Course structure and content 

The Physical Sciences for Health (Sci-Phy-4-Health) programme is an integrated course enabling each student to achieve a MSc and subsequently a PhD award over a period of four years. 

Please note this programme is no longer accepting new entrants.

Year 1: Taught modules and mini-projects (180 credits)

Taught modules (6 x 10 credits)

The following six taught modules are designed to equip students with the essential background knowledge and practical skills for their research projects:  

Bioscience for engineers


Seminars, practical exercise class sessions, team working sessions, individual study, problem sessions, small group discussions.


This module develops knowledge of the molecular structures and functions of carbohydrates, lipids and DNA, with attention to the cell cycle, gene expression and cell signalling. The seminars cover histology and physiology, and explore industrial applications such as tissue engineering.

By the end of the module students should be able to:

  • Describe the structures, important characteristics and functions of carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids, peptides and proteins in biological systems
  • Describe the structural and functional characteristics of cells, tissues and selected body systems
  • Explain the processes involved in cellular respiration, gene expression, DNA replication and cell division
  • Explain how cellular behaviour can be controlled through chemical signalling
  • Give an overview of the current applications of cells in bioprocesses
  • Demonstrate safe and appropriate handling of microorganisms


Coursework 20%, written examination 80%.

Computational tools for modelling and analysis


Lectures, seminars, laboratory/exercise classes.


This module introduces concepts, techniques and tools for the computational modelling and analysis data from medicine and biology. The key schemes for data representation and a survey of state-of-the art methods for statistical data analysis, machine learning, and optimisation, classification, cluster analysis, data reduction and image analysis will be presented in the context of examples drawn from a range of sources of biomedical data. The module will provide both theoretical background and practical experience of implementing and applying the techniques.

  • Explain and apply mathematical and computational methods for the modelling and analysis of biomedical data.
  • Analyse biomedical research problems and identify suitable modelling and analysis strategies.
  • Write software to implement a range of modelling and analysis methods, and critically appraise their use on different problems.


Coursework 30%, written examination 70%.

Molecules and materials in biomedicine


Lecture/seminar classes including problem solving and small group discussions, presentations, guided study, demonstrations of instruments in action.


This module introduces key concepts in the state-of-the-art uses of Molecules, Nanoparticles and Materials in Biomedicine. The module will explore the designs and approaches used for creating molecular probes that can be used to image biological systems (including contrast agents, luminescent probes and Raman probes and spectroscopy) together with related agents that are therapeutics.

By the end of the module students should be able to:

  •  Explain the physical science principles behind the main uses of molecules and materials in biomedicine.
  •  Critically analyse and justify which approaches will suit what types of biomedical problems and explain the advantages and limitations.
  •  Explain the design features of molecular probes and therapeutics and how they might be applied in research in biomedical imaging science and for therapy.
  •  Analyse how a novel probe or therapeutic might interact with biomolecules, suggesting potential targets and techniques that might be used to assess those interactions.
  •  Analyse and explain what materials might be suited to what biomedical challenges and why.
  •  Critically analyse research publications in molecular and materials physical science applied to biomedicine.


Coursework 30%, oral examination 70%.

Physical science analytical and measurement techniques


Lecture/seminar classes including problem solving and small group discussions, presentations, guided study.


This module introduces the main physical science concepts, analytical measurement techniques and tools used for biomedical research and will explore the state of the art in research including in the use of physical science applied to imaging in the biomedical sciences. The module will provide practical experience of using a subset of the techniques. Topics will include optics and microscopies, mass spectrometry and mass spectrometry imaging, NMR and MRI, electron and scanned probe microscopies, X-rays and synchrotron techniques, NIR imaging, and the underlying physical science being such imaging and measurement.

  • Identify, justify and appreciate the state-of-the art in analytical measurement techniques and tools applied to Biomedicine, and the physical science challenges that need to be addressed to advance research in the field.
  • Critically analyse research publications in physical sciences analytical measurement techniques and tools applied to biomedicine.
  • Identify and justify the importance of topical biomedical research problems which will benefit from advances in analytical measurement techniques and tools.
  • Explain the principles of the main physical analytical measurement techniques used in biomedicine.
  • Critically analyse and justify which techniques might suit to what types of biomedical problems and explain the advantages and limitations.


Coursework 30%, oral examination 70%.

Frontiers in biomedicine


Lecture/seminar classes including problem solving and small group discussions, presentations, guided study.


This module will focus on introducing the three healthcare challenges and providing underpinning knowledge required for approaching research projects in these in: Rebuilding the ageing and diseased body; Understanding cardiovascular disease; Improving trauma and emergency medicine. The seminars will highlight the state-of-the-art in research and outline key problems where physical sciences may be applied. Underpinning areas covered will include: The cardiovascular and respiratory systems; the immune system; the neuromuscular system; hard tissues - tooth and bone; Regenerative medicine and stem cell technology

  • Identify, justify, rationalise and critically analyse the state-of-the art in biomedicine with a particular focus on areas relevant to the key health challenges.
  • Critically analyse biological and medical research publications related to imaging, and communicate this analysis.
  • Identify, justify, rationalise and critically analyse the application of physical sciences to solve topical biomedical research problems, especially those influencing the outcomes in disorders related to ageing, cardiovascular disease and traumatic injury.


Coursework 40%, oral examination 60%.

Bench to market


Lectures, seminars, exercise/laboratory classes, group discussions.


From the latest technologies through to post market surveillance activities – this module looks at the stages involved in the multimillion pound process of biomedical device development. You will learn about preclinical studies, clinical trials, manufacturing considerations and regulatory procedures.

By the end of the module students should be able to:

  • Describe and demonstrate an understanding of the key stages in the development of a biomedical product.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the regulatory and quality environment of the  industry.


Examination 100% .

The modules cover both theoretical and laboratory/instrumentation-based components. Core material is taught by dedicated centre staff while detailed applications in various biomedical areas are presented as seminars by the relevant specialists including other academic staff and our industrial partners. Our ethos throughout the program is of individual support starting from the very first year. Thus where specific needs or interests are identified, an individual programme of guided study and tutorial support is offered and monitored through the training needs analysis process. 

Transferable Skills Training

work-at-computer-199One further module, which extends into the second year, provides generic transferable skills including research ethics, personal development planning, teamwork, project management and communication. The contents of this module are delivered by the Centre Staff, the University Graduate School and experts from the University Commercialisation and IP teams. To encourage awareness of the public understanding of science, students develop displays and activities showing different aspects of imaging for use in the Birmingham Science Museum, ThinkTank. A press release training session (led by the University Press Office) includes examples of how to develop appropriate journalistic contacts (including using scientific bulletin boards) and a practical session leading to a Sci-Phy press release.

  • Professional and transferable skills (1 x 30 credits)

Mini-projects (2 x 45 credits)

Each student undertakes two different mini-projects to learn core experimental and research skills. Often, students chose one of these projects to continue into their main PhD research topic. All projects will involve physical science and computational/data analysis and are applied to a biomedical challenge.

Each project is supervised by three members of academic staff (one for each of the three areas). One supervisor is the lead supervisor.

  • Practical experience in physical science, computer science and biomedicine
  • Interdisciplinary projects chosen by the students
  • Opportunity to explore different areas of research before choosing a full project

Each of the mini-projects is assessed using a different form of assessment:

MP1: A written project report, oral presentation and viva

MP2: Preparation of a draft journal paper and poster, along with an associated “flash" presentation at a Physical Sciences for Health workshop.


The taught part of the course and mini-projects are followed by a self-selected three-year PhD research project. In order to progress to this full project in the second year of the course students must: 

Pass ALL taught modules (= 50%)

Obtain = 60% across the two mini-projects

Obtain = 60% over the taught and skills modules 


Years 2 to 4: Research 

Like mini-projects, full PhD research projects are carried out under the supervision of three researchers from different but complementary disciplines. One of the supervisors is the lead supervisor.

At the end of year 1 supervisors propose outline projects, or students may also propose projects with Director approval. Students work up their selected outline into a two- or three-page proposal for approval, and then start work on the project in the autumn.

A wide range of research topics are available, for examples follow this link to the students page to see details of projects undertaken by current and past students.

Buddy scheme

To promote interactions and ensure students continue to develop a broad base of expertise, a buddy scheme pairs each student with another student from different background and on a different project. Buddies attend each other's review meetings and are there to support one another throughout the PhD. 

All years

Throughout the programme there are plentiful opportunities for students to develop transferable as well as scientific skills, and to be engaged in science communication and outreach activities.

Research seminars

The CDT hosts a programme of seminars and workshops with internal and external academic and industrial speakers, which all students attend throughout their studies. These seminars further underpin the cross-disciplinary nature of the centre by ensuring students are continually exposed to new developments in a variety of research areas at the interface between physical and biomedical sciences. See the seminars page for details of upcoming talks.

Student led seminars

In addition to the research seminar series, CDT students also organise their own fortnightly seminars. These sessions give every student in the CDT the opportunity to develop their presentation skills in a supportive environment, and receive feedback and advice on their research from the network of CDT students. 

Additional training

Students participate in CDT-wide workshops and are are encouraged to undertake additional training courses (one module per year) specific to their chosen research area and chosen from the existing specialised MSc level provision at the University of Birmingham. CDT students automatically become members of the University Graduate School, which provides a variety of courses such as IT skills and presentation skills.


After science communication training in the first year all students are registered as STEM Ambassadors, and encouraged to actively engage with this role and deliver outreach activities. In addition to this all students jointly organise activities for and attend the annual 'Meet the Scientist' event at the Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum.