Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2020/2021

MPhys in Mathematical Physics

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:
Final award: MPhys
Programme title: Mathematical Physics MPhys
UCAS code: F325
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): Physics, astronomy and astrophysics
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Dr Victoria Martin
Date of production/revision: 25th March 2015

External summary

Mathematical Physics aims to develop a precise quantitative understanding of the nature, structure and evolution of the physical world through the language of mathematics. Its scope runs from quarks and leptons, the smallest fragments of the universe, through the material world we perceive directly with our senses, and on to stars and galaxies, and the origins and fate of the universe itself. It thus builds directly on the work of Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, Heisenberg, Dirac, Feynman, Hawking, Higgs and countless others. Our aim is to equip you with the precise analytical thinking necessary to understand this vast subject, and thereby prepare you for a broad range of subsequent careers in Theoretical or Computational Physics, Applied Mathematics or any profession requiring the solution of difficult problems through mathematical modelling. More information about Mathematical Physics at Edinburgh may be found at www.tait.ac.uk.

Studying Mathematical Physics at Edinburgh allows the student to develop:

  • A thorough grounding in mathematics, and the skills necessary to use mathematics to solve problems
  • A thorough grounding in physics, and a deep understanding of its fundamental ideas and principles
  • The attitude of mind conducive to critical questioning and creative thinking
  • The confidence and ability to formulate problems mathematically, and solve them analytically
  • The confidence and ability to solve problems numerically, through computer programming
  • Skills required for a career in applied mathematics, theoretical physics, or computational physics
Skills useful for a wide range of careers in industry, education, finance, and management

Educational aims of programme

The educational aims of the Mathematical Physics 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 mathematics, and the skills necessary to use mathematics to solve problems;
  • To provide a thorough grounding in physics, and a deep understanding of its fundamental ideas and principles;
  • To provide exposure to frontier activities in applied mathematics and theoretical physics, capitalising on the strengths of a thriving and diverse research environment in Edinburgh;
  • To provide thorough preparation for a research career in theoretical or computational physics, or applied mathematics;
  • To develop general transferable skills related to IT & computing, modelling, problem-solving and communication;
To provide a platform for employment in science-based industry, education, research and the wide spectrum of professions such as finance, business and management,calling for the formulation and solution of problems through mathematical modelling.

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

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

  • Core areas in mathematics: abstract algebra, group theory, calculus, real and complex analysis, tensor algebra, probability and statistics, and numerical methods
  • Core areas of physics: classical mechanics, special relativity, electromagnetism, statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics
  • The opportunity to study from a very wide range of selected topics in Mathematical Physics: atomic physics, nuclear physics, elementary particle physics, condensed matter physics, statistical physics, critical phenomena, atmospheric physics, astrophysics, cosmology, string theory, differential geometry, algebraic geometry, topology
A balanced training in the methodologies and research skills of modern applied mathematics, theoretical physics and computational physics.

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

The degree programme aims to develop:

  • An attitude of mind conducive to critical questioning and creative thinking;
  • The confidence and ability to formulate ideas mathematically and then solve them;
  • The ability to harness these skills in tandem with the core knowledge base to solve problems;
  • The ability to assimilate and evaluate advanced literature from a range of diverse sources;

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 confidence and ability to formulate a physical problem in terms of mathematics;
  • The ability to solve a mathematical problem analytically or numerically.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

The degree programme aims to develop:     

  • The ability to formulate a coherent written and oral presentation based on material on a given topic gathered and organised independently;
  • The ability to present the outcomes of an extended research project in a dissertation report and public oral presentation;
  • The ability to formulate a logical mathematical argument and communicate this effectively to peers and educators;
  • The ability 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:

  • The ability to collaborate effectively and productively with others in the process of inquiry and learning including those with a range of backgrounds and knowledge;
  • The ability to organise independent learning to an effective schedule;
  • The ability to manage time effectively, utilise resources and meet deadlines.

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

The programme aims to develop:

  • Confident familiarity  with general IT resources (WWW for learning and information retrieval; e-mail and bulletin boards for communication; word-processing for document preparation)
  • Confident familiarity with the Unix operating system and its use in a scientific environment
  • Advanced skills in scientific programming
  • Numerical programming and computer simulation techniques
  • Confident skills is computer algebra and symbolic manipulation
The ability to analyse 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, five year, 600pt Scottish Integrated Masters programme with entry at first or second year level and is fully compliant with the University’s Curriculum Framework and Scottish Qualification Framework.

Details of the programme requirements and features for each year of the degree are given in the Degree Programme Table, available in the University's Degree Regulations and Programmes of Study http://www.drps.ed.ac.uk/

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.

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 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 238620
Year 342580
Year 440600
Year 538620

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.


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 heir work at the course workshops/tutorials. All students have access to their marked examination scripts via the School Teaching Office.

Computing courses at Junior Honours are assessed as at pre-honours. Project work as Team and Group exercises in Research Methods, Team Review and Group Project as assessed by a written group report, group presentation and peer moderation.

The main MPhys project in the Integrated Masters year is assessed via laboratory performance, written report, oral presentation and public communications exercise chosen by the student; for example web presentation based at a general audience; the latter two being assessed as a separate course. During the MPhys Project and associated presentation course the student is supervised by academic or research staff who supply feedback regarding on-courses performance and development. Further written feedback is also supplied on all the assessed aspects of these courses.

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 177320
Year 273027
Year 375025
Year 473819
Year 5561034

Career opportunities

The MPhys 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.