Manchester United FC, Nissan, the NHS and the Civil Service.

    Students with the University of Sheffield's rooftop telescopes

    Facilities

    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 is 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.

    Department

    Department of Physics and Astronomy

    The Department of Physics and Astronomy is one of the UK’s leading physics departments. We have been ranked 1st in the UK in terms of the quality of our research. In the Research Excellence Framework 2021, 100 per cent of research and impact from our department was rated in the highest two categories as world-leading or internationally excellent.

    Our physics and astronomy researchers are working on topics such as how to build a quantum computer, the search for dark matter and ways to combat antimicrobial resistance.

    They run experiments on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and help to map the Universe using the Hubble Space Telescope. 

    Working with National Grid, they are also helping to maximise the potential of solar energy and are playing a leading part in the quantum technology revolution by establishing a multi-million pound Quantum Centre here in Sheffield.

    Staff in the Department of Physics and Astronomy have received honours from the Royal Society and the Institute of Physics. They are participants in a large number of international collaborations including the ATLAS Experiment, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, the HiPERCAM high-speed astronomical imaging project, the LUX-ZEPLIN dark matter experiment and the Hyper-Kamiokande neutrino observatory.

    Entry requirements

    Minimum 2:1 undergraduate honours degree in physics (including astronomy, astrophysics, space science, providing physics is a major element of the degree).

    We also consider a wide range of international qualifications:

    Entry requirements for international students

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

    Pathway programme for international students

    If you're an international student who does not meet the entry requirements for this course, you have the opportunity to apply for a pre-masters programme in Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield International College. This course is designed to develop your English language and academic skills. Upon successful completion, you can progress to degree level study at the University of Sheffield.

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

    Apply

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

    Apply now

    Contact

    postgradphysics-enquiry@shef.ac.uk
    +44 114 222 3789