Our students often say their enthusiasm to study Physics stems from a wanting to learn about the Higgs particle, dark matter, nanotechnology or just a wide-ranging curiosity about how things really work. Whatever your reasons, our Physics department aims to inform and excite you in the study of Physics, the most fundamental of the sciences.
On our three-year Astrophysics BSc, you’ll come to understand new concepts and paradigms, developing the deep conceptual framework that will allow an advanced understanding and appreciation of nature. You’ll develop core Physics concepts, including classical physics, quantum phenomena as well as mathematical and experimental skills.
Unlike solid-state physics (as with the Physics BSc) the emphasis will shift to astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology, and in later years you’ll cover topics such as Stellar Astrophysics and Atomic & Nuclear Physics.
We teach Physics in an accessible and rigorous style through small group tutorials, problem solving classes, lectures, laboratory and computing assignments, teamwork, and one-to-one teaching in our laboratories. So you’ll always have a close-knit support system around you.
The department is research-intensive, so our teaching is informed by the most up-to-date research. We have world-class research laboratories devoted to the search for Dark Matter, building next generation particle accelerators and enabling discoveries in nanophysics, quantum devices, ultralow temperatures, superconductors, new materials and other frontiers. Students study in our research laboratories in their final year.
On our roof we have an astronomical observatory dedicated to undergraduate study.
- We place a real emphasis on small group teaching – a close-knit, friendly and supportive environment with high staff-student ratio and an open door policy.
- We enjoy a strong track record of high student satisfaction in the annual National Student Survey.
- We’ve been awarded IOP Juno Champion and Athena SWAN silver awards for best practice in equality, promoting women in science and welcoming large cohorts of female students.
- Our research-intensive department based at our Surrey campus – well away from the light pollution of the big city – allows our telescopes to provide the best observational astronomy in the University of London.
- We also have close ties with, and conduct research at major international laboratories such as CERN, ISIS and Diamond, plus collaborations with SEPnet and other major institutions around the world.
- This course is fully accredited by the Institute of Physics (IOP)
Mathematics for Scientists 1
In this module you will develop an understanding of how to solve problems involving one variable (either real or complex) and differentiate and integrate simple functions. You will learn how to use vector algebra and geometry and how to use the common probability distributions.
Mathematics for Scientists 2
In this module you will develop an understanding of how to solve problems involving more than one variable. You will learn how to use matrices and solves eingenvalue problems, and how to manipulate vector differential operators, including gradient, divergence and curl. You will also consider their physical significance and the theorems of Gauss and Stokes.
Scientific Skills 1
In this module you will develop an understanding of good practices in the laboratory. You will keep a notebook, recording experimental work as you do it. You will set up an experiment from a script, and carry out and record measurements. You will learn how to analyse data and plot graphs using a computer package, and present results and conclusions including error estimations from your experiments.
Scientific Skills 2
In this module you will develop a range of skills in the scientific laboratory. You will learn how to use the Mathematica algebra software package to solve simple problems and carry out a number of individually programmed physics experiments. You will also work as part of a team to investigate an open-ended computational problem.
In this module you will develop an understanding of how to apply the techques and formulae of mathematical analysis, in particular the use of vectors and calculus, to solve problems in classical mechanics. You will look at statics, dynamics and kinematics as applied to linear and rigidy bodies. You will also examine the various techniques of physical analysis to solve problems, such as force diagrams and conservation principles.
Fields and Waves
In this module you will develop an understanding of how electric and magnetic fields are generated from static charges and constant currents flowing through wires. You will derive the properties of capacitors and inductors from first principles, and you will learn how to analyse simple circuits. You will use complex numbers to describe damped harmonic oscillations, and the motion of transverse and longitudinal waves.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the macroscopic properties of the various states of matter, looking at elementary ideas such as ideal gases, internal energy and heat capacity. Using classical models of thermodynamics, you will examine gases, liquids, solids, and the transitions between these states, considering phase equilibrium, the van der Waals equation and the liquefaction of gases. You will also examine other states of matter, including polymers, colloids, liquid crystals and plasmas.
Physics of the Universe
In this module you will develop an understanding of the building blocks of fundamental physics. You will look at Einstein’s special theory of relativity, considering time-dilation and length contraction, the basics of quantum mechanics, for example wave-particle duality, and the Schrödinger equation. You will also examine concepts in astrophysics such as the Big Bang theory and how the Universe came to be the way we observe it today.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the mathematical representation of physical problems, and the physical interpretation of mathematical equations. You will look at ordinary differential equations, including linear equations with constant coefficients, homogeneous and inhomogeneous equations, exact differentials, sines and cosines, Legendre poynomials, Bessel's equation, and the Sturm-Liouville theorem. You will examine partial differential equations, considering Cartesian and polar coordinates, and become familiar with integral transforms, the Gamma function, and the Dirac delta function.
Scientific Computing Skills
In this module you will develop an understanding of how computers are used in modern science for data analysis and visualisation. You will be introduced to the intuitive programming language, Python, and looking at the basics of numerical calculation. You will examine the usage of arrays and matrices, how to plot and visualise data, how to evaluate simple and complex expressions, how to sample using the Monte Carlo methods, and how to solve linear equations.
In this module you will develop an understanding of quantum mechanics and its role in and atomic, nuclear, particle and condensed matter physics. You will look at the wave nature of matter and the probabilistic nature of microscopic phenomena. You will learn how to use the key equation of quantum mechanics to describe fundamental phenomena, such as energy quantisation and quantum tunnelling. You will examine the principles of quantum mechanics, their physical consequences, and applications, considering the nature of harmonic oscillator systems and hydrogen atoms.
In this module you develop an understanding of the properties of light, starting from Maxwell’s equations. You will look at optical phenomena such as refraction, diffraction and interference, and how they are exploited in modern applications, from virtual reality headsets to the detection of gravitational waves. You will also examine masers and lasers, and their usage in optical imaging and image processing.
In this module you will develop an understanding of how James Clerk Maxwell unified all known electrical and magnetic effects with just four equations, providing Einstein’s motivation for developing the special theory of relativity, explaining light as an electromagnetic phenomenon, and predicting the electromagnetic spectrum. You examine these equations and their consequences, looking at how Maxwell’s work underpins all of modern physics and technology. You will also consider how electromagnetism provides the paradigm for the study of all other forces in nature.
Atomic and Nuclear Physics
In this module, you will develop an understanding of how the quantum mechanics of matter and light can be used to explain atomic and nuclear phenomena. You will look at the various quantum effects involved in the physics of electrons in atoms, and protons and neutrons in the nuclei. You will examine the atomic spectra, radioactive decay, nuclear reactions, the interaction of radiation with mater, as well as experimental techniques. You will also consider the applications of quantum effects, from modern spectroscopy techniques to the detection of radioactivity.
Classical and Statistical Thermodynamics
In this module you will develop an understanding of themal physics and elementary quantum mechanics. You will look at the thermodynamic properties of an ideal gas, examining the solutions of Schrödinger's equation for particles in a box, and phenomena such as negative temperature, superfluidity and superconductivity. You will also consider the thermodynamic equilibrium process, entropy in thermo-dynamics, and black-body radiation.
In this module you will develop an understanding of astronomy, and observations of different wavelengths. You will look at the merits and limitations of earth and space-based telescopes, and consider key concepts, including coordinate systems, timekeeping systems, brightness measurement, distance, colour, temperature and spectrum. You will also examine the contents of the solar system, including the planets and their moons, rings, asteroids, comets, dust and the solar wind.
The Solid State
In this module you will develop an understanding of the physical properties of solids. You will look at their structure and symmetry, concepts of disolcation and plastic deformation, and the electrical characteristics of metals, alloys and semiconductors. You will examine methods of probing solids and x-ray diffraction, and the thermal properties of phonons. You will also consider the quantum theory of solids, including energy bands and the Bloch thorem, as well as exploring fermiology, intrinsic and extrinsic semiconductors, and magnetism.
Experimental or Theoretical Project
In this module you will plan and execute an extended experimental or theoretical investigation in physics, electronics or astrophysics. You will work with a member of academic staff, who will provide advice and support. You will produce a wrttien report and give an oral presentation, where you will discuss your findings.
General Relativity and Cosmology
In addition to these mandatory course units there are a number of optional course units available during your degree studies. The following is a selection of optional course units that are likely to be available. Please note that although the College will keep changes to a minimum, new units may be offered or existing units may be withdrawn, for example, in response to a change in staff. Applicants will be informed if any significant changes need to be made.
Only core modules are taken
Only core modules are taken
Planetary Geology and Geophysics
Advanced Classical Physics
Further Mathematical Methods
C++ and Object Oriented Programming
As teachers, we want to introduce, explain, challenge and excite students in their studies.
A year’s worth of study is normally broken down into eight modules, each of a nominal 150 hours of study. Physics combines experimental work with conceptual thinking and mathematical analysis, each demanding its own teaching and assessment techniques. So these modules can take a variety of forms, including small group tutorials, problem classes, lectures, laboratory and computing assignments, teamwork, and one-to-one teaching in our laboratories.
For lecture course units, you’ll normally be assessed by a two-hour examination at the end of the year. Coursework and in-class tests also contribute to the assessment of many course units. Experimental work is generally assessed by written reports or oral presentation. You have to pass a minimum of six of the eight course units, with a minimum score of 40 per cent each year.
You’ll be taught the most up-to-date and exciting physics by internationally recognised experts in their fields – who are actively involved in research and bring their working knowledge to the course. Our teaching consistently scores high satisfaction ratings in the annual National Student Survey.
Our close-knit, small-group teaching structure helps create a friendly environment, with an open-door policy, so students feel comfortable coming to us for advice and support.