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    Particle Physics

    School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Faculty of Science

    Examine the science behind some of the 21st century's biggest discoveries. You can work with researchers who helped detect the Higgs boson and gravitational waves, and who are searching for dark matter and leading ground-breaking neutrino experiments.
    Particle Physics student working with equipment

    Course description

    This course covers the complex theories and experimental techniques that particle physicists use to explain the nature of 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.

    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. 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 new Physics beyond the Standard Model
    We took a group of our students 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.


    A selection of modules is 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:

    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
    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
    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:

    A student will take 15 credits (one module) from this group.

    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
    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

    Optional modules:

    A student will take 45 credits (three modules) from this group.

    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
    Further Statistical Physics

    Statistical mechanics at an intermediate to advanced level, including the concepts of micro and macro states, different ensembles, and mathematical formulation of calculating average values physical quantities that can be measured in experiments. Contemporary topics such as Quantum Statistical Mechanics, Phase transitions and critical phenomena and Mean field theory will be covered.Statistical physics is a probabilistic description of systems with many degrees of freedom and provides the microscopic basis of thermodynamics. The  course focuses on understanding the ergodic hypothesis, classification of micro and macro states and calculation of thermodynamic quantities e.g., pressure, volume, free energy etc. of a system in the micro-canonical, canonical and grand canonical ensemble, quantum statistical mechanics, including Bose-Einstein and Fermi-Dirac statistics and Landau theory of phase transitions. Advanced topics such as mean field theory and critical phenomena will also be covered.

    15 credits
    Advanced Particle Physics

    The module provides students with a comprehensive understanding of modern particle physics. Focusing 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.

    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
    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

    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.

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


    1 year full-time


    You'll be taught through a series of lectures, seminars, tutorials and your research project.

    You’ll typically spend around 12 weeks working on an individual research project alongside PhD students and experienced postdoctoral researchers. Here you’ll gain first-hand experience as a researcher, and will have access to the outstanding research facilities in Sheffield.


    You'll be assessed by examinations, coursework, essays and other written work, presentations 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 particle physics research. Sheffield physics graduates have gone to work for organisations such as CERN, the Science and Technology Facilities Council and many of the world's top 100 universities.

    Physics 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.


    School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences

    The School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences is leading the way with groundbreaking research and innovative teaching. We provide our students with the skills and knowledge to support them in a wide range of careers.

    Physics courses at the University of Sheffield are focused on some of the biggest questions in science, such as how to build a quantum computer, how to detect dark matter and how to combat antimicrobial resistance.

    We have been ranked 1st in the UK in terms of the quality of our physics research. In the Research Excellence Framework 2021, 100 per cent of research and impact from physics and astronomy was rated in the highest two categories as world-leading or internationally excellent.

    Our researchers 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.

    Physics and astronomy staff 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

    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.


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

    Apply now

    Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.

    Our student protection plan

    Recognition of professional qualifications: from 1 January 2021, in order to have any UK professional qualifications recognised for work in an EU country across a number of regulated and other professions you need to apply to the host country for recognition. Read information from the UK government and the EU Regulated Professions Database.