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Date:June 07, 2016

Physics Course Structure – Oxford

1st year
Courses Five subjects, four of which are compulsory: Subjects 1&2 cover fundamental areas of ‘classical’ physics:

  • The mechanics of particles
  • Special relativity
  • The physics of electric and magnetic fields
  • Mathematics for chemistry
Subject 3 covers:
  • Differential equations
  • Waves
  • Elementary optics

Subject 4 covers: mathematical methods, including vectors and calculus

Subject 5 is chosen from a range of possible Short Options, which may change from year to year but are likely to include topics such as:

  • quantum ideas, additional mathematics and subjects from other physical sciences.

Practical work

  • computing
  • electronics
  • optics
  • general physics

A new course on computer programming and numerical methods combines lectures with hands-on work in the computing laboratory

Assessment  First University examinations:5 Prelim examinations; satisfactory practical record
2nd year
Courses Core material, extending on year 1:

  • Electromagnetism
  • Optics
  • Mathematical methods
  • quantum physics
  • thermal physics are covered in some depth.

Optional supplementary subject course:

  • energy studies
  • more advanced theoretical topics
  • languages
  • teaching option.
Assessment  Part A examinations:Three written papers plus a short option paper and practical work.Practicals make up 14 days of the year but is quite flexible.Some students may opt for more practicals, or alternatively short options incl. teaching physics in secondary schools count towards.
3rd year
Courses 6 modules offered: BA choose 4 of these modules, and undertake a project in their final term. MPhys: take all modules and project in final year

  • Flows, fluctuations and complexity
  • Symmetry & relativity
  • Quantum, atomic and molecular physics
  • Sub-atomic Physics
  • General relativity and cosmology
  • Condensed-matter physics.

Physics students will also take a short option and relevant practical work.

Assessment  4 of 6 written papers for BA + short option +project report.MPhys; 3 written papers + short option + project report.
4th year MPhys
Two major study options +research project.  Theoretical or experimental under the supervision of a member of the academic staff for 1 term.

  • Astrophysics
  • Biological physics
  • Condensed matter physics
  • Laser science and quantum information processing
  • Particle physics
  • Physics of atmospheres and oceans
  • Theoretical physics


Assessment  Two written papers on major options and a project report.The MPhys honours degree classification is made on the combined results from the Parts A, B & C exams.


There are two physics degrees to choose fro at Oxford: the three-year BA and the four-year MPhys, with an average combined intake of 180 each year. In addition, a further degree course is offered jointly with the Philosophy department and has an average annual entry of 16.

Both physics courses investigate the basic principles of modern physics with a strong emphasis on its mathematical foundation. They also include a significant amount of experimental work and the possibility of studying non-physics subjects. There is also a common emphasis on individual development, discussion and the ability to work with others in the laboratory.

Year 4 Major options

Astrophysics is concerned with the application of the laws of physics to phenomena throughout the observable Universe. Some of these phenomena present conditions so extreme as to challenge current physical knowledge. The course combines a study of important basic astrophysics with an introduction to topics in the forefront of current research.

Biological physics: biological physics is the study of the physical process of life. This rapidly growing interdisciplinary field, with links to biochemistry, bioinformatics, medicine and nanotechnology. The course will cover the biological structures and physical mechanisms responsible for fundamental biological processes such as motion, energy generation, information storage, signal transmission and molecular transport. Since much of the knowledge in these areas is due to recent experimental advances, the course will also describe modern techniques for the study of biological molecules and machines at the single-molecule level.

Condensed matter physics is concerned with the study of the fundamental properties of solids at a microscopic level. The interactions between atoms at very high densities give rise to a wealth of new phenomena from high-temperature superconductivity to low-dimensional electron behaviour in semiconductor nanostructures. Many have led to the development of novel technological applications.

Laser science and quantum information processing: the fundamental physics of atoms and molecules underlies research into the quantum nature of matter and radiation as well as much of modern technology. The course covers atomic and molecular structure, physics and applications of lasers and modern optics.

Particle physics considers the nature of matter and forces at the most fundamental level is studied. The subject deals with electrons and neutrinos, and the quarks that make up the proton and neutron, as well as the heavier versions of these four basic particles. The course discusses our theoretical understanding of the way these particles interact through the strong and electroweak interactions and includes recent exciting discoveries, such as the very massive top quark and neutrino masses. It ends with a perspective on future possibilities, particularly the ongoing search for the elusive Higgs boson.

Physics of atmospheres and oceans: the course shows how physics helps us understand and interpret a wide range of atmospheric and oceanic phenomena. It starts with simple applications of thermodynamics and fluid dynamics to atmospheric behaviour. The greenhouse effect, atmospheric ozone depletion and details of modern space instruments are presented. The current understanding of climate and climate variability is explored.

Theoretical physics: modern physics has revealed how fundamental laws are often encoded in beautiful mathematical structures. This course provides an introduction to three areas where this can be explored: classical field theory, including Einstein’s theory of gravitation; advanced quantum mechanics, including Dirac’s relativistic wave equation for the electron; and statistical physics, including the theory of phase transitions.