Triangle

Course overview

About Physics at the University of Nottingham

We have a proud history of learning and innovation. Research undertaken within the School of Physics and Astronomy, by Professor Sir Peter Mansfield, was recognised with a 2003 Nobel Prize for the invention of Magnetic Resonance Imaging body scanners. This technology has already helped more than half a billion people worldwide. More recently, our use of quantum technologies to understand how the brain works is changing the way that neurological conditions are detected and treated.

Our research activities cover cutting-edge topics ranging from probing quantum mechanics at ultralow temperatures to understanding the largest structures in the Universe. 

Our courses offer a wide range of optional modules, so you can explore new areas of physics and specialise in the ones that interest you the most. You can study topics as diverse as cosmology, nanoscience, and medical imaging and learn from experts in those fields. What’s more, there is flexibility to transfer between most physics courses after the first year.

Some of our teaching staff share their love of physics with budding scientists worldwide through the popular Sixty Symbols YouTube channel. Our unique, student centred MSci course offers innovative teaching methods, with few to no exams in the final year.

We encourage students to share their fascination with physics with the wider community through our outreach programme. This programme can help you further develop skills such as organisation, communication and team working. We also have an active student society, PhysSoc, which organises social events throughout the year. Our mentoring scheme gives new starters the opportunity to connect with more experienced physics students, helping you settle into university life.

Physics with Year in Industry MSci

This course gives you the opportunity to spend a year on placement with an industrial partner. The placement will allow you to apply your learning to a practical setting within a physics-related industry.

Industry experience is a great way to explore future career options. The skills you learn and the networks you build will greatly improve your employability.

Our unique final year will develop your professional and transferable skills with immersive, student-centred learning. You will focus on fewer but more specialised areas and complete a year-long research project. Under the guidance of our expert staff you will benefit from a range of learning styles. These include group work, projects, delivering seminars and independent learning.

Why choose this course?

Year-long placement

with an industrial partner 

Research project

supervised by one or more academic staff members

Specialise

in a range of options reflecting our expertise, from nanoscience to cosmology

Paid research project

available, where you can work directly with our researchers

Accredited

by the Institute of Physics


Entry requirements

All candidates are considered on an individual basis and we accept a broad range of qualifications. The entrance requirements below apply to 2023 entry.

UK entry requirements
A level A*AA-AAA

Please note: Applicants whose backgrounds or personal circumstances have impacted their academic performance may receive a reduced offer. Please see our contextual admissions policy for more information.

IB score 38 (6 in maths - analysis and approaches accepted, applications and interpretations not accepted - plus 6 in physics and 6 in a third subject all at Higher Level)

A levels

A*AA-AAA including both maths and physics with at least one of these subjects achieving an A*. For example, A* maths, A physics or A* physics, A maths. Contextual offer goes to AAA.

A pass is normally required in science practical tests, where these are assessed separately. 

Foundation progression options

If you don't meet our entry requirements there is the option to study the Engineering and Physical Sciences Foundation Programme. There is a course for UK students and one for EU/international students.

Mature Students

At the University of Nottingham, we have a valuable community of mature students and we appreciate their contribution to the wider student population. You can find lots of useful information on the mature students webpage.

Learning and assessment

How you will learn

Teaching methods

  • Computer labs
  • Lab sessions
  • Lectures
  • Placements
  • Seminars
  • Tutorials
  • Workshops
  • Problem classes

How you will be assessed

For a typical core module the examination carries a weight of 80%, the remaining 20% usually being allocated for regular coursework and workshop assignments throughout the year.

Experimental and other practical work is continually assessed through laboratory notebooks and formal reports.

Assessment methods

  • Coursework
  • Group project
  • Lab reports
  • Research project
  • Written exam

Contact time and study hours

Typically in the first year, there are 10 lectures per week including problem sheets and directed reading. Some modules are supplemented by additional workshops where you will have the opportunity to put your learning into practice. 

You will take part in weekly small group tutorials (typically five students), where your tutor will provide support and guidance. The practical modules involve working between three and six hours per week in laboratories. Subsequent years will vary with the largest change being no more weekly tutorials.

Year in industry

Industry experience is a great way to explore future career options and the skills you learn will greatly improve your employability.

The school has a dedicated Placement Coordinator to help you identify the company and role that suits your interests. We are part of the White Rose Industrial Physics Academy which will help to find your placement.

While on the year out you will pay a reduced tuition fee but will earn at least the National Minimum Wage for that year.

Placements

There are opportunities to take on a paid summer research internship within the School. 

Study Abroad and the Year in Industry are subject to students meeting minimum academic requirements. Opportunities may change at any time for a number of reasons, including curriculum developments, changes to arrangements with partner universities, travel restrictions or other circumstances outside of the university’s control. Every effort will be made to update information as quickly as possible should a change occur.

Modules

Build up your knowledge of the subject through modules in the core elements of physics. The first year modules will provide you with key practical, mathematical and computational skills.

From Newton to Einstein

How does the world really work?

We’ll take you from Newton’s mechanics, the pinnacle of the scientific revolution and the foundation of our understanding of modern physics, right through to our current understanding of physics with Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.

This module will underpin your entire physics degree. It contains all the ideas and principles that form the basis of our modern world. As you’ll find out, some of these ideas are very strange indeed.

You’ll study:

  • Newton’s laws of mechanics
  • The physics of waves and oscillations
  • Electricity and magnetism
  • Quantum mechanics and the foundations of modern physics
  • Einstein’s relativity
Introductory Experimental Physics

In this module you will receive: an introduction to the basic techniques and equipment used in experimental physics; training in the analysis and interpretation of experimental data; opportunities to observe phenomena discussed in theory modules and training in the skills of record keeping and writing scientific reports.

Frontiers in Physics

This module will cover major areas at the forefront of modern research, beyond those encountered in the core modules. You’ll be introduced to cutting-edge topics in medical physics, nanoscience, and astronomy by experts in each of these fields.

The frontiers of knowledge in physics are constantly changing. This module will cover major areas at the forefront of modern research, beyond those encountered in the core modules. You’ll be introduced to cutting-edge topics in medical physics, nanoscience, and astronomy by experts in each of these fields.

You’ll study:

  • Medical physics: the physics of sound and hearing; radioactivity in medicine; magnetic resonance imaging
  • Nanoscience: physics at the nanoscale; introduction to quantum mechanics; viewing and manipulating matter at the atomic level; chaos
  • Astronomy: stars, galaxies, and black holes; gravitational waves; the Big Bang; climate change
Computing For Physical Science

You’ll receive training in basic computing techniques using Python, and will be introduced to their use in solving physical problems.

You’ll spend two hours in computer classes and a one hour lecture each week. 

Quantitative Physics

This year-long module will train you in the mathematical modelling of physical processes. You’ll cover topics such as basic statistics and errors, dimensional analysis, curve sketching, orders of magnitude and estimates, and integrating problems in physics among others.

Basic Mathematical Methods for Physics

This year-long module covers the mathematical background required for the majority of undergraduate-level study of physics and astronomy. It will complement the material studied in other first-year physics degree modules.

The structure of the module has been designed to ease students into the level of maths required for the early stages of your degree. 

The topics covered in this module are:

  • Complex numbers
  • Differentiation and Taylor Series representations
  • Stationary points of two-dimensional functions
  • Integration techniques for functions of single and multiple variables
  • Partial derivatives of functions of multiple variables
  • Conic sections in plane geometry
  • Fourier representation of functions and the Fourier transform
  • Matrices and eigenvalue problems
  • Solving first-order ordinary differential equations (ODEs)
  • Solving homogeneous and inhomogeneous linear constant coefficient ODEs
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 Monday 26 September 2022.

You will continue to study the same core modules as BSc Physics. You'll also have the opportunity to choose a range of specialist modules in different areas of physics.

Core modules

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.

You’ll study:

  • 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
  • Wavepackets
  • 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
  • Spin
  • Zeeman effect, Rabi oscillations
  • 2D and 3D systems
  • Degeneracies
  • Hydrogen atom and the radial Schrödinger equation
  • Entanglement and non-locality
  • ... and, of course, that ever-frustrating feline...
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.

You’ll study:

  • 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!
Classical Fields

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.

You’ll study:

  • 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.
Wave Phenomena

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.

You’ll study:

  • 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
Intermediate Experimental Physics

In this module you will develop your experimental technique and gain experience of some key instruments and methods. The experiments will cover electrical measurements, optics and radiation. You will also learn how to use a computer to control experiments and to record data directly from measuring instruments.

In this module you will further develop your laboratory skills.

  • You will learn how to create software to perform automated laboratory experiments, such as driving a robot buggy, measuring the time taken for heat to flow through a thin metal sheet, and developing a sensitive temperature controller.
  • You will explore topics at greater depth by performing open-ended laboratory investigations in areas such as chaos, quantum physics, elementary particles, x-ray and gamma radiation, and magnetic resonance imaging.

Optional modules

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.

You’ll study:

  • 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.
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?
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.
Theory Toolbox

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.

You’ll study:

  • Differential calculus of complex functions
  • Advanced solution methods for differential equations such as the Schrödinger equation
  • Vector spaces of functions and Green functions
Health Physics

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.

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.
Molecular Biophysics

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.
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

After completing year two of your course, you will go on an industrial placement. The placement year will apply your learning to an industry setting and help you investigate future careers options. The school has a dedicated Placement Coordinator to help you identify the company and role that suits you.

Much of the core material remains common to the BSc degree, but the MSci students will receive additional support to help prepare for independent learning in the final year.

Core modules

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.
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.

You’ll study:

  • 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
Quantum Dynamics

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.

You’ll study:

  • 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.
Physics Project

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.

Enterprise for Chemists

Students will learn about the factors that lead to successful innovation, including evaluation and management of an idea/concept.

In addition, students will consider the factors required to extract the value from a product/concept (e.g. market awareness) and the potential routes to market available from both an academic and industrial viewpoint.

Optional modules

Extreme Astrophysics

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.

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.
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
  • Gelation
  • Crystallisation in soft systems
  • Liquid crystals
  • Molecular order in soft systems
  • Soft Nanotechnology
Semiconductor Physics

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.

You’ll study:

  • 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.
Scientific Computing

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. 

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.

You’ll learn:

  • 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.
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.

You’ll study:

  • 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
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.

You’ll study:

  • 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.

You’ll study:

  • 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
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).

You’ll study:

  • 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
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.
Molecular Biophysics

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.
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.

You’ll study:

  • 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. 

Health Physics

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.

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.
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?
Theory Toolbox

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.

You’ll study:

  • Differential calculus of complex functions
  • Advanced solution methods for differential equations such as the Schrödinger equation
  • Vector spaces of functions and Green functions
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

In the final year, you will work on a range of activities, projects and presentations. You will also carry out a major research project, either involving consultancy work in industry or collaboration within one of the research groups.

Core module

Physics Research Project

In this year-long module you’ll work on an original theoretical or practical problem directly relevant to the research taking place in the school or in a collaborating external organisation, such as industry or an overseas university. You’ll spend semester one researching the background to your chosen project and carry out your original research in semester two.

You’ll:

  • Choose a project from a wide range of options reflecting the broad range of research in the school (Astronomy; Particle Cosmology; MRI; Experimental and Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics)
  • Study the background and underlying physical principles of your choice
  • Carry out the original research and present your results orally and in a written report

Optional

The Politics, Perception and Philosophy of Physics

In this module you'll gain an appreciation of the broad societal impact of physics (and science in general). You'll be introduced to the politics surrounding science policy (on, e.g., global warming/renewable energy R&D) and research funding. You'll also explorre some of the key ideas in the philosophy of physics and science, particularly as they relate to public perception of scientific research.

Imaging and Data Processing

Modern science is data rich. For example, it’s not uncommon for a single experiment to generate terabytes, or even petabytes of data. As scientists, one of the major challenges we face is to collapse these vast data archives into meaningful information that we can understand, and use to draw conclusions.

In this module, you will learn the critical mathematical techniques that are used to do this. We will cover techniques from simple image processing, all the way to advanced blind source separation and machine learning. You will then put these techniques into practice, in a data processing project that may range from satellite imaging to measuring the amount of information stored by the human brain.

Modern Cosmology

This module introduces you to the key ideas behind modern approaches to our understanding of the role of inflation in the early and late universe, in particular through the formation of structure, the generation of anisotropies in the cosmic microwave background radiation, and the origin of dark energy. You’ll study through a series of staff lectures and student-led workshops.

Light and Matter

This module will extend previous work in the areas of atomic and optical physics to cover modern topics in the area of quantum effects in light-matter interactions. Some basic material will be introduced in six staff-led seminars and you’ll have around two hours of lectures and student-led workshops each week. 

Research Techniques in Astronomy

This module develops a range of modern astronomical techniques through student-centered approaches to topical research problems. You’ll cover a range of topics related to ongoing research in astronomy and astrophysics, and will encompass theoretical and observational approaches. This module is based on individual and group student-led activities involving the solution of topical problems including written reports and exercises, and a project.

Gravity

After more than 200 hundred years of Newtonian gravity, Einstein revolutionised the way we view space and time. This module will introduce you to the key concepts and tools used to describe gravitational physics as set down in General Relativity.

You’ll study:

  • How geometry plays a central role in physical measurements
  • How to compute the paths of objects in curved spacetime
  • The spacetime geometry of black holes
Quantum Transport

Electronic devices such as transistors and light emitting diodes are the basic building blocks of the technology that underpins all aspects of the modern world.

Previous modules on Solid State Physics and Semiconductor Physics should have given you a good understanding of how these devices work. The move to make these building blocks ever smaller leads us into regimes where we have to treat the quantum nature of electrons in solids much more seriously.

Research in this area has led to the development of entirely new types of electronic devices such as quantum well lasers. It has also uncovered entirely new physical phenomena like the quantum Hall effects. It is this new physics and its applications that is the topic of this module.

You will study:

  • The quantum theory of electrical transport in solids – elastic and inelastic scattering, conductance quantization
  • Quantum confinement – technology for producing 2d, 1d and 0d electronic systems
  • Quantum interference phenomena – weak and strong localization, Aharonov Bohm effect
  • Carbon Nanotubes and Graphene
  • Quantum Dots – tunnelling, charging effects, optoelectronic applications
  • Quantum Hall Effects and Topological Insulators.
Advanced Techniques for Nanoscience Research

The module provides a detailed presentation of advanced research topics in nanoscience. The focus is on analysis of experimental data (workshops), self-guided study of current literature (literature review) and developing an experimental proposal (group project).

You’ll study:

  • Atoms and molecules at surfaces: surfaces in ultra-high vacuum (UHV), characterisation of surfaces and molecules via scanning probe microscopy (SPM), diffusion at surfaces, on-surface synthesis.
  • Near-field optics and optical spectroscopy: advanced optical microscopy, vibrational properties of molecules and nanomaterials, nearfield scanning probe optical microscopy.
  • Magnetism at the Nanoscale: Magnetic ordering at the nanoscale, nanoscale magnetic imaging techniques and electrical control of magnetic order.
Modern Applications of Physics

This module will give you insights into how physics is applied in a range of academic and industrial environments including research to advance knowledge, product development and problem-solving.

How is physics used in the real world? This module will give you insights into how physics is applied in a range of academic and industrial environments including research to advance knowledge, product development and problem-solving.

You’ll gain:

  • knowledge of the areas of research conducted in the School of Physics and Astronomy and their applications.
  • insights into how physicists work in industry from presentations given by invited speakers from companies and national facilities
  • experience of working in a team in which you will use the skills you have gained to solve problems such as those faced in industry.
Magnetic Resonance

This module will explain how the intrinsic spin of nuclei and electrons is exploited in magnetic resonance experiments. It will describe the classical and quantum pictures of the phenomenon of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and show why NMR forms such a powerful analytical tool, today. Basic electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) will also be described, along with the equipment used for NMR and EPR, and some applications of these techniques. 

Order, Disorder and Fluctuations

This module will develop the modern theoretical description of phase transitions and critical phenomena and provide an introduction to the dynamics of non-equilibrium systems. Topics to be covered will include:

 • ordered phases of matter;

 •  order parameters;

 •  scaling behaviour at critical points;

 •  mean-field approaches;

 •  finite-size scaling;

 • stochastic processes;

 • Langevin dynamics and the Fokker-Planck equation.
Applications, both within and beyond, condensed matter physics will be discussed.

Quantum Coherent Devices

In earlier modules on quantum mechanics, the focus was mostly on individual quantum systems. In this module we will investigate quantum systems that can interact with each other. These will be solid-state devices in which the interactions and behaviours are engineered to create the desired properties. We will describe the theoretical and experimental techniques needed to create the solid-state devices that are now being used to make quantum computers and quantum sensors.

You’ll study:

  • Composite quantum systems – quantum systems that are coupled together
  • Superconducting quantum devices and their use in quantum computers
  • Nanoelectromechanical systems and NV- defects in diamond
  • Experiments that probe the boundary between quantum and classical physics.
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

Fees and funding

UK students

£9,250
Per year

International students

To be confirmed in 2022*
Keep checking back for more information

*For full details including fees for part-time students and reduced fees during your time studying abroad or on placement (where applicable), see our fees page.

If you are a student from the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you may be asked to complete a fee status questionnaire and your answers will be assessed using guidance issued by the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) .

Additional costs

All students will need at least one device to approve security access requests via Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). We also recommend students have a suitable laptop to work both on and off-campus. For more information, please check the equipment advice.

As a student on this course, you should factor some additional costs into your budget, alongside your tuition fees and living expenses.

You should be able to access most of the books you’ll need through our libraries, though you may wish to purchase your own copies. If you do these would cost around £40.

Due to our commitment to sustainability, we don’t print lecture notes but these are available digitally. You will be given £5 worth of printer credits a year. You are welcome to buy more credits if you need them. It costs 4p to print one black and white page.

If you study abroad, you need to consider the travel and living costs associated with your country of choice. This may include visa costs and medical insurance.

Personal laptops are not compulsory as we have computer labs that are open 24 hours a day but you may want to consider one if you wish to work at home.

Scholarships and bursaries

Home students*

Over one third of our UK students receive our means-tested core bursary, worth up to £1,000 a year. Full details can be found on our financial support pages.

* A 'home' student is one who meets certain UK residence criteria. These are the same criteria as apply to eligibility for home funding from Student Finance.

International students

We offer a range of international undergraduate scholarships for high-achieving international scholars who can put their Nottingham degree to great use in their careers.

International scholarships

Careers

Studying advanced physics will enable you to become more adaptable and better at problem solving. These are invaluable traits for any career. Our students go on to work in a variety of industries, including engineering, aerospace, IT, and finance, as well as academic research. Others use their training in communication skills to enter teaching or science communication careers.

During your industrial placement year, you will gain valuable real-life experience and expand your network.

Employers of our graduates include Accenture, BBC, EDF Energy, Jaguar Land Rover, and various NHS Trusts. Roles include Trainee Clinical Scientist, Medical Physicist, Systems Engineer, Data Analyst and Software Development Engineer.

Average starting salary and career progression

73.9% of undergraduates from the School of Physics & Astronomy secured graduate level employment or further study within 15 months of graduation. The average annual salary for these graduates was £27,714.*

*HESA Graduate Outcomes 2019/20 data published in 2022. The Graduate Outcomes % is derived using The Guardian University Guide methodology. The average annual salary is based on graduates working full-time within the UK.

Studying for a degree at the University of Nottingham will provide you with the type of skills and experiences that will prove invaluable in any career, whichever direction you decide to take.

Throughout your time with us, our Careers and Employability Service can work with you to improve your employability skills even further; assisting with job or course applications, searching for appropriate work experience placements and hosting events to bring you closer to a wide range of prospective employers.

Have a look at our careers page for an overview of all the employability support and opportunities that we provide to current students.

The University of Nottingham is consistently named as one of the most targeted universities by Britain’s leading graduate employers (Ranked in the top ten in The Graduate Market in 2013-2020, High Fliers Research).

Institute of Physics

The Institute of Physics accredits bachelor and integrated masters degree programmes for the purposes of the professional award of Chartered Physicist. Chartered Physicist requires an IOP accredited degree followed by an appropriate period of experience during which professional skills are acquired. 

An accredited integrated masters degree fulfills the academic requirement for Chartered Physicist status.

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Important information

This online prospectus has been drafted in advance of the academic year to which it applies. Every effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content) are likely to occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for the course where there has been an interval between you reading this website and applying.