Undergraduate study - 2020 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2019/2020

BSc Honours in Astrophysics

To give you an idea of what to expect from this programme, we publish the latest available information. This information is created when new programmes are established and is only updated periodically as programmes are formally reviewed. It is therefore only accurate on the date of last revision.
Awarding institution: The University of Edinburgh
Teaching institution: The University of Edinburgh
Programme accredited by:

The Institute of Physics

Final award: BSc Honours
Programme title: Astrophysics BSc
UCAS code: F510
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): Physics, astronomy and astrophysics.
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Dr Victoria Martin
Date of production/revision: 22nd June 2012

External summary

Astrophysics is the fundamental human endeavour to understand the structure and evolution of the Universe. Its scope runs from planets, stars and galaxies, to the origins, constituents and fate of the Universe itself. Our aim is to guide you through this territory; to share with you our enthusiasm for it; and to equip you with a range of thinking and practical skills which you will need if your subsequent career is in Astrophysics, and which you will value even if it is not.

Studying Astrophysics at Edinburgh allows student to develop:

  • Knowledge and understanding of the astrophysical world and the underlying mathematical methodologies used to describe it;
  • Knowledge of frontier activities capitalising on the strengths of a thriving and diverse research environment based at the Institute of Astronomy and Royal Observatory;
  • The attitude of mind conducive to critical questioning and creative thinking and the capacity to formulate ideas mathematically and explore them algebraically, graphically, and numerically;
  • An understanding of astronomical observations and  critical evaluation of experimental data;
  • The skills required for employment in science-based industry, education and the wide spectrum of professions calling for numerate problem-solvers.

Educational aims of programme

The educational aims of the Astrophysics programme at Edinburgh are:

  • To provide a degree programme with flexibility and choice, accommodating a range of entrance qualifications and experience;
  • To provide a thorough grounding in the fundamental principles underpinnings of physics and astrophysics;
  • To provide a thorough grounding in observational techniques and the critical analysis of experimental data;
  • To provide exposure to frontier activities, capitalising on the strengths of a thriving and diverse research environment in the Institute for Astronomy and Royal Observatory Edinburgh;
  • To provide a balanced training in the methodologies of modern physics and astrophysics;
  • To develop general transferable skills related to IT & computing, problem-solving and communication;
  • To provide a platform for employment in science-based industry, education and the wide spectrum of professions calling for numerate problem-solvers.

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

By engaging with and completing a degree in Astrophysics, graduates will acquire knowledge and understanding of:       

  • The core knowledge base of Physics and Astrophysics comprising: Quantum Mechanics, Electromagnetism, Thermodynamics, Special Relativity, Astronomical Statistics and Measurement, Stellar Evolution, and Astrophysical Cosmology.
  • A balanced training in the methodologies of modern theoretical and observational astrophysics.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in research and enquiry

The degree programme aims to develop:

  • Attitude of mind conducive to critical questioning and creative thinking;
  • Capacity to formulate ideas mathematically and explore them algebraically, graphically, and numerically;
  • Ability to harness these skills in tandem with the core knowledge base to solve problems;
  • Ability to assimilate and evaluate advanced literature from a range of diverse sources;
  • Ability to critically analyse experimental data and compare mathematical or computational predictions.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal and intellectual autonomy

The degree programme aims to develop:

  • A disposition to approach unfamiliar situations with a spirit of critical enquiry;
  • The ability to formulate a physical problem using the appropriate mathematical or experimental methodologies;

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

The degree programme aims to develop the skills to:          

  • Formulate a coherent written and oral presentation based on material gathered and organised independently on a given astrophysics topic;
  • Formulate a mathematical argument or analysis of experimental data and communicate this effectively to peers and educators;
  • Capacity to function effectively as a member or leader of a team working towards joint a joint report and presentation.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal effectiveness

The degree programme aims to develop:

  • Collaborate effectively and productively with others in the process of inquiry and learning including those with a range of backgrounds and knowledge;
  • Organise their own independent learning to an effective schedule;
  • Commitment to manage time effectively, utilise resources and meet deadlines;

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

  • Confident facility with general IT resources (WWW for learning and information retrieval; e-mail and bulletin boards for communication; word-processing for document preparation);
  • Facility with the Unix operating system;
  • Scientific programming skills in Java;
  • Numerical programming and computer simulation techniques;
  • Computer algebra and symbolic manipulation;
  • Ability to analyse experimental data and assess what can be inferred from it in the light of theoretical expectations and experimental uncertainties;

Programme structure and features

The programme structure is a full time, 480pt Scottish Bachelors with Honours with entry at first or second year level and is fully compliant with the University’s Curriculum Framework and Scottish Qualification Framework.

First Year

Total of 120pt point of courses, normally at SCQF level 8.

Specified courses are:

  • Physics 1A [20pt]                                                        SCQF Level 8
  • Physics 1B [20pt]                                                        SCQF Level 8
  • Mathematics for Physics 1 [20pt]                               SCQF Level 8
  • Mathematics for Physics 2 [20pt]                               SCQF Level 8
  • 40pt of free choice from Schedules A-Q at Level 7/8.

Progression requires 120pt of courses from first year. By concession 40pt of courses may be carried but must not include specified courses.

Second Year

Total of 120pt of courses, normally at SCQF Level 8

 Specified courses are:

  • Modern Physics [10pt]                                                            SCQF Level 8
  • Linear Algebra and Several Variable Calculus [10pt] SCQF Level 8
  • Physics of Fields and Matter [20pt]                                        SCQF Level 8
  • Dynamics and Vector Calculus [20pt]                                    SCQF Level 8
  • Practical Physics [20pt]                                                          SCQF Level 8
  • 40 pts of free choice from Schedules A-Q at Level 8

Progression requires 120pt of courses from second year. By concession 40pt of courses may be carried but must not include specified courses.

Second Year Point of Entry 2 (Fast Track) for suitably qualified students.

Total of 120pt of courses, normally at SCQF Level 8

Specified courses are:

  • Classical and Modern Physics [20pt]                                     SCQF Level 8
  • Algebra and Calculus [20pt]                                                    SCQF Level 8
  • Physics of Fields and Matter [20pt]                                        SCQF Level 8
  • Dynamics and Vector Calculus [20pt]                                    SCQF Level 8
  • Practical Physics [20pt]                                                          SCQF Level 8
  • 20pt free choice from Schedules A-Q at Level 8

Progression requires 120pt of courses from second year. By concession 20pt of courses may be carried but must not include specified courses.

Junior Honours (Third Year)

Total of 120pt of courses, normally at Level 9 or 10

Specified Courses are:

  • Quantum Mechanics [10pt]                                                    SCQF Level 9
  • Dynamics and relativity [10pt]                                                SCQF Level 9
  • Thermodynamics [10pt]                                                          SCQF Level 9
  • Electromagnetism [10pt]                                                         SCQF Level 9
  • Statistical Physics [10pt]                                                         SCQF Level 9
  • Diffraction Physics [10pt]                                                       SCQF Level 9
  • Astrophysics 3  [20pt]                                                             SCQF Level 10
  • Research Methods in Physics [10pt]                                      SCQF Level 10
  • Physical Mathematics [10pt]

Either:

  • Astrophysics Laboratory [10pt]                                               SQCF Level 9

Or:

  • Lagrangian Dynamics [10pt]                                                   SCQF Level 10

Either:

  • Computational Methods [10pt]                                                SQCF Level 9

Or:

  • Advanced Computer Simulation [10pt]                                  SCQF Level 10

Progression requires 120pt of courses at first sit. Student obtaining 120pt after August re-sits are eligible for Physics BSc (Ord) degree.

Junior Honours (Third Year) from September 2013

Total of 120pt of courses, normally at Level 9

Specified courses are:

  • Fourier Analysis and Statistics [20pt]                                   SCQF Level 9
  • Quantum Mechanics [20pt]                                                    SCQF Level 9
  • Thermal Physics [20pt]                                                           SCQF Level 9
  • Electromagnetism [20pt]                                                         SCQF Level 9
  • Observational Astronomy [20pt]                                             SCQF Level 9
  • Research Methods in Physics [10pt]                                      SCQF Level 9

Either:

  • Computational Modelling [10pt]                                              SCQF Level 9

Or:

  • Numerical Recipes [10pt]                                                       SCQF Level 9

Progression requires 120pt of courses at first sit. Student obtaining 120pt after August re-sits are eligible for Physics BSc (Ord) degree.

Senior Honours (Fourth Year)

Total of 120pt of courses, normally at Level 10 or 11

Specified Courses are:

  • Subatomic Physics [10pt]                                                      SCQF Level 10
  • Astronomical Statistics and Measurement [10pt]              SCQF Level 10
  • Astrophysical Cosmology [10pt]                                          SCQF Level 10
  • Stellar Evolution [10pt]                                                           SCQF Level 10
  • Physics Skills (BSc) [10pt]                                                    SCQF Level 10
  • Team Review Projects [10pt]                                                SCQF Level 10          
  • Senior Honours Astrophysics Project [20pt]                         SCQF Level 10

Either:

  • Quantum Physics [10pt]                                                         SCQF Level 10

Or:

  • Atomic and Molecular Physics [10pt]                                     SCQF Level 10

One of:

  • Higher Energy Astrophysics [10pt]                                         SCQF Level 11
  • Radiation and Matter  [10pt]                                                   SCQF Level 11
  • General Relativity [10pt]                                                         SCQF Level 11
  • 20pt free choice from Schedule P and Q at Level 10/11. Additional courses from other schedules available subject to approval.

Progression requires 120pt of courses at first sit. Student obtaining 120pt of courses at first sit are by concession permitted to graduate with BSc Honours.

Senior Honours (Fourth Year) from September 2014*

Total of 120pt of courses, normally at Level 10 or 11

Specified Courses are:

  • Relativity, Nuclear and Particle Physics [20pt]                      SCQF Level 10
  • Astrophysics [20pt]                                                                 SCQF Level 10
  • Cosmology [10pt]                                                                    SCQF Level 10

Either:

  • Senior Honours Project [20pt]                                                SCQF Level 10

Or:

  • Science Education Placement in Physics [20pt]                    SCQF Level 10
  • Physics Skills (BSc) [10pt]                                                     SCQF Level 10
  • 40pt free choice from Schedule P and Q at Level 10/11. Additional courses from other schedules subject to approval.

Progression requires 120pt of courses at first sit. Student obtaining 120pt of courses at first sit are by concession permitted to graduate with BSc Honours.

*This is the proposed structure still under discussion within the School.

Classification of Honours

Honours classification is determined on the 240pt of courses taken in Junior Honours, and Senior Honours year with years weighted on a 50:50 basis. Classification is based on the University Common Marking Scheme.

Equality and Diversity

The School is an active participant in the Institute of Physics JUNO project with “practitioner” status where we monitor and report on the equality and diversity across the whole School including activities of academic staff, research staff, post and undergraduate students.

Teaching and learning methods and strategies

The bulk of the teaching programme is conducted through lectures; the class sizes vary from about 250 in pre-honours courses to about 5 in Senior Honours optional courses. This teaching is supported through tutorial sessions and supervised workshops in which students work in groups of about 5; and through study resources generally delivered through WWW. These resources vary in extent and character; they invariably include a detailed syllabus, reading list and problem-set; in some instances they incorporate substantial multimedia material including self-tests and illustrative simulations. First years and Fast Track specific courses offer extensive student support to assist the transition into higher education and develop independent learning skills. These include the use of an in-lecture feedback system, peer assisted learning, tailored problem sheets and extensive student – tutor feedback in extended workshops classes. Computing/IT courses are conducted through supervised sessions in dedicated teaching laboratories in groups of 10-50. Team Projects typically involve teams of about 5 students working largely autonomously.

Teaching and learning workload

You will learn through a mixture of scheduled teaching and independent study. Some programmes also offer work placements.

At Edinburgh we use a range of teaching and learning methods including lectures, tutorials, practical laboratory sessions, technical workshops and studio critiques.

The typical workload for a student on this programme is outlined in the table below, however the actual time you spend on each type of activity will depend on what courses you choose to study.

The typical workload for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearTime in scheduled teaching (%)Time in independant study (%)Time on placement (%)
Year 144560
Year 233670
Year 340600
Year 436640

Assessment methods and strategies

Each course has its own assessment criteria appropriate to the specified Learning Objects of the course as detailed in the on-line course specification. All courses are assessed using the University Common Marking Scheme. Typical modes of assessment through the programme are detailed below:

Pre-Honours: (first and second year)

Lecture based physics and mathematics courses are assessed by end of course written unseen examinations with typical weight of 80% being augmented by weekly hand-in assignments typically weighted at 20%. These are marked throughout the semester and returned with feedback comments typically within 10 days of submission. All semester 1 pre-honours lecture based courses offered examination feedback workshops as the start of semester 2 where student can view their marked scripts and receive personal feedback from the course staff. Class performance and common error feedback on semester 2 examinations are supplied via the School intranet.

Practical and computing classes are assigned by continuous assessment either via written submitted reports, laboratory notebooks or, for computing classes, specified checkpoints assessed by during the assigned workshop classes. All submitted reports and notebooks are returned with written feedback, and students receive verbal feedback and advice on computer checkpoints from the assessors.

Honours:

Lecture based physics and mathematics courses are mainly assessed by either end of course, or end of year written unseen examinations. Core courses at Junior Honours are augmented by periodic hand-ins with a typical weight of 10% which are marked throughout the course are returned as with written feedback. The reduction in frequency and weight of these hand-ins compared to pre-honours encouraged students to take responsibility for their own learning and time management. In courses with no course work students are encouraged to attempt course questions in advance and seek feedback on their work at the course workshops/tutorials. All students have access to their marked examination scripts via the School Teaching Office.

Practical and computing courses at Junior Honours are assessed as at pre-honours with for experimental laboratory an additional short oral presentation on which feedback is given. Project work as Senior Honours is assessed via laboratory performance, written report and poster presentation; written feedback is given on all aspects. Team and Group exercises in Research Methods, Team Review and Group Project as assessed by a written group report, group presentation and peer moderation.

Assessment method balance

You will be assessed through a variety of methods. These might include written or practical exams or coursework such as essays, projects, group work or presentations.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme are outlined below, however the balance between written exams, practical exams and coursework will vary depending on what courses you choose to study.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearAssessment by written exams (%)Assessment by practical exams (%)Assessment by coursework (%)
Year 174323
Year 251049
Year 361237
Year 4661420

Career opportunities

The BSc programme offers the preparation for a research career in physics either via further academic study, typically towards a PhD or via industrial research.  In addition 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 Physics graduates have opportunities in a diverse range of careers. Some of our recent graduates have gone on to jobs with Google, the European Space Agency, the BBC, IBM and a variety of other organisations.

Other items

Personal Tutors

Each student is assigned a Personal Tutor who provides both academic and pastoral guidance.  Throughout a student's time at the university the Personal Tutor guides the student in choice of courses and provides general support. Courses are administered and run through the Teaching Organisation in the School.  These produce detailed online course guides for new students and for continuing students.  These guides provide details of courses and also advise students on assessment and general university policy and regulations.