Physics and Astrophysics BSc

Undergraduate degree course in Physics and Astrophysics BSc FF35:

Physics addresses some of the deepest questions of how the universe works and explores nature beyond the bounds of human experience. Our staff conducts research from the longest length and time scales - e.g. the role of dark matter in the structure of the Universe and mimicking the Big Bang in heavy nuclear collisions - to the smallest length and time scales, e.g. the hunt for the Higgs boson and other aspects of elementary particle physics.

In between these extremes, understanding how the Sun and stars work, the physics and biophysics of nanoscale structures, quantum states of matter such as superconductivity and ultracold atom gases, and metamaterials (the physics of invisible cloaks) are all key to our research themes.

You can benefit directly from this research activity by joining us and being taught by internationally acknowledged experts at the frontiers of physics; and by taking part in the research itself in the final years of your degree.

EU Referendum

Answering your questions and concerns about the outcome of the EU referendum.

Adam Greenhill

Adam Greenhill

MSci Theoretical Physics

“I chose Birmingham as the Physics department is world-renowned, which for students translates to excellent teaching and learning practices in a large number of fields. The best thing about studying here, for me, is the sense of community. The campus has expanded much beyond the original red-brick buildings, providing modern buildings with state of the art facilities. There are also plenty of sports teams and societies for all tastes and interests.”

Astrophysics is the application of physics to understanding the Universe at large. Our Physics and Astrophysics programme is for those who are fascinated by astronomy, and are looking for an in-depth treatment that also gives a good grounding in physics, with a correspondingly wide range of employment opportunities after graduation. In addition to a wide variety of lecture courses, highlights of the programme include a special Astro-laboratory in Year 1, and group projects dealing with the nearby and distant Universe in Year 3. The University has a purpose-built Observatory, on the outskirts of the city, equipped with a grating spectrograph and cooled CCD detector. Students use this for their own projects, to study the properties of stars and galaxies.

Hear from our students

First year

In Year 1 you will take 40 credits of core physics modules covering relativity and classical mechanics, optics and waves, quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, and thermal physics. As physics is an experimental science, you take 20 credits of laboratory work, including the specialist astrolab which provides students with astronomical data from observatories around the world for computer analysis. You will also take the 10 credit Introduction to Astrophysics module.You will be taught the necessary mathematics for physicists in a 20 credit module. Transferable skills such as problem solving, oral and written presentation, and career development are covered in a 10 credit Communication Skills module. Finally you can take a 20 credit optional module outside physics.

Second year (contributes 25% to overall degree mark)

In Year 2 you will take 50 credits of core physics modules developing the ideas from year 1 in greater depth, and introducing new topics such as nuclear and condensed matter physics. This material is supported by 20 credits of laboratory work, including an open-ended astrophysics project in semester 2. The relevant mathematics is developed in a 20 credit module, whilst transferable skills are further enhanced in a 10 credit Communication Skills module. Finally, you continue to develop your understanding of astrophysics by taking 20 credits on the structure and observation of the universe.

Third year (contributes 75% to overall degree marks)

In Year 3 there are a wide range of physics options for you to choose from, of which you must take at least 20 credits in the astrophysics area. You will undertake a 20 credit group project working as a team with a group of staff to tackle topics such as detecting extrasolar planets, or observing the first generation of galaxies. You also take 20 credits of advanced laboratory, including the 10 credit observatory laboratory which uses the University’s observatory. Finally there is a 10 credit synoptic module to synthesise your knowledge across the whole discipline.

Year in Computer Science

Between your second and third year, you can choose to do a year’s study in Computer Science, ideal if you expect your final career to involve a significant amount of computing.

Related links

Why study this course

Our School of Physics and Astronomy is one of the largest in the country, where internationally recognised research groups work on everything from the smallest fundamental particles through nanoscale physics to cosmology. Our excellence in research and teaching means that we can offer you a strong understanding of core physics, combined with many opportunities to pursue your own interests.

The latest Research Assessment Exercise places us joint fifth in the country. This strength in research enables us to offer specialised modules and projects, delivered by research-active staff working at the cutting edge of physics. We're proud of our small-group teaching environment which includes skills-development sessions, problem-based learning classes and weekly tutorials in groups of no more than four students. The School has well-equipped, state-of-the-art laboratories and computing facilities, and the University has its own observatory on the outskirts of Birmingham.

All our Physics degree programmes are accredited by the Institute of Physics (IoP). This independent, rigorous assessment of our programmes has several advantages for our students. For example, holders of accredited degrees are eligible to follow a route to corporate membership of the Institute and to the CPhys professional qualification. You can find more information at www.iop.org.

Modules

Year 1 compulsory modules

Semester 1:

  • Quantum Mechanics 1
  • Optics and Waves
  • Classical Mechanics and Relativity
  • Mathematics for Physicists 1
  • Physics Laboratory 1
  • Physics and Communication Skills 1
  • Module Outside the Main Discipline

Semester 2:

  • Electromagnetism and Electric Circuits
  • Temperature and Matter
  • Mathematics for Physicists 1
  • Astro Laboratory
  • Introduction to Astrophysics
  • Module Outside the Main Discipline

Year 2 compulsory modules

Semester 1:

  • Classical Mechanics and Relativity 2
  • Quantum Mechanics 2
  • Particles and Nuclei and A Quantum Approach to Solids
  • Mathematics for Physicists 2
  • Physics Laboratory 2 P
  • Physics and Communication Skill 2

Semester 2:

  • Electromagnetism 2
  • Statistical Physics and Entropy
  • Mathematics for Physicists 2
  • Astrophysics Projects
  • Observing the Universe
  • Structure in the Universe

Year 3

Semester 1 compulsory modules

  • Quantum Mechanics 3
  • Statistical Physics
  • Observatory Laboratory or Introduction to C++

Semester 1 optional modules

  • Observational Cosmology
  • Numerical Modelling of Physical Systems
  • Fission and Fusion
  • Images and Communication
  • Medical Imaging
  • Semiconductor Optoelectronics
  • Relativistic Astrophysics of Black Holes
  • The Life and Death of Stars
  • Physics Critique

Semester 2 compulsory modules:

  • Atomic Physics
  • Group Studies
  • General Physics

Semester 2 optional modules:

  • Particle Physics
  • Nuclear Physics
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Nanoscale Physics
  • Insights into Stellar Structure
  • Evolution of Cosmic Structure
  • Asteroseismology and Exoplanets
  • Biological Nanomachines
  • Physics Teaching in Schools

Please note: The modules listed on the website for this programme are regularly reviewed to keep them up-to-date, which may require changes to module content. Also, key members of staff may leave the University and this necessitates a review of the modules that are offered. Where the module is no longer available we will let you know as soon as we can and help you make other choices.

Fees and funding

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2017/18 are as follows:
£9,250 (UK/EU) - TBC
£19,710 (International Students)
Funding opportunities are available.

The Government has announced that it will raise the cap for undergraduate fees in line with inflation.  Assuming that the relevant regulations are passed by Parliament, which is expected to happen in Autumn 2016, the University of Birmingham will increase fees to the revised amount, expected to be £9,250 for home/EU students. Visit our tuition fees page for more information.

Physics and Astronomy Scholarships

Please view scholarships and awards offered by the School of Physics and Astronomy.

Entry requirements

Number of A levels required:
3
Typical offer:
A*AA / AAAA
Required subjects and grades:
A level Mathematics and A level Physics grades A*A (or AA as part of four A level offer). You must also pass the practical element of any reformed science A levels which include Biology, Chemistry and Physics taught from 2015.
General Studies:
Accepted as 4th A level in AAAA entry criteria.

Additional information:

International Baccalaureate Diploma: 7,6,6 at Higher Level, including Mathematics and Physics, with a minimum of 32 points overall. 7 must be in Mathematics or Physics.

BTEC Extended Diploma, Diploma and Subsidiary Diploma are only accepted in addition A level Mathematics and A level Phsyics.

Other qualifications are considered – learn more about entry requirements.

In these programmes there is an option to take an intercalated year in Computer Science; use your chosen code and put ‘computer’ in the ‘further details’ section of your UCAS application form. Contact the admissions team for further details.

International students:

Standard English language requirements apply . Learn more about international entry requirements.

Depending on your chosen course of study, you may also be interested in one of our foundation pathways, which offer specially structured programmes for international students whose qualifications are not accepted for direct entry to UK universities. Further details can be found on Birmingham International Academy web pages.

How to apply

Apply through UCAS at www.ucas.com  
Learn more about applying 

There is an option to take an intercalated year in Computer Science; use your chosen code and put ‘computer’ in the 'further details' section of your UCAS application form.

Key Information Set (KIS)

Key Information Sets (KIS) are comparable sets of information about full- or part-time undergraduate courses and are designed to meet the information needs of prospective students.

All KIS information has been published on the Unistats website and can also be accessed via the small advert, or ‘widget’, below. On the Unistats website you are able to compare all the KIS data for each course with data for other courses.

The development of Key Information Sets (KIS) formed part of HEFCE’s work to enhance the information that is available about higher education. They give you access to reliable and comparable information in order to help you make informed decisions about what and where to study.

The KIS contains information which prospective students have identified as useful, such as student satisfaction, graduate outcomes, learning and teaching activities, assessment methods, tuition fees and student finance, accommodation and professional accreditation.

You will be taught by a mixture of professors, doctors and postgraduates, thereby receiving a rich diversity of academic knowledge and experience.You can find out more about the members of staff in the School of Physics and Astronomy here where you can read about their qualifications, publication history and specific areas of interest.

What you can expect
Throughout your Physics programmes you can expect an average of about 20 hours of contact time per week comprising of lectures, laboratory based activity and tutorials. These figures may vary due to module choice and progression. Programmes including a Year in International Study or a Year in Computer Science may include a different amount of contact hours during that year. This figure may also vary on The Theoretical Physics and Applied Mathematics programmes due to the teaching of the School of Mathematics modules.

How will I be taught?
As a Birmingham student, you are joining the academic elite and have the privilege of learning from world-leading experts in the field of physics and astronomy. Throughout your studies, you'll be encouraged to become an independent and self-motivated learner, thriving on challenge and opportunities to think for yourself.

Personal tutor: The School has a comprehensive welfare system based around academic and personal tutors, and led by the Senior Tutor, who will see students at any time. Our tutors support you throughout your studies to help you in three important areas: supporting your academic progress, developing transferable skills and dealing with any welfare issues. You can also raise any issues related to your studies at the Staff Student Committee or, for the fastest response, the weekly meeting of Student Representatives. During your first year it is important that you have a smooth transition into University. You will be able to talk to your tutors about this and discuss if there are particular areas where you need support.

Contact hours: In your first year, the course is delivered as lectures, small group workshops, laboratories, computer-based activities, enquiry-based learning and tutorials. Much of your learning will be carried out in small groups, including laboratory work, examples classes, and tutorials. There's a strong emphasis on project work throughout your degree, especially in your final year.

Laboratory-based work is an integral part of our Physics degree programme, vital to develop your experimental practical skills, and to reinforce concepts introduced in lectures or to explore a particular phenomenon. You will benefit from our recent £1 million investment into additional first-class physics-teaching laboratory facilities.

Lectures form the major source of information for most modules and are delivered in a variety of styles by enthusiastic staff, in our state-of-the-art lecture theatres.

Small group tutorials support your lectures in years one and two, consisting of groups of no more than four meeting once a week with an academic or researcher. By year three you'll be choosing from a wide range of options and specialisms, beyond the scope of a single tutor. Instead you can sign up for 'supervisions' - specialist tutorials given by a senior academic carrying out research into each specific area.  

Project work allows you to take part in our leadingresearch activity across the full breadth of the subject - from astrophysics to quantum matter and particle physics - in every year of your degree. It's an unprecedented chance to gain easy access to world experts and cutting-edge equipment in all the major branches of the subject.

Examples classes focus on working through problems issued by the lecturer and are usually run by a lecturer with the help of one or more graduate students. They're a chance to check your learning and reflect on particular examples.

Web-based learning is an essential part of the programme, with all our modules linked to iVLE - a virtual learning environment that gives you access to lecture notes, additional learning units, self-tests and supplementary interactive information to support your learning.

Assessment methods

Each module is assessed independently with most containing some components of continuous assessment. Typically, year one and two lecture modules contain 20% continuous assessment in the form of weekly problem sheets. Some modules are completely assessed by coursework. Assessment methods include end-of-year examinations in May and June, written assignments, oral and poster presentations, computer-based tests, and laboratory and project reports.

During your first year you will undergo a formal 'transition' review to see how you are getting on and whether there are particular areas where you need support. This is in addition to your tutor who is based in Physics and can help with any academic issues you encounter.

Feedback is an essential part of learning and we use a wide range of methods, such as written feedback on your assessments, oral feedback during examples classes, workshop sessions, laboratories, and one-on-one discussions with your tutors. You'll receive prompt feedback on each assessment, highlighting the positives of your work as well as any areas that need more attention. You will also be given feedback on any exams that you take; if you need to resit an exam, we will ensure that you receive detailed feedback and support to enable you to learn for the future.

Feedback shows that 90%-95% of our students go on to work or study on graduation. Of those in employment, typically, around 90% gain graduate-level jobs and are earning salaries in the region of £18,000-£26,000 pa six months after graduation.

Preparing for your career is one of the first things you need to think about when you start university. As a Physics graduate, you have great potential to gain an intellectually stimulating, well-paid and high-powered job. You could pursue a career in research in an academic or industrial environment, or you could work in product development for a high-tech company. You could also apply your analytical and computational skills through scientific consultancy. This is just the beginning, with many other careers open to you, including teaching, patent law, and mathematical finance.

Studying physics at Birmingham is much more than attending lectures. As you progress through your degree, we place a great emphasis on teaching you transferable skills: mathematical, computational, problem solving, group working, management and presentational. They will all contribute to making you more attractive to potential employers.

Alumni Brigid Jones (MSci Physics) talks about her time at Birmingham

Video transcript

Whether you have a clear idea of where your future aspirations lie or want to consider the broad range of opportunities available once you have a Birmingham degree, our Careers Network and the School's own career tutor can help you to secure research or industry placements and, eventually, your graduate job.

Our unique careers guidance service is tailored to your academic subject area, offering a specialised team (in each of the five academic colleges) who can give you expert advice. Once you have a career in your sights, one-to-one support with CVs and job applications will help give you the edge. In addition, our employer-endorsed, award-winning Personal Skills Award (PSA) recognises your extra-curricular activities, and provides an accredited employability programme designed to improve your career prospects.

Your Birmingham degree is evidence of your ability to succeed in a demanding academic environment. Employers target Birmingham students for their drive, diversity, communication and problem-solving skills, their team-working abilities and cultural awareness, and our graduate employment statistics have continued to climb at a rate well above national trends. If you make the most of the wide range of services you will be able to develop your career from the moment you arrive.

Past Physics and Astronomy graduates have gone into a very wide range of challenging and rewarding careers in destinations which include:

  • NASA
  • NHS - Medical Physics
  • Rolls-Royce
  • EDF Energy
  • BAE Systems
  • Barclays Capital
  • PriceWaterhouse Coopers
  • Accenture - Technology Services

University Careers Network

Preparation for your career should be one of the first things you think about as you start university. Whether you have a clear idea of where your future aspirations lie or want to consider the broad range of opportunities available once you have a Birmingham degree, our Careers Network can help you achieve your goal.

If you make the most of the wide range of services you will be able to develop your career from the moment you arrive.

Visit the careers section of the University website for further information.

Professional accreditation

Accredited by the Institute of Physics.


Birmingham has transformed into one of Europe's most exciting cities. It is more than somewhere to study; it is somewhere to build a successful future.

Clubs and societies

The Guild has over 200 Societies, community volunteering groups and associations for you to join; they cover every topic and activity that you can think of - there really is something for everyone.

The Poynting Physical Society is the oldest student society at Birmingham. Other societies which may be of interest include the Astronomical Society , Theoretical Physics Society and the Nuclear Society

Accommodation

Coming to Birmingham might be your first time living away from home. Our student accommodation will allow you to enjoy your new-found independence in safe, welcoming and sociable surroundings.

The City of Birmingham

One of Europe's most exciting destinations, Birmingham is brimming with life and culture, making it a wonderful place to live, study and work.

Our students fall in love with the city - around 40% of our graduates choose to make Birmingham their home.