Most of the core courses have a format based upon lectures by an active researcher in the field. However, the learning experience is not just about lectures. The lectures are supported by tutorials, examples classes, skills development classes, experimental physics, computing laboratories, project work and self-directed learning.
We provide a high-quality education and skills training which prepares students not only for further study and research in Physics, but also for a wide range of possible future careers. During your degree programme you would not only have developed a deep understanding of Physics and its importance to our society, but would have gained many transferable skills which are sought after by employers. Our students gain skills in general problem solving, computing, presenting papers as posters or orally, report writing, analytical techniques, and experimental design and techniques, to name but a few.
We are a large well staffed department and so we can offer a weekly tutorial to all our students in the first two years. The member of staff not only acts as your Academic Tutor but also your Personal Tutor. Tutorial groups are no larger than four students and you will get to know your tutor well and have a ready source of academic and personal help throughout your studies. In the third year tutorials are replaced by Physics Example Classes, but you will still be assigned a personal tutor. In the fourth year there is a large emphasis on the research project where you will have regular close contact with your project supervisor.
Our laboratories contain state-of-the-art equipment, allowing you to pursue a wide range of experimental interests throughout your degree. As a taster, in your first year, you will find yourself using a CCD spectrometer for quantum mechanics, or perhaps a using Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers to follow and then compute the orbital tracks of satellites over the Earth. The laboratories are designed to gradually develop your experimental skills, preparing you for independent experimental investigations for either projects, which occur in all years, or for your career.
If you are interested in astronomy, we have probably the best equipped teaching observatory in the UK. This computer controlled telescope was designed and developed by Dr. K H Elliott (Astrophysics Research Group) who was awarded the prestigious Electric Nuclear Prize for innovations in experimental physics. This highlights the staffs’ strong commitment to developing the experimental physics laboratories.
Over the last few years, staff have developed specialist laboratories and experiments for our theory, astrophysics, space research, particle physics, and medical physics programmes. This is part of our continuing development to all our physics laboratories.
To understand physics at degree level, mathematical techniques beyond an A-level standard are necessary. In the first year you will find two mathematical streams open to you depending on ability and confidence. The number and nature of the mathematics courses that you will take depend on the specialisation you select – the theoretical courses are designed for those with stronger mathematical inclinations.
Core computing courses are run in the first two years, where you will learn everything from how to write a professional-looking report to simple mathematical modelling, and data analysis. Later years enable you to undertake either computational physics projects or learn additional languages, such a C++. The skills that are acquired result in a large number of our graduates being sought by the computing industry.
Communication skills and problem solving
An important skill for a professional physicist is the ability to simplify a problem to a soluble mathematical form whatever its initial context, whilst retaining the essential physics. Through skills sessions and general problems classes you will develop the ability to solve problems which do not readily fall into a single, well-defined subject area. Of course, once the problem is solved, a scientists needs to be able to communicate the results, and in a manner that is appropriate for the audience. The ability to write and speak clearly is important, and various classes and practice sessions help students develop these skills. Another important skill is the ability to work in a team, and to use the abilities of the individuals of that team to the greatest advantage. This skill is developed in our workshops and project classes.
In ALL years you will have an opportunity to undertake project work. The major project in the third year is Group Studies. In groups of 20 students you will be given a task that requires you to work in a large team, solving a problem of a much greater magnitude than could be attempted by an individual student. For example, you might have to design and conduct an experiment to study the properties of a superconducting material; or analyse the decay and annihilation of exotic sub-atomic particles using data collected by one of the massive particle accelerators at CERN in Switzerland.
If you select the MSci programme a large part of your time in the fourth year will be devoted to an independent research project in one of our research groups. Recent projects have included research on Superconductivity, Black Holes, Scanning Electron Microscopy and Bose Condensed Atoms.
The balance between experimental work, computing, analytical calculation and design will depend on the project you select and the specialist modules you have previously studied.
Plenty of options
In your later years of study we are able to offer plenty of options for you to choose from. Examples include Laser Physics, Plasma Physics, Complex Variable Theory, Evolution of Galaxies, Astrophysics, Management Economics, Fluid Mechanics, Atomic Physics, Chaos, Fission and Fusion, Elementary Particles, Semiconductors, Computing, and Interstellar Medium to name a few.