This document provides information for third year students taking the BSc or MPhys degree courses in Physics with Astrophysics.
We hope that you will find this document useful, and that it will help you to successfully complete your third year at University. If you consider that there is information which could usefully be added, or if you discover an error, please inform either the Director of Studies or the Senior Tutor.
The second year introduced some of the most fundamental ideas of physics. When we try to apply these to explain the phenomena we observe, we nearly always require one more ingredient---approximation. In the third year, we will see that it is the case in nearly all branches of physics.
The type of approximations used to find satisfactory explanations of what we observe often turn out to be similar whether the underlying laws are those of classical mechanics, statistical mechanics or quantum mechanics. Typically, one sets up an idealised model of some phenomenon, solves the equations of the model (often with further approximations) and relates the results back to what is observed experimentally. Sometimes the same model and approximations turn out to be appropriate in very different circumstances. For example, the behaviour of electrons in metals and in white dwarf stars is described by the same model.
If you are on the BSc course, you will spend much of your time working on your project. It will provide you with the experience of exploring a particular area of astrophysics in depth, and of working with your supervisor to bring it to a successful conclusion within the permitted time. Through the project report it also serves to further develop your communication skills.