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Theoretical Physics BSc

UCAS code F340
Year of entry 2018
Course Length
3 years full time
Department Physics »

One of the best-known theories in science, Einstein’s theory of relativity, came from the ‘mere’ observation that Clerk-Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism and the Galilean relativity were incompatible. Beyond this and since the development of quantum mechanics, theoretical physics has played an important part in constantly questioning what we know, by putting forward deeper and usually more mathematical expressions of understanding and explanation.

On our three-year Theoretical Physics BSc, you will cover all the core material that a graduate physicist would be expected to know, but there will be more emphasis on developing what you will have learned during A Level Mathematics and Further Mathematics, to allow a deeper conceptual understanding of classical and modern physics. This emphasis on theoretical concepts and foundations could help give you a deeper appreciation of the beauty and surprises of Physics.

Because of the theoretical nature of this course, you’ll spend less time in the laboratory in later years, with options from more theoretical areas, such as Quantum Theory, Further Mathematical Methods, Stellar Astrophysics, General Relativity & Cosmology and Non-Linear & Chaotic Systems to provide an emphasis on advanced theoretical topics in Physics.

We’re based at the heart of the campus, where you’ll have access to laboratories, technical help, academic staff and, on the roof of the department, our astronomical dome, dedicated to undergraduate study. In Egham Surrey, we’re well away from the light pollution of the big city so our telescopes can give you the best observational astronomy in the University of London. Beyond the specialist equipment, we also have video-conferencing facilities that allow people to take part in seminars and lectures at other institutions.

  • We place a strong 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.
  • We also have close ties with, and conduct research at major international laboratories such as CERN, ISIS and Diamond, plus collaborations with other major institutions around the world. 
  • This course is fully accredited by the Institute of Physics (IOP)

Core modules

Year 1

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.

Classical Mechanics

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.

Classical Matter

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.

Year 2

Mathematical Methods

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.

Quantum Mechanics

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.

Optics

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.

Electromagnetism

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.

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 dislocation 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.

Year 3

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 written report and give an oral presentation to convey your findings.

Advanced Classical Physics

 

Further Mathematical Methods

 

Quantum Theory

 

General Relativity and Cosmology

 

Optional modules

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.

Year 1

Only core modules are taken

Year 2

Only core modules are taken

Year 3

Planetary Geology and Geophysics

 

Non-Linear Phenomena and Chaos

 

Particle Detectors and Accelerators

 

Astronomy

 

Energy

 

Advanced Classical Physics

 

Further Mathematical Methods

 

C++ and Object Oriented Programming

 

Experimental Design

 

Quantum Theory

 

Particle Physics

 

Metals and Semiconductors

 

Superconductivity and Magnetism

 

Frontiers of Metrology

 

General Relativity and Cosmology

 

Stellar Astrophysics

 

Particle Astrophysics

 

As teachers, we want to introduce, explain, challenge and excite students on the course.

A year’s worth of study is normally broken down into eight modules, each of a nominal 150 hours of study. Physics combines experimental skills 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 – all who are still 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.

Study time

Proportions of study time will vary depending on modules taken, but typically:

Year 1

You will spend 46% of your study time in scheduled learning and teaching activities, and 54% in guided independent study.

Year 2

You will spend 35% of your study time in scheduled learning and teaching activities, and 65% in guided independent study.

Year 3

You will spend 27% of your study time in scheduled learning and teaching activities, and 73% in guided independent study.

Assessment

Proportions of assessment types will vary depending on modules taken, but typically:

Year 1

Written exams account for 63% of the total assessment for this year of study, 3% will be assessed through practical exams, and 34% will be assessed through coursework.

Year 2

Written exams account for 67% of the total assessment for this year of study, and 33% will be assessed through coursework.

Year 3

Written exams account for 72% of the total assessment for this year of study, 2% will be assessed through practical exams, and 26% will be assessed through coursework.

Typical offers

Typical offers
A-levels

 AAA-ABB including Maths and Physics
How we assess your application: predicted grades lower than our typical offers are considered. Read more about what we look for here

  • Where an applicant is taking the EPQ alongside A-levels, the EPQ will be taken into consideration and result in lower A-level grades being required. 

  • Socio-economic factors which may have impacted an applicant’s education will be taking into consideration and alternative offers may be made to these applicants. 

Required/preferred subjects

Required subjects: Mathematics and Physics, plus a Pass in the practical element of any Science A-levels being taken

At least five GCSEs at grade A*-C or 9 - 4 including English and Mathematics

Other UK Qualifications
International Baccalaureate

6,5,5 at Higher Level including 6 in Maths at Higher Level and 5 in Physics at Higher Level with a minimum of 32 points overall.

BTEC Extended Diploma

Not normally accepted without A-levels.

BTEC National Extended Diploma

Distinction Distinction plus A in A-level Maths and A in A-level Physics.  Plus a Pass in the practical element of any Science A-levels taken.

BTEC National Extended Certificate

Distinction plus A in A-level Maths and A in A-level Physics. Plus a Pass in the practical element of any Science A-levels taken.

Welsh Baccalaureate

Requirements are as for A-levels where one non-subject-specified A-level can be replaced by the same grade in the Welsh Baccalaureate - Advanced Skills Challenge Certificate.

Scottish Advanced Highers

AAA-ABB including Maths and Physics.

Scottish Highers

AAABB including A in Maths and B in Physics.

Irish Leaving Certificate

H2, H2, H2, H3, H3 including H2 in Maths and H2 in Physics.

Access to Higher Education Diploma

Pass with at least 33 level 3 credits at Distinction, including Distinction in all Maths and Physics units and Merit in the remaining level 3 units.

Please note that the Access to Higher Education Diploma will only be acceptable if the applicant has had a considerable break from education.

Other UK qualifications

Please select your UK qualification from the drop-down list below



Please select a qualification

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International and EU entry requirements

Please select your country from the drop-down list below

English language
requirements

IELTS 6.5 overall and minimum of 5.5 in each subscore.  For equivalencies please see here

For more information about entry requirements for your country please visit our International pages. For international students who do not meet the direct entry requirements, we offer an International Foundation Year, run by Study Group at the Royal Holloway International Study Centre. Upon successful completion, students can progress on to selected undergraduate degree programmes at Royal Holloway, University of London.

A degree in Physics is one of the most sought after and respected qualifications available.

The training in logical thinking, the ability to analyse a problem from first principles in an abstract, logical and coherent way, and to define a problem and then solve it, are critically important skills. These skills go well beyond your specific knowledge of physical phenomena they’re the reason why Physics graduates go on to excel in all types of employment, including those only loosely related to Physics, like management and finance, as well as scientific, technical, engineering and teaching careers. In this way, a degree in Physics helps keep your future employment options both bright and open.

  • 80% of our graduates go into full time employment or further study within six months of graduating.
  • According to the Institute of Physics, in the UK alone Physics-based industry employs more than 1.79 million people, while UK graduates in Physics earn more than those in most other disciplines.
  • We offer paid summer internships so you can get invaluable work experience and work closely with our research teams. 

Home and EU students tuition fee per year*: £9,250

International students tuition fee per year**: £18,900

Other essential costs***: £55

How do I pay for it?  Find out more about funding options, including loans, grants, scholarships and bursaries.

*Tuition fees for UK and EU nationals starting a degree in the academic year 2017/18 will be £9,250 for that year, and is shown for reference purposes only. The tuition fee for UK and EU undergraduates starting their degrees in 2018 is controlled by Government regulations, and details are not yet known. The UK Government has also announced that EU students starting an undergraduate degree in 2018/19 will pay the same level of fee as a UK student for the duration of their degree.

**Fees for international students may increase year-on-year in line with the rate of inflation. Royal Holloway's policy is that any increases in fees will not exceed 5% for continuing students. For further information see fees and funding and our  terms & conditions.

***These estimated costs relate to studying this particular degree programme at Royal Holloway. Costs, such as accommodation, food, books and other learning materials and printing etc., have not been included.

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