Bachelor of Science (BSc)
3 years full-time
27 September 2021
Department of Study
Department of Physics
Location of Study
University of Warwick
On our Physics with Astrophysics (BSc) degree, you will join one of our two astrophysics groups. You will be mentored by, and work on projects with, astrophysicists.
This course is accredited by the Institute of Physics
Astrophysics has a special flavour. With the arrival of space-based instrumentation and gravitational wave detection, some of the most exciting discoveries in your lifetime are likely to come in astrophysics.
However, we can’t conduct experiments on stars or galaxies as they’re too far away and too big. Instead, we need to piece together explanations of what we see. This involves understanding the fundamental physics – mechanics, quantum theory, relativity, thermodynamics – and trying to work out what they imply for exoplanets, galaxies, stars, and the Universe as a whole.
The course covers the principles of physics and their application to explain astrophysical phenomena. In your first year, you will study the classification of astrophysical objects and how we observe them. During the second year, you will study the solar system and stars in some detail. In the third and fourth years, you can study a range of topics including cosmology, exoplanets, the physics of compact objects (black holes, neutron stars, and white dwarfs), general relativity, and our Sun.
You will be mentored by, and work on projects with, astrophysicists.
Further in-depth information can be found in the Physics with Astrophysics brochure.
In the first two years, you cover the fundamentals that apply throughout physics, such as mechanics and quantum theory, and meet the major phenomena observed in stars and space. There are also practical classes to develop laboratory and observational skills.
In later years look more closely at the phenomena that we can observe as well as those we would like to observe. Examples include star and galaxy formation, cosmology (how the universe was formed and where it may be going), the structure of our sun, and the formation of planets and other solar systems.
In the final year, you complete a year-long research project, which can be observational, theoretical, or some combination of these.
How will I learn?
In lectures, laboratory classes, time on telescopes, skills classes.
Lecture size will naturally vary from module to module. The first year core modules may have up to 350 students in a session, whilst the more specialist modules in the later years will have fewer than 100. The core modules in the first year are supported by weekly classes, at which you and your fellow students meet in small groups with a member of the research staff or a postgraduate student. Tutorials with your personal tutor is normally with a group of 5 students.
You should expect to attend around 12 lectures a week and spend 7 hours on supervised practical (mainly laboratory and computing) work. For each 1 hour lecture, you should expect to put in a further 1-2 hours of private study.
How will I be assessed?
In any year, about 30% of the overall mark is assigned to coursework.
The weighting for each year's contribution to your final mark is 10:30:60 for the BSc course and 10:20:30:40 for the MPhys course.
General entry requirements
- A*AA to include A in Mathematics (or Further Mathematics) and Physics
- 38 to include 6 in Higher Level Mathematics (‘Analysis and Approaches’ only) and Physics
- We welcome applications from students taking a BTEC qualification alongside A level Maths and Physics
- We may consider a BTEC qualification in a relevant Science/Engineering subject alongside A level Maths only on an individual basis
We welcome applications from students with other internationally recognised qualifications.
Contextual data and differential offers
Warwick may make differential offers to students in a number of circumstances. These include students participating in the Realising Opportunities programme, or who meet two of the contextual data criteria. Differential offers will be one or two grades below Warwick’s standard offer (to a minimum of BBB).
Warwick International Foundation Programme (IFP)
All students who successfully complete the Warwick IFP and apply to Warwick through UCAS will receive a guaranteed conditional offer for a related undergraduate programme (selected courses only).
Taking a gap year
Applications for deferred entry welcomed.
We do not typically interview applicants. Offers are made based on your UCAS form which includes predicted and actual grades, your personal statement and school reference.
Mathematics for Physicists
All scientists use mathematics to state the basic laws and to analyse quantitatively and rigorously their consequences. The module introduces you to the concepts and techniques, which will be assumed by future modules. These include: complex numbers, functions of a continuous real variable, integration, functions of more than one variable and multiple integration. You will revise relevant parts of the A-level syllabus, to cover the mathematical knowledge to undertake first year physics modules, and to prepare you for mathematics and physics modules in subsequent years.
Classical Mechanics and Relativity
You will study Newtonian mechanics emphasizing the conservation laws inherent in the theory. These have a wider domain of applicability than classical mechanics (for example they also apply in quantum mechanics). You will also look at the classical mechanics of oscillations and of rotating bodies. It then explains why the failure to find the ether was such an important experimental result and how Einstein constructed his theory of special relativity. You will cover some of the consequences of the theory for classical mechanics and some of the predictions it makes, including: the relation between mass and energy, length-contraction, time-dilation and the twin paradox.
You will look at dimensional analysis, matter and waves. Often the qualitative features of systems can be understood (at least partially) by thinking about which quantities in a problem are allowed to depend on each other on dimensional grounds. Thermodynamics is the study of heat transfers and how they can lead to useful work. Even though the results are universal, the simplest way to introduce this topic to you is via the ideal gas, whose properties are discussed and derived in some detail. You will also cover waves. Waves are time-dependent variations about some time-independent (often equilibrium) state. You will revise the relation between the wavelength, frequency and velocity and the definition of the amplitude and phase of a wave.
Astrophysics Laboratory I
The Laboratory introduces experimental science. There are experiments in physics and astronomy. The experiments can help give a different and more 'tangible' perspective on material treated theoretically in lectures. They illustrate the importance of correct handling of data and the estimation of error. They provide experience in using a range of equipment.
Electricity and Magnetism
You will largely be concerned with the great developments in electricity and magnetism, which took place during the nineteenth century. The origins and properties of electric and magnetic fields in free space, and in materials, are tested in some detail and all the basic levels up to, but not including, Maxwell's equations are considered. In addition the module deals with both dc and ac circuit theory including the use of complex impedance. You will be introduced to the properties of electrostatic and magnetic fields, and their interaction with dielectrics, conductors and magnetic materials.
Electronic instrumentation is widely used in virtually all areas of experimental physics. Whilst it is not essential for all experimental physicists to know, for example, how to make a low noise amplifier, it is extremely useful for them to have some knowledge of electronics. This workshop introduce some of the basic electronics which is used regularly by physicists.
Physics Programming Workshop
You will be introduced to the Python programming language in this module. It is quick to learn and encourages good programming style. Python is an interpreted language, which makes it flexible and easy to share. It allows easy interfacing with modules, which have been compiled from C or Fortran sources. It is widely used throughout physics and there are many downloadable free-to-user codes available. You will also look at the visualisation of data. You will be introduced to scientific programming with the help of the Python programming language, a language widely used by physicists.
Introduction to Astronomy
The Universe contains a bewildering variety of objects - black holes, red giants, white dwarfs, brown dwarfs, gamma-ray bursts and globular clusters. You will study how, with the application of physics, we have come to know their distances, sizes, masses and natures. The module starts with the Sun and planets and moves on to the Universe as a whole.
This module begins by showing you how classical physics is unable to explain some of the properties of light, electrons and atoms. (Theories in physics, which make no reference to quantum theory, are usually called classical theories.) You will then deal with some of the key contributions to the development of quantum physics including those of: Planck, who first suggested that the energy in a light wave comes in discrete units or 'quanta'; Einstein, whose theory of the photoelectric effect implied a 'duality' between particles and waves; Bohr, who suggested a theory of the atom that assumed that not only energy, but also angular momentum, was quantised; and Schrödinger who wrote down the first wave-equations to describe matter.
Key Skills for Physics
This module develops experimental skills in a range of areas and includes the design and testing of a functional electronic circuit, The module also introduces the concepts involved in controlling an experiment using a microcomputer. The module explores information retrieval and evaluation, and the oral and written presentation of scientific material.
Electromagnetic Theory and Optics
You will develop the ideas of first year electricity and magnetism into Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism. Maxwell's equations pulled the various laws of electricity and magnetism (Faraday's law, Ampere's law, Lenz's law, Gauss's law) into one unified and elegant theory. The module shows you that Maxwell's equations in free space have time-dependent solutions, which turn out to be the familiar electromagnetic waves (light, radio waves, X-rays, etc.), and studies their behaviour at material boundaries (Fresnel Equations). You will also cover the basics of optical instruments and light sources.
Mathematical Methods for Physicists
You will review the techniques of ordinary and partial differentiation and ordinary and multiple integration. You will develop you understanding of vector calculus and discuss the partial differential equations of physics. (Term 1) The theory of Fourier transforms and the Dirac delta function are also covered. Fourier transforms are used to represent functions on the whole real line using linear combinations of sines and cosines. Fourier transforms are a powerful tool in physics and applied mathematics. The examples used to illustrate the module are drawn mainly from interference and diffraction phenomena in optics. (Term 2)
Quantum Mechanics and its Applications
In the first part of this module you will use ideas, introduced in the first year module, to explore atomic structure. You will discuss the time-independent and the time-dependent Schrödinger equations for spherically symmetric and harmonic potentials, angular momentum and hydrogenic atoms. The second half of the module looks at many-particle systems and aspects of the Standard Model of particle physics. It introduces the quantum mechanics of free fermions and discussing how it accounts for the conductivity and heat capacity of metals and the state of electrons in white dwarf stars.
Thermal Physics II
Any macroscopic object we meet contains a large number of particles, each of which moves according to the laws of mechanics (which can be classical or quantum). Yet, we can often ignore the details of this microscopic motion and use a few average quantities such as temperature and pressure to describe and predict the behaviour of the object. Why we can do this, when we can do this and how to do it are the subject of this module. The most important idea in the field is due to Boltzmann, who identified the connection between entropy and disorder. The module shows you how the structure of equilibrium thermodynamics follows from Boltzmann's definition of the entropy and shows you how, in principle, any observable equilibrium quantity can be computed.
Astrophysics Laboratory II and Skills
This module develops experimental skills in a range of areas of physics and astrophysics. The module introduces the concepts involved in controlling remote instuments using computers and the collection and analysis of astrophysical data. The module explores information retrieval and evaluation, and the oral and written presentation of scientific material.
People have been studying stars for as long as anything else in science. Yet, the subject is advancing faster now than almost every other branch of physics. With the arrival of space-based instruments, the prospects are that the field will continue to advance and that some of the most exciting discoveries reported in physics during our lifetimes will be in astrophysics. In this module, you will study the physics of stars and learn how we explain their behaviour. The module covers the main classifications of stars by size, age and distance from the earth and the relationships between them.
The Solar System
The study of the Solar System has been one of the most important in the history of physics with ramifications beyond science - Galileo was convicted of heresy for arguing that the earth moved round the Sun. Newton developed his theory of gravitation to explain Kepler's observations of the Solar System planets and effectively established what we now call the scientific method. In this module, we will introduce some of the intriguing phenomena observed in our Solar System. Questions we will touch on include: How does the Sun work? How do planets move and form? Do they have atmospheres? While the answers to some of these questions are complicated and still not completely known, we will construct convincing, qualitatively correct and appealing explanations of many of these phenomena using physics studied in the first year.
The project will provide you with experience of working on an extended project in astrophysics in a research environment. You will normally work in pairs. Through discussions with your supervisor you will establish a plan of work which you will frequently review as you progress. In general, the project will not be closely prescribed and will contain an investigative element.
Quantum Physics of Atoms
The basic principles of quantum mechanics are applied to a range of problems in atomic physics. The intrinsic property of spin is introduced and its relation to the indistinguishability of identical particles in quantum mechanics discussed. Perturbation theory and variational methods are described and applied to several problems. The hydrogen and helium atoms are analysed and the ideas that come out from this work are used to obtain a good qualitative understanding of the periodic table. In this module, you will develop the ideas of quantum theory and apply these to atomic physics.
Questions about the origin of the Universe, where it is going and how it may get there are the domain of cosmology. In this module, we will ask whether the Universe will continue to expand or ultimately contract. Relevant experimental data include those on the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, the distribution of galaxies and the distribution of mass in the Universe. Starting from fundamental observations, such as that the night sky is dark and, by appealing to principles from Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, you will develop a description of the Universe and the Big Bang Model.
Black Holes, White Dwarfs and Neutron Stars
In this module, you study the compact objects - white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes (BH) - that can form when burnt out stars collapse under their own gravity. The extreme conditions in their neighbourhood mean that they affect strongly other objects and even the structure of the space-time around them. Compact objects can accrete material from surrounding gases and nearby stars. In the case of BHs this can lead to the supermassive BHs thought to be at the centre of most galaxies. In the most extreme events (mergers of these objects), the gravitational waves (GW) that are emitted are now beginning to be detected on earth (the first GW detection was reported in 2015 almost exactly 100 years after their prediction by Einstein).
Employers look for many things in would-be employees. Sometimes they will be looking for specific knowledge, but often they will be more interested in general skills, frequently referred to as transferable skills. One such transferable skill is the ability to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing. Over the past two years you may have had experience in writing for an academic audience in the form of your laboratory reports. The aim of this module is to introduce you to the different approaches required to write for other audiences. This module will provide you with experience in presenting technical material in different formats to a variety of audiences.
Examples of optional modules/options for current students
- Computational Physics
- Hamiltonian Mechanics
- Nuclear Physics
- Physics of Electrical Power Generation
- Physics of Fluids
- Planets, Exoplanets and Life
- Solar Magnetohydrodynamics
Additional course costs
There may be costs associated with other items or services such as academic texts, course notes, and trips associated with your course. Students who choose to complete a work placement or study abroad will pay reduced tuition fees for their third year.
We believe there should be no barrier to talent. That's why we are committed to offering a scholarship that makes it easier for gifted, ambitious international learners to pursue their academic interests at one of the UK's most prestigious universities. This new scheme will offer international fee-paying students 250 tuition fee discounts ranging from full fees to awards of £13,000 to £2,000 for the full duration of your Undergraduate degree course.
Graduates from this course have gone on to work for employers including:
- Deloitte Digital
- Brunei Shell Petroleum
- British Red Cross
- EDF Energy
- Civil Service
- Deutsche Bank
They have pursued roles such as:
- Physical scientists
- Finance and investment analysts
- Programmers and software development professionals
- Graphic designers
Helping you find the right career
Our department has a dedicated professionally qualified Senior Careers Consultant. They offer impartial advice and guidance together with workshops and events throughout the year. Previous examples of workshops and events include:
- Career options with a Physics Degree
- Careers in Science
- Warwick careers fairs throughout the year
- Physics Alumni Evening
- Careers and Employer networking event for Physics students
“I studied the MPhys course at Warwick and ended up extending my final year project into a PhD.
I’m now a Patent Attorney for Withers & Rogers LLP. Broadly speaking, my role is to help inventors secure effective legal protection for new and innovative technology. In a typical day, I work on multiples cases across a crazy range of technology - from jet engines to software, satellites to artificial heart valves.
My interest in this area came about during my PhD, whilst I worked with Warwick Ventures to patent a novel semiconductor device.
It was Warwick that first exposed me to the eclectic mix of science and technology that allows me to work in such a varied and dynamic environment.”
MPhys Physics graduate
About the information on this page
This information is applicable for 2021 entry. Given the interval between the publication of courses and enrolment, some of the information may change. It is important to check our website before you apply. Please read our terms and conditions to find out more.