You will study the same core modules as MSci Physics with Theoretical Physics. Specialist astronomy modules, The Structure of Stars and The Structure of Galaxies, will replace two of the options.
You won't do any laboratory work in this year or the next. This time is freed up to study more advanced modules in theoretical astrophysics, such as Theory Toolbox and Classical Fields.
Principles of Dynamics
This module will introduce you to the mathematical language behind the classical mechanics describing our universe. You will learn about Lagrangians and Hamiltonians, the starting place from which we can determine the dynamics of complicated systems, like pendula and planets orbiting the sun, as well as the origin of conserved quantities such as energy and momentum.
This is a fun module. At school you learnt Kepler’s Laws, Newton’s Law of Gravity, and F=ma, but how can you derive these amazing results? Where do they come from?
Here you will find out, as we introduce you to the mathematical language behind the classical mechanics describing our universe. You will learn about Lagrangians and Hamiltonians, the starting place from which we can determine the dynamics of complicated systems, like pendula and planets orbiting the sun, as well as the origin of conserved quantities such as energy and momentum. For two hours a week we will take you into the mathematics and ideas of giants like Newton, Euler, Lagrange, Noether and Hamilton.
Among many exciting things, you will study:
- Newton’s Laws and deriving the orbits predicted by Kepler
- Lagrangians and Hamiltonians, the building blocks behind classical mechanics
- The Euler-Lagrange equations describing the dynamics behind classical systems
- Rigid bodies – introducing moments of inertia, centre of mass and more so that we can apply these results to many particle rigid systems, like pendulums and even you
- Constraints – how to determine the dynamics of a system where it is constrained, for example, the motion of an explorer constrained to be on the surface of the earth
- The motion of charged particles, like electrons in an electromagnetic field
- Hamilton’s equations as an alternative way to determine the dynamics of a system, particularly useful when we are searching for conserved quantities like angular momentum
- Spinning tops – what? You heard right, the vital roles of gyroscopes in our life are understood by 5-year-olds, but the mathematics certainly is not. Thanks to this course, now you can understand that as well.
The Quantum World
This module provides an introduction to the theory and elementary applications of quantum mechanics, a theory that is one of the key achievements of physics. Quantum mechanics is an elegant theoretical construct that is both beautiful and mysterious. Some of the predictions of quantum mechanics are wholly counter-intuitive and there are aspects of it that are not properly understood. Nonetheless, it has been thoroughly tested empirically for nearly a century and, wherever predictions can be made, they agree with experiment.
The notes, videos, and simulations for the first semester of The Quantum World are all publicly available and freely accessible. Check out the notes online, which include embedded links to the videos and interactive simulations.
- Quantum vs classical states
- Fourier series and transforms: translating from position to momentum space
- The Heisenberg uncertainty principle (particularly from a Fourier perspective)
- The time-dependent and time-independent Schrödinger equation
- Bound and unbound states, scattering and tunnelling
- The subtleties of the particle in a box
- Operators, observables, and the thorny measurement problem
- Matrix mechanics and Dirac notation
- The quantum harmonic oscillator
- Conservation and correspondence principles
- Angular momentum
- Stern-Gerlach experiment
- Zeeman effect, Rabi oscillations
- 2D and 3D systems
- Hydrogen atom and the radial Schrödinger equation
- Entanglement and non-locality
- ... and, of course, that ever-frustrating feline...
The physics of waves features in our everyday lives. Waves are important phenomena. They include:
- electromagnetic waves that we know as light
- communication via radio and microwaves
- surface waves on water
- shock waves in earthquakes
Understanding light and how it can be manipulated leads to important technical applications such as optics and cameras in mobile phones, telecommunication and the internet or even quantum computers.
This module will cover the wave description of light; geometrical optics and imaging, interference and diffraction; optical interferometry. The second half of the module will introduce more general methods for the discussion of wave propagation, and Fourier methods.
- Imaging and matrix methods
- Microscopes and telescopes. State of the art telescopes such as the Hubble Telescope, the VLT (Very Large Telescope) and the James Webb Telescope.
- Interference patterns and their applications, for example to study the structure of proteins, of crystals and of fullerenes
Thermal and Statistical Physics
Macroscopic systems exhibit behaviour that often differs from that of their microscopic constituents. This module explores the relationship between the macro and micro worlds, and the complexity which emerges from the interplay of many interacting degrees of freedom.
- Laws of thermodynamics, and how they are still relevant
- Macroscopic characterisation of matter, for example how liquid nitrogen is made and understood
- Statistical formulation, linking micro and macro systems
- Quantum statistics, providing a theory for everything!
In this module you will explore the concepts of scalar and vector fields. You will learn the mathematics of vector calculus, which give us a powerful tool for studying the properties of fields and understanding their physics.
You will then study its application in two important and contrasting areas of physics: fluid dynamics, and electromagnetism. We use examples such as water draining from a sink or wind in a tornado to provide intuitive illustrations of the application of vector calculus, which can then help us to understand the behaviour of electric and magnetic fields.
- The fundamental principles and techniques of vector calculus, and methods to visualise and calculate the properties of scalar and vector fields
- The application of vector calculus to fluid flow problems
- Maxwell’s equations of electrodynamics, and their applications in electrostatics, magnetic fields and electromagnetic waves.
This module introduces a range of theoretical techniques for the construction and analysis of simplified effective models. You will learn advanced mathematical methods and apply them to problems in quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, and other areas of physics.
- Differential calculus of complex functions
- Advanced solution methods for differential equations such as the Schrödinger equation
- Vector spaces of functions and Green functions
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.
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.
The above is a sample of the typical modules we offer but is not intended to be construed and/or relied upon as a definitive list of the modules that will be available in any given year. Modules (including methods of assessment) may change or be updated, or modules may be cancelled, over the duration of the course due to a number of reasons such as curriculum developments or staffing changes. Please refer to the module catalogue
for information on available modules. This content was last updated on