You will complete the core elements of physics and theoretical physics. Optional modules will give you the opportunity to study specialist modules in an area of physics that interests you.
You will apply the wide range of skills that you have learned to a theoretical physics project.
Understanding the dynamics of quantum systems is crucial, not just for describing the fundamental physics of atoms, but also for the development of exciting new quantum-based technologies. This module will equip you with the key theoretical concepts and methods needed to explore how quantum systems evolve with time.
- Connections between the dynamics of quantum systems and that of more familiar classical ones
- When (and how) to use approximations that allow complex problems to be made much simpler
- The extent to which the evolution of quantum states can be controlled
- How to put theory into practice using one of IBM’s prototype quantum computers.
Atoms, Photons and Fundamental Particles
This module will introduce students to the physics of atoms, nuclei and the fundamental constituents of matter and their interactions. The module will also develop the quantum mechanical description of these.
Topics to be covered are:
- Approximation techniques first order perturbation theory, degeneracies, second order perturbation theory, transition rates, time-dependent perturbation theory, Fermi's golden rule
- Particle Physics protons and neutrons, antiparticles, particle accelerators and scattering experiments, conservation laws, neutrinos, leptons, baryons and hadrons, the quark model and the strong interaction, weak interactions, standard model
- Introduction to atomic physics review of simple model of hydrogen atom, Fermi statistics and Pauli principle, aufbau principle, hydrogenic atoms, exchange, fine structure and hyperfine interactions, dipole interaction, selection rules and transition rates
- Lasers optical polarization and photons, optical cavities, population inversions, Bose statistics and stimulated emission, Einstein A and B coefficients
- Nuclear Physics Radioactivity, decay processes, alpha, beta and gamma emission, detectors, stability curves and binding energies, nuclear fission, fusion, liquid drop and shell models.
You will carry out a project drawn from one of several areas of physics. The project may be experimental or theoretical in nature. Many of the projects reflect the research interests of members of academic staff. You will work in pairs and are expected to produce a plan of work and to identify realistic goals for your project. Each pair has a project supervisor responsible for setting the project. You will also be required to maintain a diary/laboratory notebook throughout.
Occasionally the work from these projects is used in scientific publications, and the students involved are named as authors on those publications.
Depending upon the type of project that you decide to do, you will design and carry out your own experiments, theoretical calculations or computational work and use them to generate what are often new and interesting results. The project culminates in your writing a scientific report which is submitted for assessment along with your laboratory notebook.
Introduction to Solid State Physics
Solid state physics underpins almost every technological development around us, from solar cells and LEDs to silicon chips and mobile phones.
The aim of this module is to introduce to you the fundamental topics in solid state physics. We start by looking at why atoms and molecules come together to form a crystal structure. We then follow the electronic structure of these through to interesting electronic, thermal and magnetic properties that we can harness to make devices.
- Why atoms and molecules come together to form crystal structures
- The description of crystal structures, reciprocal lattices, diffraction and Brillouin zones
- Nearly-free electron model – Bloch's theorem, band gaps from electron Bragg scattering and effective masses
- Band theory, Fermi surfaces, qualitative picture of transport, metals, insulators and semiconductors
- Semiconductors – doping, inhomogeneous semiconductors, basic description of pn junction
- Phonons normal modes of ionic lattice, quantization, Debye theory of heat capacities, acoustic and optical phonons
- Optical properties of solids absorption and reflection of light by metals, Brewster angle, dielectric constants, plasma oscillations
- Magnetism – Landau diamagnetism, paramagnetism, exchange interactions, Ferromagnetism, antiferromagnetism, neutron scattering, dipolar interactions and domain formation, magnetic technology
Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos
How can complicated nonlinear mechanical, electrical and biological systems be understood? In this module you will develop your knowledge of classical mechanics of simple linear behaviour to include the behaviour of complex nonlinear dynamics. You’ll learn about the way in which nonlinear deterministic systems can exhibit essentially random behaviours, and approaches to understand and control them.
- In-depth knowledge of nonlinear dynamics in continuous and discrete classical systems
- Practical skills in using analytical, geometric and numerical approaches to analyse dynamics in nonlinear systems of various dimensions
- Methods to understand and create beautiful fractals through simple iteration rules.
This module aims to provide you with the skills necessary to use computational methods in the solution of non-trivial problems in physics and astronomy. You’ll also sharpen your programming skills through a three hour computing class and one hour of lectures per week.
Symmetry and Action Principles in Physics
Symmetry plays a central role in physics. Most of the fundamental Laws of modern physics have been formulated using symmetry principles. Symmetry is also expected to guide for further understanding and development of theories of physical phenomena.
Through a combination of lectures, engagement sessions and workshops, this module equips you with:
- the key concepts of symmetry
- the correspondence between symmetries and conservation laws
- the derivations of physics laws from the action principles
- and the consequences of symmetry breaking.
- Symmetries of space and phase space using classical mechanics
- Symmetries of spacetime and in electromagnetism using special relativity
- Main symmetry groups of modern physics laws
- How structures in nature are results of symmetry breaking.
Theoretical Elementary Particle Physics
Particle physics has been hugely influential in both science and society, from the discovery of the electron to the detection of the Higgs boson. In this module you will be introduced to the mathematical tools required to understand our current description of the Standard Model of particle physics.
- The Dirac equation, which describes electrons, quarks and neutrinos
- How symmetry and conservation laws are crucial in particle physics
- The Feynman approach to computing the scattering of particles
Atmospheric and Planetary Physics
In this module you will explore the physics of planets and their atmospheres — a topic that is at the forefront of modern astrophysics and planetary science.
In the last few decades, the discovery of thousands of exoplanets beyond our Solar System has revolutionised the study of planets and their atmospheres.
Closer to home, understanding the physical processes at play in the Earth’s atmosphere remains vital for predicting weather and climate.
- Exoplanet detection methods and the physics of planet formation
- The structure, temperature and composition of planetary atmospheres
- Atmospheric dynamics
- Exoplanet atmospheres and the search for biosignatures
Soft Condensed Matter
This module aims to to give you a basic grounding in key concepts in soft condensed matter physics. It will focus on the dynamic, structural and kinematic properties of these materials as well as their self-assembly into technologically important structures for the production of nanostructured materials.
Key differences and similarities between soft matter, hard matter and liquid systems will be highlighted and discussed throughout the module. Material that will be covered includes:
- Introduction to soft matter
- Forces, energies and timescales in soft matter
- Liquids and glasses
- Phase transitions in soft matter (solid-liquid and liquid-liquid demixing)
- Polymeric materials
- Crystallisation in soft systems
- Liquid crystals
- Molecular order in soft systems
- Soft Nanotechnology
This module explores how physics-based techniques are used to gain insight into complex molecular systems of biological relevance. In studying the physics underpinning this area of research where chemistry, biology and physics all overlap, we will draw on principles derived from quantum mechanics and statistical physics to develop a better understanding of the biomolecular world.
Physics has made significant contributions in our efforts to understand the underlying molecular principles of life. For instance, physics plays an important role in the development of sophisticated methods that make it possible to measure the complex structure of biological molecules and their mutual interactions and dynamics. Two important groups of such biomolecules that will be discussed in the module are proteins and deoxynucleic acids (DNA).
Topics covered in this module include:
- Introduction into the important classes of complex biomolecules
- What are the underlying principles that make molecules to acquire a functional 3-dimensional structure?
- How can molecular structure be measured with high accuracy?
- How do molecular motors work and can molecules carry out directional motion?
- How can molecular forces and distances be measured between individual molecules.
Introduction to Cosmology
Cosmology is the scientific study of the Universe as a whole. It aims to understand what the Universe is made of, and its evolution from the Big Bang until today (and into the future).
- observational evidence for the Big Bang
- how the expansion of the Universe depends on its contents and geometry
- how the contents of the Universe evolve as it expands and cools
- dark matter and dark energy: observational evidence and the latest theoretical models
- inflation, a proposed period of accelerated expansion in the very early Universe
The Structure of Stars
In this module you will learn how the same physics that works on Earth – gravity, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, optics, quantum physics, atomic and nuclear physics – is used to understand stars. You will explore the most important physical processes occurring in stars of different types. You will then use this knowledge to build mathematical models of stars and to understand their internal structure, their formation, evolution, and death.
- How astronomers measure the most important properties of stars such as their mass, size, distance, brightness, temperature, chemical composition and age. This module will then teach you how physics is able to explain these properties.
- How energy is generated inside stars through nuclear fusion, and how it is transported to the surface to make stars shine.
- How to write the equations that describe the structure of stars, and how to use them to build mathematical models that explain their properties and evolution.
- How stars are born, how they evolve with time, how long they live, how they die, and what remnants they leave behind. You will be able to understand, for instance, how supernovae explode and how some black holes form.
From Accelerators to Medical Imaging
Science is the cornerstone of modern healthcare. For example, in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) more than 80% of clinical decisions are informed by scientific analysis.
In this module, we will explore some of the critical technologies that underpin these decisions. The course begins by exploring particle accelerators, and how they are used to create, for example, high energy photons or anti-matter particles. We will then see how these are used to either diagnose or treat illnesses such as cancer.
We will look closely at medical imaging techniques such as X-ray computed tomography (the CT scan), exploring the mathematics of how high-definition images of the body can be formed. We will cover nuclear medicine – how radiation can be used to track the function of organs in the body – and how advanced mathematical models feed into diagnostic decisions.
Radiation is a term which can cover many different phenomena and a wide range of energies (acoustic, electromagnetic, ionizing). In this module we will learn how physicists can harness the health benefits of using radiation, as well as measuring and controlling levels of radiation in the environment or therapy.
Radiation is a term which can cover many different phenomena and a wide range of energies (acoustic, electromagnetic, ionizing). It can come from a wide range of sources (natural or manufactured). In the public eye radiation can often be seen as a danger e.g. location of mobile phone masts.
In this module we will learn how physicists can harness the health benefits of using radiation, as well as measuring and controlling levels of radiation in the environment or therapy.
You will study:
- Types of radiation used in medicine for therapy and tracers.
- The properties of radiation, how it interacts with matter and tissue as a function of energy.
- The biological effects of radiation and the principles which govern safe exposure limits.
- Dosimetry and instrumentation methods.
- The way issues of radiation protection are presented to the public and perception of risk.
Functional Medical Imaging
The techniques for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spectroscopy (MRS) are explored. The course aims to introduce the brain imaging technique of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), giving an overview of the physics involved in this technique. The electromagnetic techniques of electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) will then be outlined, and the relative advantages of the techniques described.
The Structure of Galaxies
This module will develop your current understanding of the various large-scale physical processes that dictate the formation, evolution and structure of galaxies, from when the Universe was in its infancy to the present day.
You’ll explore a range of topics, starting with the fundamentals of observational techniques used by astronomers for understanding the structure of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. We will then look at the more sophisticated ways of unpicking the physics that drives the complexity we see throughout the population of galaxies in the Universe.
Specifically, in this module, you will study:
- The structure of the Milky Way – how we determine the structure of the Milky Way, its rotation curve and what this implies for its dark matter content
- Properties of galaxies in the Universe – how astronomers classify galaxies, the properties of the different classes and how their constituents vary between classes
- Dynamics of galaxies – kinematics of the gas and stars in galaxies, why spiral arms form, the theory of epicycles, bar formation, different types of orbits of matter within galaxies
- Active galaxies – radio galaxies, quasars and active galactic nuclei, super-massive black holes
- The environment of galaxies – how the environment that a galaxy resides in affects its evolution and structure
- Galaxy evolution – observations of galaxy evolution from the early Universe to the present day, models of galaxy evolution.
Force and Function at the Nanoscale
We will study some of the fundamental forces at the nanoscale and look at the role of key concepts such as entropy. We will also learn how we can visualise and measure the nanoscale structures that form.
The nanoscale world is very different from our regular experience. Thermal energy pushes and pulls everything towards a state of disorder whilst nanoscale forces allow for materials to resist this and stay together. We will study some of the fundamental forces at the nanoscale and look at the role of key concepts such as entropy. We will also learn how we can visualise and measure the nanoscale structures that form.
While the forces we will study operate over distances as small as 1 nanometre we will explore how these concepts are responsible for phenomena in our everyday world we often don’t even think about:
- Why is a droplet spherical?
- What is going on when you scramble an egg?
- How can a gecko walk across a perfectly smooth ceiling?
- Why do you use soap when you wash?
- Why don’t oil and water mix?
This module explores the physical processes involved in the most extreme environments known in the Universe. Among the objects studied are neutron stars, black holes, supernova explosions, and active galactic nuclei.
This module introduces you to the physics and applications of Semiconductors. Semiconductors are key materials of the current Information Age. They enabled most of the devices and technologies we use everyday, such as computers, internet, mobile phones. Semiconductors help us to mitigate global warming, data theft, end of the Moore’s law and other global challenges.
This module includes detailed overview of the Semiconductors past, present and future, and provides skills and knowledge essential for a future Semiconductor researcher or engineer.
- Physics and applications of conventional semiconductor materials and devices, for example p-n diodes and field-effect transistors
- Physics and applications of novel semiconductor materials, quantum materials, nanostructures, low dimensional materials, such as graphene and quantum dots
- Current and future semiconductor challenges and technologies, such as efficient solar cells, ultrasensitive phone cameras and quantum computers.