Undergraduate study - 2018 entry

Subject area: Physics and Astronomy

Why choose Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh?

  • In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), 96 per cent of our research was rated 4* or 3*, world-leading or internationally excellent, in a joint collaboration with the University of St Andrews. We were ranked fourth in the UK for research and third for our performance on quality.

  • The School is home to the Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics. The discovery in July 2012 of a candidate Higgs boson at CERN, almost half a century after Peter Higgs’ prediction in 1964 and for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2013, is a milestone in the history of theoretical physics. Rarely in the history of physics has a theoretical prediction been confirmed so spectacularly, so long after it was originally made. This marks the start of a new era in theoretical physics.

Study abroad

The School of Physics and Astronomy is formidable in terms of student support. It’s a very friendly environment and professors are approachable and very helpful in providing support and advice in academic matters.

Salvatore Tesoro MPhys (Hons) Mathematical Physics graduate
Salvatore Tesoro MPhys (Hons) Mathematical Physics graduate

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, for example further mathematics courses are compulsory for those studying a Mathematical Physics programme, computation courses are taken by those studying a Computational Physics programme and music courses are taken by those studying Physics & Music.

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 a range of sectors, including engineering, manufacturing, energy, finance, medicine and 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.