Theoretical Physics BSc
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Explore this course:
You are viewing this course for 2022-23 entry. 2023-24 entry is also available.
Our Theoretical Physics course puts an emphasis on the fundamental mathematics that has brought physicists ever closer to a ‘theory of everything’. You’ll explore the classical physics principles that defined scientific thinking up to the 20th century, then look in depth at topics like relativity and quantum mechanics which, since Einstein’s day, have led to countless discoveries.
In your first two years, you’ll do the essential physics that all of our students cover, including quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, special relativity and classical physics. You can study more advanced maths topics in the university’s School of Mathematics and Statistics including: calculus, geometry, differential equations, linear algebra, and mechanics and fluids. These modules give you a much more detailed understanding of mathematical concepts than our standard physics degrees.
In practical classes, you’ll run experiments using the equipment in our modern laboratories to help you understand how important theories apply to the real world. In programming classes you can learn skills that are key to theoretical physics and valuable in many graduate careers, from data science to computer game design. There are also optional modules on topics such as particle physics and the physics of music.
In the third year, you can branch out into lots of different areas and complete your own research project in theoretical physics. Your core modules will cover topics like quantum mechanics and statistical physics. Optional modules include dark matter and mathematical biology.
Accredited by the Institute of Physics (IOP) for the purpose of fully meeting the educational requirement for Chartered Physicist.
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.
Choose a year to see modules for a level of study:
UCAS code: F344
Years: 2022, 2023
- Fields and Quanta
This module introduces the key concepts of fields and quanta: electric and magnetic fields, the behaviour of electric charges and currents, vectors and densities, potentials, quantum states and their evolution, the probabilistic nature of fundamental physical law, and the breakdown of classical physics. This module will teach you how physics problems relate to these fundamental concepts, and how those concepts are used to construct solutions.25 credits
- Motion and Heat
This module introduces and applies the key concepts of motion and heat: force, equations of motion, phase space, determinism and free will, symmetry and conservation laws, waves and oscillations, coherence and classical frequency-time uncertainty, the laws of thermodynamics, thermal equilibrium, entropy and the arrow of time. You will learn how physics problems relate to these fundamental concepts, and how those concepts are used to construct solutions. You will apply the key concepts to design experiments to test scientific hypotheses. You will develop your data analysis and communication skills and to use different sources of information in your learning. You will work independently and as part of a group, developing a wide variety of study skills that will prepare you for the rest of your degree programme.25 credits
- Mathematics for Physicists and Astronomers
This module provides the necessary level 1 mathematics for students taking physics and/or astronomy degrees. The following topics will be covered: basic algebra (functions, coordinate systems, algebraic manipulation etc), Taylor and binomial series, common functions of one variable, differentiation and integration techniques, basic complex numbers, first and second order differential equations, vector calculus, properties and applications of matrices and elementary probability theory.30 credits
- Supplementary Mathematics for Theoretical Physicists
This module provides the necessary supplementary mathematics for theoretical physics students taking level 1 mathematics modules. The following topics will be covered: consolidate previous knowledge of vectors; introduce the students to vector calculus; elementary probability theory; ensure that the students have a thorough knowledge of how to apply mathematical tools to physical problems.10 credits
- Mathematics Core 1
The module explores topics in mathematics which will be used throughout many degree programmes. The module will consider techniques for solving equations, special functions, calculus (differentiation and integration), differential equations, Taylor series, complex numbers and finite and infinite series.20 credits
- Mathematics Core II
The module continues the study of core mathematical topics begun in MS4F1015, which will be used throughout many degree programmes. The module will discuss 2-dimensional co-ordinate geometry, discussing the theory of matrices geometrically and algebraically, and will define and evaluate derivatives and integrals for functions which depend on more than one variable, with an emphasis on functions of two variables.20 credits
- Introduction to Astrophysics
One of four half-modules forming the Level-1 Astronomy course, PHY104 aims to equip students with a basic understanding of the important physical concepts and techniques involved in astronomy with an emphasis on how fundamental results can be derived from fairly simple observations. The module consists of three sections:10 credits
(i) Basic Concepts, Fluxes, Temperatures and Magnitudes;
(ii) Astronomical Spectroscopy;
(iii) Gravitational Astrophysics.
Parts (i), (ii) and (iii) each comprise some six lectures. The lectures are supported by problems classes, in which you will learn to apply lecture material to the solution of numerical problems.
- The Solar System
One of the four half-modules forming the Level 1 astronomy course, but may also be taken as a stand-alone module. PHY106 covers the elements of the Solar System: the Sun, planets, moons and minor bodies. What are their structures and compositions, and what dothey tell us about the formation and history of the Solar System?10 credits
- Our Evolving Universe
The course provides a general overview of astronomy suitable for those with no previous experience of the subject. The principal topics covered are (1) how we deduce useful physical parameters from observed quantities, (2) the structure and evolution of stars, (3) the structure of the Milky Way, and the classification, structure and evolution of galaxies in general, (4) an introduction to cosmology and (5) extrasolar plantets and an introduction to astrobiology. All topics are treated in a descriptive manner with minimal mathematics.10 credits
- Frontiers of Physics
This pair of 10-credit modules aims to introduce research-inspired material into the level 1 physics curriculum. Each module includes three short courses on research-based topics taught by an academic who is actively involved in the research. The individual courses will be regularly reviewed to ensure that the material is up to date and includes current areas of investigation. The module aims to show that cutting-edge physics research is often underpinned by basic concepts covered in A level and 1st year physics courses.10 credits
- The Physics of Sustainable Energy
The module will cover the physics of sustainable energy. It includes discussions framed by the book `Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air' by D MacKay and will cover current energy requirements and what energy could potentially be provided by the various forms of renewable energy. The course will commence with a discussion of the basic physics of energy, power and work and the conversion of energy from one form to another. We examine in detail the history of global energy useage and how we produce and use energy in the UK. We will then explore the impacts that this energy use has on the biosphere and climate and the public perception of such processes. The course will then focus on the energy contenet of objects and processes we take for granted and will then move on to means by which we can produce energy using renewable technologies, such as wind, wave, solar, biofuels etc. We will also examine nuclear (fusion and fission) energy and will discuss their principles and practical implementation. Finally, we will consider solutions to our energy needs, including transportation, energy conservation, carbon capture and geoengineering.10 credits
- Physics of Living Systems 2
The aim is to introduce biomechanical descriptions of the human body. We look at its structure and its performance as a physical machine. The structural characteristics of human bones and tissue are investigated, together with the mechanical functions of the skeleton and musculature. Simple fluid dynamic characteristics of the body are introduced, including descriptions of blood-flow in the arteries and veins and air-flow in the lungs.10 credits
- Introduction to Electric and Electronic Circuits
This module introduces the concepts and analytical tools for predicting the behaviour of combinations of passive circuit elements, resistance, capacitance and inductance driven by ideal voltage and/or current sources which may be ac or dc sources. The ideas involved are important not only from the point of view of modelling real electronic circuits but also because many complicated processes in biology, medicine and mechanical engineering are themselves modelled by electric circuits. The passive ideas are extended to active electronic components; diodes, transistors and operational amplifiers and the circuits in which these devices are used. Transformers, magnetics and dc motors are also covered.20 credits
- Classical and Quantum Physics for Theoretical Physics
This module provides the core level 2 physics content for the theoretical degrees. It integrates physics content with supporting mathematics and computational/practical work. Transferable skills are covered via different presentation modes for course work. A further item is employability. The module also contains one or more items of group work. Physics topics covered are classical physics and oscillations, thermal physics, quantum mechanics, properties of matter and electromagnetism. Mathematics topics are Fourier techniques and partial differential equations. Both mathematical topics are applied to a range of the physics covered and are integrated with aspects of the computational work. The module is assessed via four standard exams (15% each), three topical and one integrative covering all the taught material, and course work (40%). Students must develop and pass a portfolio to pass the module.70 credits
- Programming in Python
Teaching computer programming is a core aspect to our degree courses and is required by our accreditation body, the Institute of Physics. Python is a widely-available programming language that can be used to design powerful computer programmes suitable for scientific applications. In addition, Python is flexible, robust and is relatively easy to learn compared to other contemporary programming language. Python is also used widely in the computing industry and in research. The aim of this module is to teach the key elements of Python programming to enable students to design programs to perform tasks ranging from computational and numerical physics to data analysis and visualisation.10 credits
- Special Relativity & Subatomic Physics
Special relativity is a key foundation of modern physics, particularly in the contexts of particle physics and astrophysics where E = mc2 and relativistic speeds are crucial concepts. In this module, the fundamental principles of special relativity will be explained, emphasising the energy-momentum four-vector and its applications to particle collisions and decays. Applications to nuclear physics include nuclear mass and binding energy, radioactive decay, nuclear reactions, nuclear fission and fusion. We will also cover the structure of the nucleus (liquid drop model and an introduction to the shell model).10 credits
- Advanced Calculus and Linear Algebra
Advanced Calculus and Linear Algebra are basic to most further work in pure and applied mathematics and to much of statistics. This course provides the basic tools and techniques and includes sufficient theory to enable the methods to be used in situations not covered in the course.20 credits
The material in this course is essential for further study in mathematics and statistics.
- Differential Equations
The module aims at developing a core set of advanced mathematical techniques essential to the study of applied mathematics. Topics include the qualitative analysis of ordinary differential equations, solutions of second order linear ordinary differential equations with variable coefficients, first order and second order partial differential equations, the method of characteristics and the method of separation of variables.20 credits
- Aspects of Medical Imaging and Technology
This module provides an introduction to medical technology, with a particular bias towards ionising and non-ionising electromagnetic radiation and its diagnostic role in medicine. The module begins with the generation and behaviour of electromagnetic waves and the breadth of technological application across the electomagnetic spectrum. This extends from magnetic resonance imaging at low energies to high energy photons in X-ray systems. The importance of radiation in diagnosis is acknowledged by discussion of imaging theory and primary imaging modalities, such as planar radiography and CT. The therapeutic role is examined by a brief consideration of radiotherapy.10 credits
- Astronomical Spectroscopy
This level 2 module provides an overview of astronomical spectroscopy for astrophysics dual students, covering how spectrographs work, the nature of spectra, atomic physics relevant to astronomical spectroscopy, line broadening mechanisms (natural, pressure, thermal) and the Curve of Growth for the determination of ionic abundances in stellar atmospheres, plus spectral diagnostics of ionized nebulae. Content from lectures are reinforced through an exercise involving specialist astronomical software relating to nebular diagnostics, plus the manipulation of stellar spectroscopic datasets using the programming language Python for the calculation of ionic abundances.10 credits
- Detection of Fundamental Particles
The Standard Model of particle physics is one of the great success stories of late 20th century physics - but how do we obtain the data needed to construct and test this model? In this module, we will explore how typical experiments in different branches of particle physics are designed to extract the maximum possible amount of data from the interactions that they observe. This will be supplemented by laboratory and computational exercises in which students try out some of these techniques themselves.10 credits
This Level 2 Astronomy half-module aims to provide a comprehensive introduction to galaxies. It consists of six parts: (i) astronomical distance determination and galaxy classification; (ii) the properties of the main stellar and a gas components of our Milky Way galaxy, and its local environment; (iii) the properties of spiral galaxies; (iv) the properties of elliptical galaxies; (v) active galaxies; (vi) galaxy evolution. Students' presentation and research skills are developed through a 2500 word essay assignment.10 credits
- Mechanics and Fluids
This module extends the Newtonian mechanics studied in MAS112. The main topics treated are (i) extensions of the work-energy principle and conservation of energy, (ii) a full treatment of planetary and satellite motion, (iii) the elements of rigid body motion, and (iv) inviscid (frictionless) fluid motions. The course is a prerequisite for students wishing to pursue higher level modules in fluid mechanics.10 credits
- Physics of Materials
This module provides an introduction to the physical properties of materials. Subjects covered include properties of liquids (surface tension, viscosity etc), solids (elastic properties, mechanical properties etc) and soft condensed matter.10 credits
- Stellar Structure and Evolution
The module aims to provide an understanding of the physical processes occurring in stars and responsible for their internal structure and evolution from the main sequence to white dwarfs, neutron stars stars and black holes. It builds on Introduction to Astrophysics (PHY104) and seeks to explain the evolutionary phenomena described in Our Evolving Universe (PHY111).10 credits
- The Physics of Music
This module will provide an introduction to the physics of music building on physics covered in year 1 and semester 2 of year 2. The module will include the following topics: Recap of oscillations, waves and resonance, the human voice, physics of tuned and untuned percussion, musical pitch and timbre, Fourier analysis, musical scales, physics of stringed instruments, physics of wind instruments, electric instruments (based on electro-magnetic pickups and piezoelectric transducers), synthesizers (analogue and digital), sound recording and reproduction (analogue and digital), myths, legends, folklore and pseudoscience in acoustics.10 credits
- Advanced Electrodynamics
This module gives a detailed mathematical foundation for modern electrodynamics, starting from Maxwell's equations, charge conservation and the wave equation, to gauge invariance, waveguides, cavities and antennas. After a brief recap of vector calculus, we explore the role of the scalar and vector potential, the multi-pole expansion of the field, the Poisson and Laplace equations, energy and momentum conservation of the fields, and Green's functions. We conclude with a relativistic treatment of the fields.10 credits
- Atomic and Laser Physics
This module covers the physics of atoms and lasers at an intermediate level. The course begins with the solution of the Schrodinger equation for the hydrogen atom and the atomic wave functions that emerge from it. It then covers atomic selection rules, spectral fine structure and the effects of external fields. The spectra of selected multi-electron atoms are described. The basic operation of the laser is then covered by introducing the concepts of stimulated emission and population inversion. The course concludes with a description of common lasers and their applications.10 credits
- Further Quantum Mechanics
This module builds on the quantum mechanics learned in the perquisites PHY250 and PHY251. The Heisenberg matrix formulation of the theory is developed from the Schrodinger wave picture. Approximately methods (perturbation theory and variational method) are derived and applied. Methods for solving time dependent problems are developed. Problems involving magnetic fields and spin are treated. Many particle wavefunctions for fermions and bosons are introduced.10 credits
- Mathematical Physics
Linear algebra: matrices and vectors; eigenvalue problems; matrix diagonalisation; vector spaces; transformation of basis; rotation matrices; tensors; Lie groups; Noether's theorem. Complex analysis: analytic functions; contour integration; Cauchy theorem; Taylor and Laurent series; residue theorem; application to evaluating integrals; Kronig-Kramers relations; conformal mapping; application to solving Laplace's equation.10 credits
- Nuclear Physics
This half-module Level 3 Physics course aims to study the general properties of nuclei, to examine the characteristics of the nuclear force, to introduce the principal models of the nucleus, to discuss radioactivity, to study nuclear reactions, in particular fission and fusion, and to develop problem solving skills in all these areas. The motivation is that nuclear processes play a fundamental role in the physical world, in the origin of the universe, in the creation of the chemical elements, as the energy source of the stars and in the basic constituents of matter - plus the best of all motives - curiosity.10 credits
- Particle Physics
This Level 3 Physics half module introduces students to the exciting field of modern particle physics. It provides the mathematical tools of relativistic kinematics, enabling them to study interactions and decays and evaluate scattering form factors. Particles are classified as fermions - the constituents of matter (quarks and leptons) - or as bosons, the propagators of field. The four fundamental interactions are outlined. Three are studied in detail: Feynman diagrams are introduced to describe higher order quantum electrodynamics; weak interactions are discussed from beta decay to high energy electroweak unification; strong interactions, binding quarks into hadrons, are presented with the experimental evidence for colour. The role symmetry plays in the allowed particles and their interactions is emphasised.10 credits
- Problem Solving and Advanced Skills in Physics
This half-module seeks to provide insight and support to the Level 3 Physics programme as a whole. Lectures and tutorials will build upon previous skills developed involving data analysis and errors, information retrieval and scientific writing. Problem classes are directed to impart a broad, coherent and critical grasp of the fundamentals of Physics. Students are encouraged to attempt unfamiliar problems, extract the essentials, and so obtain quick, rough but sound solutions. The module involves group work and is assessed by means of class tests and written examinations. The latter are designed to test basic concepts of Physics and the ability to apply them to unrehearsed situations.10 credits
- Solid State Physics
Covering the electronic properties of solids, this module details the classification of solids into conductors, semiconductors and insulators, the free electron model, the origin of electronic band structure, the fundamental electronic properties of conductors and semiconductors, carrier statistics, experimental techniques used to study carriers in a solid, and the classification and physics of the principal types of magnetism.10 credits
- Statistical Physics
Statistical Physics is the derivation of the thermal properties of matter using the under-lying 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.10 credits
- Industrial Group Project in Physics
PHY346 provides students with an industrial project where team working, planning, time management; presentation and report writing are integrated with science problem solving. The industrial client poses a problem that a group work on over two semesters to resolve. Interim and final presentations are made to the client and academic supervisors. Project work may use laboratory measurement and computational approaches as well as referencing leading research literature.20 credits
- Microscopy and Spectroscopy Laboratory
This module will develop transferrable skills that will be useful in further experimental project work and industrial science and technology roles. Students will gain hands-on experience using a range of sophisticated experimental techniques to explore physics research and real world context-based questions. Atomic force microscopy (AFM), optical and gamma-ray spectroscopies, as well as associated techniques such as ellipsometry will be used. Students will undertake a series of experiments, supported by lectures, in semester one and conduct an open-ended project utilising the techniques in semester two.20 credits
- Physics Education and Outreach
This 20-credit Extended Project unit is intended primarily for students considering a career in teaching, but may also be of interest to those wishing to pursue careers in science communication in general. The first half of the unit will introduce a range of topics including theory of learning and teaching, skills such as video editing, physics in the National Curriculum, and a range of hands-on exercises in science teaching and communication. Students will undertake a range of assignments related to the taught material, which may include lesson observations in schools, making videos or podcasts, radio broadcasts, writing popular articles or creating resources for schools. The second half consists of a 10-credit project: a wide range of schools and outreach-related topics are available.20 credits
Note that admission to this unit is subject to an interview and a DBS check. This is because parts of the unit require students to visit schools and interact with pupils.
- Advanced Programming in Python
Python is a widely-available programming language that can be used to design powerful computer programmes suitable for scientific applications. Python is also used widely in the computing industry and in research. This module builds on the basic introduction provided in PHY235/PHY241 by introducing advanced concepts such as defensive programming, classes, program design and optimisation. This teaching will be underpinned with a series of projects which will furnish the students with the ability to design complex Python scripts to address a wide variety of problems including those involving analysis of `big data with emphasis on presentation of results using advanced visualisation methods.10 credits
- Continuum Mechanics
Continuum mechanics is concerned with the mechanical behaviour of solids and fluids which change their shape when forces are applied. For example, rubber extends when pulled but behaves elastically returning to its original shape when the forces are removed. Water starts to move when the external pressure is applied. This module aims to introduce the basic kinematic and mechanical ideas needed to model deformable materials and fluids mathematically. They are needed to develop theories which describe elastic solids and fluids like water. In this course, a theory for solids which behave elastically under small deformations is developed. This theory is also used in seismology to discuss wave propagation in the Earth. An introduction in theory of ideal and viscous, incompressible and compressible fluids is given. The theory is used to solve simple problems. In particular, the propagation of sound waves in the air is studied.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
- Differential Geometry
What is differential geometry? In short, it is the study of geometric objects using calculus. In this introductory course, the geometric objects of our concern are curves and surfaces. Besides calculating such familiar quantities as lengths, angles and areas, much of our focus is on how to measure the 'curvature' of a geometric object. The story is relatively simple for curves, but naturally becomes more involved for surfaces - and more interesting too.10 credits
- Fluid Mechanics I
The way in which fluids move is of immense practical importance; the most obvious examples of this are air and water, but there are many others such as lubricants in engines. Moreover, the scientific principles and mathematical techniques needed to explain fluid motion are of intrinsic interest. This module builds on Level 2 work (MAS222 Differential Equations; MAS280 Mechanics and Fluids). The first step is to derive the equation (Navier-Stokes) governing the motions of most common fluids. This serves as a basis for the remainder of MAS320, with the main addition to MAS280 being that it covers viscous (frictional) fluids.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
- Introduction to Cosmology
Cosmology is the science of the whole Universe: its past history, present structure and future evolution. In this module we discuss how our understanding of cosmology has developed over time, and study the observed properties of the universe, particularly the rate of expansion, the chemical composition, and the nature of the cosmic microwave background, can be used to constrain theoretical models and obtain value for the parameters of the now-standard Hot Big Bang cosmological model.10 credits
- Mathematical Biology
This module provides an introduction to the mathematical modelling of the dynamics of biological populations. The emphasis will be on deterministic models based on systems of differential equations that encode population birth and death rates. Examples will be drawn from a range of different dynamic biological populations, from the species level down to the dynamics of molecular populations within cells. Central to the module will be the dynamic consequences of feedback interactions within the populations. In cases where explicit solutions are not readily obtainable, techniques that give a qualitative picture of the model dynamics (including numerical simulation) will be used.10 credits
- Mathematical modelling of natural systems
Mathematical modelling enables insight in to a wide range of scientific problems. This module will provide a practical introduction to techniques for modelling natural systems. Students will learn how to construct, analyse and interpret mathematical models, using a combination of differential equations, scientific computing and mathematical reasoning. Students will learn the art of mathematical modelling: translating a scientific problem into a mathematical model, identifying and using appropriate mathematical tools to analyse the model, and finally relating the significance of the mathematical results back to the original problem. Study systems will be drawn from throughout the environmental and life sciences.10 credits
- Nuclear Astrophysics
The aims of this Level 3 Astronomy module are:10 credits
1) To examine the evidence for the present distribution of the chemical elements in the Universe.
2) To study the various nuclear processes that have led to the evolution of these elemental abundances.
3) To discuss the possible astrophysical sites where these elements are produced.
- Physical Computing
Digital circuits underpin our modern lives, including the acquisition and processing of data for science. In this course we will study the fundamental building blocks of digital processing circuits and computers. We will learn to describe circuits using the language VHDL, and how to program computers using the hardware-oriented high level language C. We will build interesting and useful digital architectures, and apply the skills we have acquired in laboratory exercises.10 credits
- Research project in Physics
The aim of this 20 credit module is to provide an opportunity for students to exercise and develop their skills and ability to undertake independent, albeit closely supervised, research in physics. A very wide selection of projects is provided, often arising from current research in the Department. Many are practical, others are essentially theoretical or interpretative or require the development of and running of computer programmes designed to simulate a variety of physical phenomena. Most projects are collaborative and encourage students to work in pairs. Assessment is based on individual written reports and oral examinations. These provide exercise in presentational skills.20 credits
- Quantum Information Laboratory
This predominantly laboratory-based module provides a foundation in quantum optics experiments and associated theory. The quantum nature of light will be studied in core experiments involving single photon generation and detection, measurements of photon statistics and photon interference. Experimental activities will be supported by a series of lectures and problems classes. The link with quantum information research is made through research seminars from university research groups and companies, plus a 'journal club' where key scientific papers are presented and discussed. Transferable skills acquired will prepare students for higher study and employment in industries involving quantum technologies.20 credits
- Semiconductor Physics and Technology
This module builds on the core solid state physics modules to provide an introduction to semiconductor electronic and opto-electronic 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.10 credits
- The Physics of Soft Condensed Matter
Soft condensed matter is a generic name for a class of materials that play a crucial role in technology as well as providing fascinating and timely scientific problems. These complex materials are typified by polymers, gels and colloidal dispersions, whose properties often seem intermediate between ordinary liquids and solids. Familiar examples from everyday life include plastics, soaps and detergents, foodstuffs, and indeed the material from which living organisms are constructed. Only relatively recently has it been realised that despite the complexity of these materials elegant and simple physical principles often underlie their behaviour; this course provides an introduction to these principles.10 credits
Is anybody out there? In this module we explore how we hope to find alien life in the near future and discuss what this might be like and where we should be looking. We critically examine ideas about the frequency of life, advanced life, and technological civilisations in the universe.10 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.
Learning and assessment
You'll learn through lectures, small group tutorials, programming classes, practical sessions in the lab and research projects.
You will be assessed through a portfolio of problem sets, lab work and other material, as well as exams, essays, lab reports and presentations.
This tells you the aims and learning outcomes of this course and how these will be achieved and assessed.
With Access Sheffield, you could qualify for additional consideration or an alternative offer - find out if you're eligible
The A Level entry requirements for this course are:
including Maths and Physics
A Levels + Extended Project Qualification ABB, including Maths and Physics + B in a relevant EPQ
International Baccalaureate 34, with 6,5 in Higher Level Maths and Physics
BTEC Extended Diploma Not accepted
Scottish Highers + 2 Advanced Highers AAABB + AB in Maths and Physics
Welsh Baccalaureate + 2 A Levels B + AA in Maths and Physics
Access to HE Diploma Access to HE Diploma in science: 60 credits overall with 45 credits at Level 3, including 36 credits at Distinction (all in Maths and Physics units) and 9 credits at Merit
Students must have passed the practical element of any science A Level taken
The A Level entry requirements for this course are:
including Maths and Physics
A Levels + Extended Project Qualification ABB, including Maths and Physics + B in a relevant EPQ
International Baccalaureate 33, with 5 in Higher Level Maths and Physics
BTEC Extended Diploma Not accepted
Scottish Highers + 2 Advanced Highers AABBB + AB in Maths and Physics
Welsh Baccalaureate + 2 A Levels B + AB in Maths and Physics
Access to HE Diploma Access to HE Diploma in science: 60 credits overall with 45 credits at Level 3, including 30 credits at Distinction (all in Maths and Physics units) and 15 credits at Merit
Students must have passed the practical element of any science A Level taken
You must demonstrate that your English is good enough for you to successfully complete your course. For this course we require: GCSE English Language at grade 4/C; IELTS grade of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component; or an alternative acceptable English language qualification
If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Scientists in the Department of Physics and Astronomy 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. They’ll guide you through the key topics in physics and give you a huge range of optional modules to choose from.
The department is based in the Hicks Building, which has recently refurbished undergraduate teaching laboratories with all the equipment you need for your physics and astronomy training, as well as classrooms, lecture theatres, computer rooms and social spaces for our students.
There are also telescopes and a solar technology testbed on the roof, state-of-the-art laboratories for building super-resolution microscopes and analysing 2D materials, and the UK’s first Quantum Information Laboratory, where students can study the fundamental science behind the next technological revolution. It’s right next door to the Students' Union, and just down the road from the 24/7 library facilities at the Information Commons and the Diamond.
Our students are trained in newly refurbished teaching laboratories and can access a range of specialist technologies, from the telescopes on our roof to our state-of-the-art Quantum Information Laboratory.
In their final year, MPhys students are based in a specialist research laboratory where scientists are studying technologies such as 2D materials, photovoltaic devices and advanced microscopy tools.
Why choose Sheffield?
The University of Sheffield
A top 100 university 2022
QS World University Rankings
92 per cent of our research is rated in the highest two categories
Research Excellence Framework 2021
No 1 Students' Union in the UK
Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Research Excellence Framework 2014
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Our physics students develop numerical, problem solving and data analysis skills that are useful in many graduate jobs, including computer programming, software engineering, data science, and research and development into new products and services. Their expertise can be applied to many of the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century, from developing renewable energy technologies and improving medical treatments to creating quantum telecommunications systems and exploring outer space.
Students who want to work as a physics researcher often do a PhD, which can lead to a career at a top university or a major international research facility such as CERN.
The University of Sheffield is part of the White Rose Industrial Physics Academy. This partnership of university physics departments and technical industries can set up collaborations between our students and industrial partners through internships, year in industry placements, final year projects and careers activities. WRIPA also organises the UK’s largest physics recruitment fair, where our students can meet potential employers.
Fees and funding
The annual fee for your course includes a number of items in addition to your tuition. If an item or activity is classed as a compulsory element for your course, it will normally be included in your tuition fee. There are also other costs which you may need to consider.
Funding your study
Depending on your circumstances, you may qualify for a bursary, scholarship or loan to help fund your study and enhance your learning experience.
Use our Student Funding Calculator to work out what you’re eligible for.
The University of Sheffield’s Experience Sheffield Scholarships includes a number of scholarships that are guaranteed to go to students in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
University open days
There are four open days every year, usually in June, July, September and October. You can talk to staff and students, tour the campus and see inside the accommodation.
At various times in the year we run online taster sessions to help Year 12 students experience what it is like to study at the University of Sheffield.
If you've received an offer to study with us, we'll invite you to one of our applicant days, which take place between November and April. These applicant days have a strong department focus and give you the chance to really explore student life here, even if you've visited us before.
Campus tours run regularly throughout the year, at 1pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Apply for this course
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The awarding body for this course is the University of Sheffield.
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.