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Theoretical Physics BSc

Theoretical Physics BSc

BSc
  • UCAS code F340
  • Option 3 years full time
  • Year of entry 2021

The course

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.

Our flexible degree programmes enable you to apply to take a Placement Year, which can be spent studying abroad, working or carrying out voluntary work. You can even do all three if you want to (minimum of three months each)! To recognise the importance of this additional skills development and university experience, your Placement Year will be formally recognised on your degree certificate and will contribute to your overall result. Please note conditions may apply if your degree already includes an integrated year out, please contact the Careers & Employability Service for more information. Find out more

Core Modules

Year 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.

  • 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 eigenvalue 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 techniques 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 rigid bodies. You will also examine the various techniques of physical analysis to solve problems, such as force diagrams and conservation principles.

  • 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.

  • 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
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • In this module you will develop an understanding of thermal 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 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 photons. You will also consider the quantum theory of solids, including energy bands and the Bloch theorem, as well as exploring fermiology, intrinsic and extrinsic semiconductors, and magnetism.

  • This module will consolidate the core laboratory components from other modules to create a coherent, stand-alone course designed to build your lab experience with more specialist support, enabling you to engage better with course material.

Year 3
  • Advanced Skills
  • Experimental or Theoretical Project
  • Advanced Classical Physics
  • Further Mathematical Methods
  • Quantum Theory
  • General Relativity and Cosmology

Optional Modules

There are a number of optional course modules available during your degree studies. The following is a selection of optional course modules that are likely to be available. Please note that although the College will keep changes to a minimum, new modules may be offered or existing modules 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
  • All modules are core
Year 2
  • All modules are core
Year 3
  • Nonlinear Systems and Chaos
  • C++ and Object Oriented Programming
  • Signal Recovery and Handling
  • Particle Physics
  • Metals and Semiconductors
  • Superconductivity and Magnetism
  • Frontiers of Metrology
  • Stellar Astrophysics
  • Particle Astrophysics
  • Planetary Geology and Geophysics
  • Particle Detectors and Accelerators
  • 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.

  • Energy and Climate Science
  • Atomic Physics

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.

A Levels: AAA-AAB

Required subjects:

  • A-levels in Mathematics and Physics, plus a pass in the practical element of all science A-levels being taken.
  • At least five GCSEs at grade A*-C or 9-4 including English and Mathematics.

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. For students who are from backgrounds or personal circumstances that mean they are generally less likely to go to university you may be eligible for an alternative lower offer. Follow the link to learn more about our contextual offers.

English language requirements

All teaching at Royal Holloway is in English. You will therefore need to have good enough written and spoken English to cope with your studies right from the start.

The scores we require
  • IELTS: 6.5 overall. No subscore lower than 5.5.
  • Pearson Test of English: 61 overall. Writing 54. No subscore lower than 51.
  • Trinity College London Integrated Skills in English (ISE): ISE III.
  • Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) grade C.

Country-specific requirements

For more information about country-specific entry requirements for your country please visit here.

Undergraduate Pathways

For international students who do not meet the direct entry requirements, the International Study Centre offers the following pathway programmes:

International Foundation Year - for progression to the first year of an undergraduate degree.

International Year One - for progression to the second year of an undergraduate degree. You can join the International Year One in January 2021 and progress to degree study in September 2021.

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.

Home (UK) students tuition fee per year*: £9,250

EU and International students tuition fee per year**: £22,600

Other essential costs***: £55

How do I pay for it? Find out more about funding options, including loansscholarships and bursaries. UK students who have already taken out a tuition fee loan for undergraduate study should check their eligibility for additional funding directly with the relevant awards body.

*The tuition fee for UK undergraduates is controlled by Government regulations. For students starting a degree in the academic year 2020/21, the fee will be £9,250 for that year. The fee for UK undergraduates starting in 2021/22 has not yet been confirmed.

**The Government has confirmed that EU nationals starting a degree in 2020/21 will pay the same fee as UK students for the duration of their course. For EU nationals starting a degree in 2021/22, the UK Government has recently confirmed that you will not be eligible to pay the same fees as UK students, nor be eligible for funding from the Student Loans Company. This means you will be classified as an international student. At Royal Holloway, we wish to support those students affected by this change in status through this transition. For eligible EU students starting their course with us in September 2021, we will award an automatic fee reduction which brings your fee into line with the fee paid by UK students. This will apply for the duration of your course.

Fees for international students may increase year-on-year in line with the rate of inflation. The policy at Royal Holloway is that any increases in fees will not exceed 5% for continuing students. For further information see fees and funding and our terms and conditions. Fees shown above are for 2020/21 and are displayed for indicative purposes only.

***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.

Accreditation

Institue of Physics

This course is accredited by the Institute of Physics. Successful completion of this programme partially meets the educational requirement for becoming a Chartered Physicist.

9th in the UK for student experience

Source: Times Good University Guide, 2020

92% overall student satisfaction

Source: NSS, 2019

97% of our Physics graduates are in work or further study within six months of graduating

Source: DLHE, 2018

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