Theoretical Physics BSc

2024-25 entry
Department of Physics and Astronomy

Examine 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, and look in depth at topics like relativity and quantum mechanics.

Key details

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    Course description

    Students in a physics laboratory

    Explore the principles that defined scientific thinking up to the 20th century, then dive into areas like relativity and quantum mechanics that have led to countless discoveries.

    Taught across two departments, the Theoretical Physics BSc from Sheffield puts an emphasis on the fundamental mathematics that has brought physicists ever closer to a ‘theory of everything’.

    As well as the foundation of essential physics given to all physics students, you’ll build a much more detailed understanding of mathematical concepts thanks to lectures delivered by our colleagues in the School of Mathematics and Statistics. They’ll introduce you to calculus, geometry, differential equations, linear algebra, and mechanics and fluids, too.

    In practical classes in your first year, 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 many graduate careers, from data science to computer game design.

    And because curiosity is what powers discovery, we’ll encourage you to dive into optional modules during your third year – exploring topics like dark matter and mathematical biology, alongside core modules in quantum mechanics and statistical physics.

    Finally, you’ll have the option to gain hands-on research experience investigating a real-world physics problem, undertake an industrial group project, or take an education and outreach project intended for those considering a career in teaching.

    Why study this course?

    • No. 1 physics department in the UK - 100% of our research and impact was rated world-leading or internationally excellent by REF 2021.
    • More astro content than most degrees - you can study 50% astrophysics content throughout your degree, more than most universities offer.
    • Student life - because you’ll be taught across two departments, you’ll have double the social life. In maths you’ll be able to join pizza socials, the SUMS society ball or football club, or attend film screenings. In physics you might choose to join the Sheffield Space Initiative, and design a Mars rover or launch a rocket.
    • Incredible research opportunities - you can access incredible research opportunities, including a summer research placement, work placements and field trips, thanks to our links with organisations like CERN and the observatories on La Palma in the Canary Islands.

    Accredited by the Institute of Physics (IOP) for the purpose of fully meeting the educational requirement for Chartered Physicist.

    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.

    Choose a year to see modules for a level of study:

    Title: Theoretical Physics BSc course structure
    UCAS code: F344
    Years: 2023, 2024
    First year

    Core modules:

    Fundamentals of Physics

    This module introduces the fundamentals of University Physics that are built on in later years of study.  This includes the development of data analysis skills, laboratory skills, scientific report writing and communication along with the ability to analyse physics problems and solve them using pen and paper, experiment and computer programming. Key concepts in electromagnetism, classical mechanics, thermal physics, waves and oscillations and quantum mechanics will be studied and used to develop problem solving.

    50 credits
    Further Mathematics for Physicists and Astronomers

    This module provides the necessary additional mathematics for all students taking physics and/or astronomy degrees including those taking theoretical physics degrees. The following topics will be covered: 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

    Optional modules:

    Mathematics Core

    Mathematics Core covers topics which continue school mathematics and which are used throughout the degree programmes: calculus and linear algebra, developing the framework for higher-dimensional generalisation.  This material is central to many topics in subsequent courses.  At the same time, small-group tutorials with the Personal Tutor aim to develop core skills, such as mathematical literacy and communication, some employability skills and problem-solving skills.

    40 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
    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 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:

    (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.

    10 credits
    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 10-credit module aims to introduce research-inspired material into the level 1 physics curriculum. The module includes three short courses on research-based topics taught by an academic who is actively involved in the research. The course 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
    Classical and Quantum Optics

    This module introduces the foundations of classical optics. In the Autumn semester, starting with Fermat's Principle of Least Time, we derive Snell's law and the working of lenses in geometrical optics. We give a quantitative description of telescopes and microscopes. We explore the limits of geometrical optics and show that a wave theory of optics is needed to explain phenomena like diffraction and interference. We will briefly touch the Mach-Zehnder interferometer and the Michelson-Morley interferometer that is used in gravitational wave detection.

    In the Spring semester we explore the electromagnetic nature of light, and present the polarisation (linear, circular, and elliptical). We introduce the concept of coherence, and use it to make a distinction between coherent light, such as that from a laser, and incoherent light from a light bulb or the Sun. Then we explore the properties of thermal light, including Wien's law, the Rayleigh-Jeans law, and how Planck reconciled their contradiction. Finally we discuss the implications of the constant speed of light, leading to the Lorentz transformations and the relativity of simultaneity.

    10 credits
    Introductory Mathematics for Physicists and Astronomers

    This module provides the necessary introductory  level 1 mathematics for students taking physics and / or astronomy degrees except those taking theoretical physics degrees.

    Topics will be covered in two equally weighted streams: Stream A: common functions of one variable, differentiation, series expansions,  integration and ordinary differential equations. Stream B:  basic complex numbers, vector manipulation, properties and applications of matrices.

    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.

    Learning and assessment

    Learning

    You'll learn through lectures, small group tutorials, programming classes, practical sessions in the lab and research projects.

    We invest to create the right environment for you. That means outstanding facilities, study spaces and support, including 24/7 online access to our online library service.

    Study spaces and computers are available to offer you choice and flexibility for your study. Our five library sites give you access to over 1.3 million books and periodicals. You can access your library account and our rich digital collections from anywhere on or off campus. Other library services include study skills training to improve your grades, and tailored advice from experts in your subject.

    Learning support facilities and library opening hours

    Assessment

    You will be assessed through a portfolio of problem sets, lab work and other material, as well as exams, essays, lab reports and presentations.

    Programme specification

    This tells you the aims and learning outcomes of this course and how these will be achieved and assessed.

    Find programme specification for this course

    Entry requirements

    With Access Sheffield, you could qualify for additional consideration or an alternative offer - find out if you're eligible.

    Standard offer

    The A Level entry requirements for this course are:
    AAB
    including Maths and Physics + pass in the practical element of any science A Levels taken

    A Levels + Extended Project Qualification
    ABB, including Maths and Physics + B in a relevant EPQ
    International Baccalaureate
    34, with 6, 5 (in any order) in Higher Level Maths and Physics
    BTEC Extended Diploma
    Not accepted
    BTEC Diploma
    Not accepted
    Scottish Highers + 2 Advanced Highers
    AABBB + AB in Maths and Physics
    Welsh Baccalaureate + 2 A Levels
    B + AA in Maths and Physics
    Access to HE Diploma
    Award of Access to HE Diploma in Science, with 45 credits at Level 3, including 36 at Distinction (all in Maths/Physics units), and 9 at Merit
    Other requirements
    Access Sheffield offer

    The A Level entry requirements for this course are:
    ABB
    including Maths and Physics + pass in the practical element of any science A Levels taken

    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
    BTEC Diploma
    Not accepted
    Scottish Highers + 2 Advanced Highers
    ABBBB + AB in Maths and Physics
    Welsh Baccalaureate + 2 A Levels
    B + AB in Maths and Physics
    Access to HE Diploma
    Award of Access to HE Diploma in Science, with 45 credits at Level 3, including 30 at Distinction (all in Maths/Physics units), and 15 at Merit
    Other requirements
    English language requirements

    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

    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 an International Foundation Year 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.

    Graduate careers

    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.

    Ciaran Allen

    My degree fostered my interest in data, which I use every week in my job

    Ciaran Allen BSc Physics and Astrophysics

    Ciaran went into the medical implant and instrument manufacturing industry after graduation, to build on the interest in data he developed during his degree.

    Alexander Chilton

    Physics is a degree that's very well respected around the world

    Alexander Chilton Physics BSc

    After completing his physics degree, Alexander went on to work in marketing and communications as part of a multi-million pound research partnership between BP and several top universities.

    Thomas Nuttall

    As a data scientist, the programming courses were particularly useful for me

    Thomas Nuttall Physics BSc

    In his role at Channel 4, Thomas uses the software development and computational statistics skills he learned during his physics degree to improve the broadcaster's digital services.

    Department of Physics and Astronomy

    2D materials laboratory

    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.

    Facilities

    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.

    Department of Physics and Astronomy

    Why choose Sheffield?

    The University of Sheffield

      Number one in the Russell Group
    National Student Survey 2023 (based on aggregate responses)

      92 per cent of our research is rated as world-leading or internationally excellent
    Research Excellence Framework 2021

      Top 50 in the most international universities rankings
    Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023

      Number one Students' Union in the UK
    Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2023, 2022, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017

      Number one for teaching quality, Students' Union and clubs/societies
    StudentCrowd 2023 University Awards

      A top 20 university targeted by employers
    The Graduate Market in 2023, High Fliers report


    Department of Physics and Astronomy

    1st in the UK in terms of the quality of our research

    Research Excellence Framework 2021


    Theoretical Physics

    Fees and funding

    Fees

    Additional costs

    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.

    Examples of what’s included and excluded

    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.

    Additional funding

    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.

    Department of Physics and Astronomy scholarships

    Placements and study abroad

    Placement

    You may have the opportunity to add an industrial placement year as part of your course, converting the three year course to a four-year Degree with an Industrial Placement Year. 

    A placement year will help you to:

    • gain an insight into possible careers
    • develop a range transferable skills 
    • build a professional network
    • get a feel for what you do and don’t like doing
    • add valuable work experience to your CV
    • gain experience of applying for jobs and interview practice
    • apply elements of academic learning in the workplace

    Study abroad

    Spending time abroad during your degree is a great way to explore different cultures, gain a new perspective and experience a life-changing opportunity that you will never forget. 

    You can apply to extend this course with a year abroad, usually between the second and third year. We have over 250 University partners worldwide. Popular destinations include Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong. 

    Find out more on the Global Opportunities website.

    Visit

    University open days

    We host five open days each year, usually in June, July, September, October and November. You can talk to staff and students, tour the campus and see inside the accommodation.

    Open days: book your place

    Subject tasters

    If you’re considering your post-16 options, our interactive subject tasters are for you. There are a wide range of subjects to choose from and you can attend sessions online or on campus.

    Upcoming taster sessions

    Offer holder days

    If you've received an offer to study with us, we'll invite you to one of our offer holder days, which take place between February and April. These open 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

    Our weekly guided tours show you what Sheffield has to offer - both on campus and beyond. You can extend your visit with tours of our city, accommodation or sport facilities.

    Campus tour: book your place

    Apply

    Make sure you've done everything you need to do before you apply.

    How to apply When you're ready to apply, see the UCAS website:
    www.ucas.com

    Not ready to apply yet? You can also register your interest in this course.

    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.

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

    Our student protection plan

    Terms and Conditions upon Acceptance of an Offer

    2024-2025

    Make sure you've done everything you need to do before you apply.

    How to apply When you're ready to apply, see the UCAS website:
    www.ucas.com

    Not ready to apply yet? You can also register your interest in this course.

    Examine 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, and look in depth at topics like relativity and quantum mechanics.