Undergraduate study - 2019 entry

Subject area: Physics and Astronomy

Why choose Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh?

  • All our single honours programmes are accredited by the Institute of Physics (IOP).

  • Final-year projects are frequently hosted at our world-class research facilities. These currently include the ARCHER super computing service; a state-of-the-art scanning confocal microscope in soft matter; and a high magnetic field laboratory that includes dilution capable of 15 mK temperatures, as well as flow and high-pressure chamber for planetary environmental simulation.

  • You will join a community of researchers and academics who work across major research facilities including the Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions, the UK Centre for Astrobiology, the Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics and the new Higgs Centre for Innovation. Both Higgs centres have been named after our Emeritus Professor and Nobel Prize winner Peter Higgs.

  • You will be taught by academic staff with links to major research facilities across the world, including CERN, TRIUMF, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and a number of principal astronomy facilities.

  • We're ranked in the UK's top 10 universities for physics and astronomy in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2018.

  • You will have the opportunity to use extensive teaching laboratory facilities which cover all disciplines of experimental physics.

Study abroad

I know I can achieve anything I put my mind to, especially with the support of tutors and teaching staff. Being at Edinburgh helps me feel that there are no limits to what I can do.

Ozioma Kamalu 3rd year BSc (Hons) Astrophysics
Ozioma Kamalu 3rd year BSc (Hons) Astrophysics

Physics is the study of matter and motion, what the world is made of and how it works. Physicists study everything from the smallest particles to the structure of the universe.

Our programmes are flexible, so you can tailor your study to your interests and chosen career. You will also be able to choose a range of subjects from other academic areas.

You will learn the fundamental principles of physics and start to specialise as you progress through your programme.

The core skills you learn, such as how to assemble data by experiment, study or calculation and how to draw conclusions from your observations, will prepare you for a range of careers or for further study and research.

Year 1

You will complete a number of introductory physics and maths courses. Physics courses will present the pillars of physics upon which subsequent material is based and will develop your problem solving and study skills. Maths courses will include mathematical and problem-solving skills in the context of algebra and calculus, with increasing emphasis on physical applications.

On some programmes you will take further compulsory courses relating to your field of study, such as further mathematics courses if you are studying mathematical physics. On most programmes you will be able to choose one or two courses from other academic areas.

Year 2

You will study modern physics and physics of fields and matter. Supporting mathematics courses will cover algebra, calculus, dynamics and vector calculus and you will be introduced to practical physics, including programming, data analysis and experimental techniques.

On most programmes, if you enter the programme in Year 2, you will take additional introductory courses in classical physics and mathematics. Mathematical physics students will be offered specialist mathematics courses. On most programmes you will be able to choose one or two courses from other academic areas.

Year 3

You will study thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, electromagnetism, optics and quantum mechanics.

We offer a supporting mathematics course covering Fourier analysis, probability and statistics, a computing course on numerical algorithms, and an introductory course on research methods.

Physics students will have access to an experimental laboratory, and astrophysics students will be introduced to practical astronomy.

Computational physics students take further computing courses, and theoretical and mathematical physics students take further mathematics courses.

Year 4

Two final compulsory courses cover relativity, nuclear and particle physics and condensed matter physics. Astrophysics students will take compulsory courses in astrophysics and cosmology.

In addition, you will have a choice of option courses covering topics ranging from atmospheric dynamics to macromolecular physics to general relativity. You will also take part in project work.

Year 5

(MPhil only) A substantial amount of this year is based on project work which you will typically complete within one of the School’s research groups. You will also take a number of advanced courses.

Are there additional costs?


Our facilities

In Year 1, teaching is based in the Central Area and thereafter at the University's King's Buildings campus. During your first three years you will use the undergraduate laboratories and the University's libraries and computer facilities. From Year 2 you will also have access to the Computational Physics Laboratory.

In Year 4 (and 5) you will typically complete a placement within a research group, where you will be able to access the University's world-class research equipment and facilities.

Study abroad

Our Physics with a Year Abroad MPhys programme includes a compulsory year abroad in a partner institution. As part of all our other programmes, you will have the opportunity to study abroad through the Erasmus programme or the University's international exchange programme.

How will I learn?

You will be taught through a combination of lectures, tutorials and practicals, which fully exploit the latest teaching technology and help to develop your problem-solving skills.

From third year you will also complete group projects and undertake research projects under the supervision of one of the School’s academic or research staff members.

How will I be assessed?

Assessment is by a combination of continuous assessment and examinations. Practical and computing courses have laboratory write-ups and checkpoint assessment.

Other courses are assessed by presentations, assessing each other’s work and writing critical reviews of scientific literature.

A wide range of employers recognise that physics graduates have advanced problem-solving skills and the ability to think logically and critically about complex situations. Add this to a high level of mathematical ability, computing and IT proficiency and communication skills in written, oral and online media, and graduates have opportunities in a diverse range of careers.

Our recent graduates have gone on into employment with a wide variety of organisations, including Google, the European Space Agency, the BBC and IBM. Physicists are sought after by many sectors, including engineering, manufacturing, energy, finance, medicine and the space industries.

A number of our graduates undertake further study, including undertaking PhD research, completing a masters in a science or engineering subject, or undertaking a postgraduate diploma in education.