BSc (Hons) Astrophysics with Optional Sandwich Placement/ Study Abroad

About the course


Astrophysics is the study of the physical processes that shape the structure and evolution of the universe. This course seeks to provide answers to fundamental questions about the origin and evolution of stars, planets and galaxies, as well as the universe itself.

What you will learn

You will study the cosmos in all its wonder, gaining a detailed physical understanding of how the Universe works. You will learn both the fundamentals of Astrophysics and the results of modern cutting-edge research. Throughout, you will make extensive use of our superbly equipped observatory with six optical telescopes and four radio telescopes.

First Year: You will study a range of topics in astronomy, fundamental physics and mathematics. You will gain experience in observational astronomy and laboratory physics, learn programming techniques and develop an intuitive approach to problem solving. By taking part in personal tutorials and workshops, you will also be able to discuss your ideas with others.

Second Year: You will study solar and planetary physics that includes practical observatory work, electromagnetism and optics, quantum physics, thermal and statistical physics, and mathematical techniques.

Third Year: You will have the opportunity of spending this optional year at a major astronomical research centre or international observatory in a place such as the Canary Islands or the USA.  Study abroad opportunities are available at universities in Europe, Australia and the USA.

Final Year (3rd or 4th): Subjects will include cosmology, galactic astrophysics, stellar astrophysics and computational physics. You will carry out a research investigation on an astrophysics topic of your choice. This could be in conjunction with one of our existing research programmes. A range of optional topics are also available. These include space dynamics, fluid dynamics and topics in quantum physics and mathematics.

Why choose this course?

  • On our Astrophysics BSc (Hons) degree you will study the cosmos in all its wonder, gaining a detailed physical understanding of how the Universe works. We put a lot of emphasis on understanding the physical and mathematical principles behind astrophysical phenomena.
  • You will also gain considerable hand-on experience of astronomical observations at our dedicated teaching observatory, beginning your studies there only a few weeks after commencing your degree with us.
  • During your second and third years you will specialise in more advanced Astrophysical topics, including the physics of the solar system and extrasolar planets, cosmology, and star formation and stellar evolution. We also offer a range of options in your final year, including learning how to plan space missions in Space Dynamics and the flight dynamics of rockets in Rocket Performance and Propulsion.
  • You will also carry out a final year investigative project in a cutting-edge area of Astrophysics research. You will be closely supervised and guided by one of our experienced researchers in the Centre for Astrophysics Research. Previous projects have included mapping the Orion Nebula with our telescopes at Bayfordbury, studying planetary systems with the Herschel Space Observatory, and modeling high energy jets from galactic nuclei.
  • If you’re continuing on our MPhys programme it’s possible to extend your project into your MPhys year. We also have an innovative strand of industrial projects supported by the Institute of Physics, that give you direct experience of working in industrial research.

Entry requirements...

2017 entry 

UCAS are introducing a new tariff for 2017 entry so the points being asked for are substantially different to previous years.

128 UCAS points 

Must include A2 level Maths and Physics adding together to give 80 UCAS points or above, and must be at grade C or above.

 BTEC qualification in Applied Science plus A level Maths at grade C or above. Access to HE Diploma with 30 credits at merit or above in Maths and Physics.

IB - 128 points from a minimum of 3 HL subjects at grade 5 or above to include Maths and Physics (with the remaining points to come from a combination of HL, SL and Core).

GCSE Maths & English Language at grade 4 or above.

All students from non-majority English speaking countries require proof of English language proficiency. The following qualifications and grades will be considered.

- GCSE English language grade A-C 
- IELTS 6.0 (with no less than 5.5 in any band)
Other English language tests are accepted. Please contact the International Office for details.

If you do not have the required level of English for entry, our academic English and foundation courses can help you to achieve this level.

Professional Accreditations

The BSc degree has had accreditation from the Institute of Physics (IoP) for a number of years. The BSc is currently being considered for re-accreditation and we are seeking provisional accreditation for the MPhys degree from the Institute of Physics (IoP).

What our
students say

What our<br>students say

The lecturers are active researchers within their respective fields which means they are up to date with the latest research.

-Samuel Richards, Astrophysics


A degree in astrophysics opens doors to a wide variety of careers. With an MPhys you are ideally placed to go on to a career in industrial or scientific research. You could also remain in academia on a PhD programme, and this is the number one destination for our graduates. Equally your high level of numeracy, ability to think critically and communicate complex ideas will be prized by employers in areas as diverse as financial services, information technology and teaching.

Your specialist physics understanding and range of technical and mathematical abilities mean you will be well equipped for careers in research or industry, or for postgraduate study. Our graduates find employment in international observatories, research institutions, engineering and financial industries, and teaching.

More about the course

Astrophysics is one of the oldest branches of Physics, being concerned with the behaviour of the Universe and the physics of galaxies, stars and planets.  Astrophysics applies many fundamental areas of Physics to the study of the Universe, from quantum physics to electromagnetism and relativity.  Studying astrophysical phenomena, for example galaxies or supernovae, can often reveal new Physics such as the existence of dark matter and dark energy. Because Astrophysics is such a highly physical and mathematical subject, graduates are as in high demand as Physics graduates because of their analytic and transferable skills.

In the School of Physics, Astronomy & Mathematics we aim to teach you these skills in a friendly and professional environment, giving you the opportunity to learn both the fundamentals of Astrophysics and the results of modern cutting-edge research. We are in the top ten of Physics departments in the UK and we are highly regarded for our innovative and successful teaching.  Our Centre for Astrophysics Research is one of the largest astrophysics groups in the UK, with over 50 astronomers and astrophysicists. We carry out internationally excellent and world-leading research Astrophysics across a broad swathe of Astrophysics from extrasolar planets, star formation and stellar evolution, galaxy formation and evolution, supernovae and cosmology. And our observatory at Bayfordbury is widely regarded as the best teaching observatory in the UK.

The additional year it entails (with respect to the BSc programme) provides a broader and deeper exposure to the concepts, methods and phenomena of physics. It also provides experience of research work, and will constitute the normal route into graduate research.

Extracurricular activities

During your time with us we want you to have the widest opportunities possible to achieve your full potential.  So, alongside your studies, we also organise many optional extracurricular activities to help you gain professional Physics experience.  We run regular summer placements and internships in our research laboratories, and make our facilities at the Bayfordbury Observatory open to you (once you have passed an accreditation course).  Also, as a member of the South East Physics Network (SEPNet), our students have the possibility for summer internships with any of our 8 SEPNet partners.

Teaching methods

We take pride in our student-focused approach to teaching Astrophysics. With one of the best student-staff ratios in the country we are able to put our focus on you as an individual and give you the support that you need to reach your full potential as an Astrophysics graduate. Our graduates are in a wide range of careers, from scientific research to teaching and industry.

We use a variety of teaching methods during our Astrophysics degrees, ranging from small-group tutorials, to lectures and practical classes.  A key feature is our observatory at Bayfordbury, where we teach you how to carry out astronomical observations in as close to a professional setting as we can make it.  Our typical intake of students is around 50-60 in each year, which means that our class sizes are small enough so that your lecturers will know you by name.  We place particular emphasis on transferable skills, employability and project work throughout the degree.

You will meet your personal tutor on a regular basis in small-group tutorials, which are a great way of reinforcing the material that you learn in lectures. We also offer a wide variety of support throughout your degree, from you lecturers, the School’s Maths Centre and peer support from our student proctor scheme.

Work Placement

All of our Astrophysics degree programmes can be taken as a sandwich degree, with a professional placement year. We have a dedicated Placements Tutor in our School who, along with the Careers & Placements Service, will help you find and set up your placement. Within the UK our students have worked at:

  • IBM
  • Microsoft
  • the Rutherford Appleton Labs
  • the Met Office and
  • the National Physical Laboratory.

Many of our graduates go on to work or postgraduate study at their placement hosts.

Study Abroad

This course offers you the opportunity to study abroad in the Sandwich Year through the University's study abroad
programme. Study abroad opportunities are available worldwide and in Europe under the Erasmus+ Programme. Past students have gone on research and study abroad placements to the US, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Switzerland and Singapore. Find out more about Study abroad opportunities.


Year 1

Core Modules

  • Contemporary Physics (L1)

    The module introduces students to the fundamental developments in relativistic and quantum physics of the last century. Students will learn about the special relativistic effects. They will trace the development of quantum physics and learn about the structure of matter. They will uncover strange and bizarre phenomena including the twins paradox, the pole and barn paradox, matter waves, quantum tunnelling, particle-wave duality and the quantum superposition principle.

  • The Physical Universe

    The module will provide students in physics and astrophysics with a quantitative introduction to the Physical Universe. It will provide a broad survey of the universe and the structure of matter. It will show how physics and mathematics are used as theoretical tools to interpret data collected in the laboratory or at the telescope. It will introduce students to practical skills.

  • Small Group Tutorial

    The module will require students to attempt a range of problems, mostly of a mathematical nature, broadly in the students' subject area. Some problems will be associated with other specific taught modules on the programme, while others will have a synoptic role sitting across several modules. The work will challenge students to develop problem solving skills that enable them to approach unfamiliar as well as familiar problems.

  • Mathematical Techniques 1

    On entry students will have different mathematical knowledge and this module has been designed to standardise their mathematical knowledge. The module will initially review core areas of A-Level Mathematics which will be extended to improve students' knowledge. You will learn the standard mathematical techniques in calculus, matrices, vectors and series.

  • Applications of Computing

    In this module, you will learn how to use a high-level language. You will see how to develop scientific and mathematical models and how they can be implemented in a computational environment. At the end of the module you will be capable of presenting the results of a study using a mathematical computer package.

  • Laboratory Physics 1

    The module consists of experimental investigations into various physical phenomena such as classical mechanics, thermodynamics, waves and optics, quantum phenomena (blackbody and photoelectric effect) and atomic spectra. It also introduces the basic techniques of laboratory practice, including data recording, uncertainty estimation, data and uncertainty analysis, maintaining a log book and writing reports.


Year 2

Core Modules

  • Solar System Physics

    Solar System processes are studied using core physical ideas, practical observations and analytical modelling techniques.

  • Optical Physics & Electromagnetism

    The module consists of a study of optical physics and electromagnetism, leading from the early classical studies of optical physics to the development of a modern electromagnetic theory of light. Wider applications and modern developments will also be considered.

  • Quantum Physics

    The module will study the principles of quantum physics and its applications in atomic and nuclear physics. It will build on the quantum physics taught at Level 1, covering operator and eigenvalue formalisms, solutions to Schrodingers equation for atomic and nuclear potentials, conservation rules, selection rules, quantum numbers, Pauli exclusion principle, energy levels, binding energy, mass defect, radioactivity and thermonuclear fusion.

  • Mathematical Techniques 2

    You will learn how to integrate functions of two and three variables along plane and space curves and how to evaluate multiple integrals of such functions. You will learn about gradient, divergence and curl. You will be able to obtain the Fourier transform of a function and perform calculations involving analytic functions of a complex variable.

  • Graduate Skills

    This module helps to prepare students for employment and placement applications. You will be guided in the preparation of a CV, cover letter and professional web presence. You will assisted by your personal tutor, alongside members of University support services from the Careers and Placements Service and Learning and Information Services. Success in these areas also requires research skills and the ability to solve a variety of problems often now found in online practice banks. Your tutors will guide you in some of the ways of solving these problems including logical puzzles and pattern association.


  • Laboratory Physics 2

    The module consists of experimental investigations into various physical phenomena such as optical polarisation, diffraction, optical effects such as the Zeeman effect, spectroscopy, thermal properties of matter, properties of semiconductors, nuclear decay, and basic crystallography.

  • Programming

    You will learn how to design and write programs in an appropriate high-level programming language. The module will cover control structures such as loops and logical statements. You will be shown how to build more complex programs by linking separate functions and procedures. You will learn how to debug programs and produce program documentation.

  • Dynamics

    Dynamics in mathematics has a broad meaning and describes states and state spaces and the transformation or evolution of these states. In this module, we highlight these ideas whilst focusing on problems of classical mechanics. The approach will emphasise the (historically accurate) way in which mathematical structures have often been devised to solve particular mechanical problems. You will learn how to work in different frames (e.g. rotating coordinates, body-centred coordinates). You will use tensors to solve problems locally and then see how non-local variational methods can also be powerful tools, both in solving complex problems and revealing their intrinsic symmetries. Throughout the module, you will learn and practice new techniques on a weekly basis, building up a useful armoury of skills. These can be turned on more advanced problems of dynamics and have wider application in mathematical physics.

  • Professional Teaching Skills

    After gaining the all clear from the Disclosure and Barring Service, you obtain a placement in an educational setting for ten half days to work with a class teacher. You develop professional teaching skills and build a relationship with the class teacher making a lesson plan of your own which is assessed and you may get a chance to deliver. At the end of that period you give a presentation to the class, which is assessed. You keep a diary throughout which is part of the assessment.

  • Numerical Methods

    You discover how to use numerical methods to solve mathematical problems and to discuss the relative performance of different methods in terms of accuracy and efficiency. You also learn about the theoretical background to the methods.

  • Differential Equations

    This module employs a variety of mathematical methods and techniques to explore, describe and predict the behaviour of scientific, industrial and engineering phenomena. The subject appeals to individuals interested in applying mathematics to real-word problems. In this module, we focus on ordinary differential equations. The emphasis is on the development of methods important in applications. Topics include:- Theory and applications of first, second and higher order differential equations. The Laplace transforms method. Systems of linear differential equations and power series solutions to differential equations.

Year 3

Core Modules


  • Professional Placement

    Supervised work experience provides students with the opportunity to set their academic studies in a broader context, to gain practical experience in specific technical areas and to strengthen their communication and time-management skills. It greatly assists them in developing as independent learners, so that they are able to gain the maximum benefit from the learning opportunities provided at level 6 of the programme.

  • Year Abroad

    The Year Abroad will provide students with the opportunity to expand, develop and apply the knowledge and skills gained in the first two taught years of the degree within a different organisational and cultural environment in a partner academic institution. The host institution will appoint a Programme Co-ordinator who will oversee the student's programme during the Year Abroad and will liaise with the appointed UH Supervisor.

  • Placement with Study Abroad

    For the placement element the supervised work experience provides students with the opportunity to set their academic studies in a broader context, to gain practical experience in specific technical areas and to strengthen their communication and time management skills. The host company will appoint a Line Manager who will oversee the student during the placement and will liaise with the appointed UH supervisor. The study abroad element will provide students with the opportunity to expand, develop and apply the knowledge and skills gained in the first two taught years of the degree within a different organisational and cultural environment in a partner academic institution. The host institution will appoint a Programme Co-ordinator who will oversee the students programme during the time abroad and will liaise with appointed UH supervisor. Both opportunities will help develop students as independent learners, so that they are able to gain the maximum benefit from the learning opportunities provided at level 6 of the programme.

Year 4

Core Modules

  • Physics of Stars

    This module develops and applies core physics concepts to achieve a systematic, deep understanding of star formation, stellar evolution, stellar atmospheres and their observational basis. Refer to the Module Guide for a more detailed description.

  • Cosmology and Large Scale Structure

    This module develops the physical ideas required to understand core topics in contemporary cosmology. Refer to the teaching plan for a more detailed description.

  • Computational Physics

    The module will provide students with a range of self contained case studies in computational physics. Each case study will investigate a physical problem, using the computer as an investigative tool. Students will learn how to formulate and model a physical problem and how to analyse and present the results of their investigation. A variety of appropriate computer techniques are used.

  • Investigation in Physics

    Students will choose a topic from a list of typically ten different physics/astrophysics topics offered by school staff (tutors), and will conduct an open-ended investigation into that topic. The students working on each topic will work independently on their investigations with minimal supervision, under the guidance of a tutor. They will be required to produce an original, substantial and professionally presented report typically 25-30 pages in length. Students will be interviewed about their work and will defend it in a question and answer session.


  • Rocket Performance and Propulsion

    This module will introduce students to flight dynamics of rockets and their propulsion systems. Typical applications under consideration will include satellite launch and insertion into orbit, sounding rockets and potential future applications such as space tourism, together with some aspects of guided weapons.

  • Waves and Fluids

    This module develops the basic physics required to understand core topics in wave and fluid physics.

  • Space Dynamics

    Space dynamics is a coursework-only module. Students work in a computer lab supervised by the module facilitator. There are no formal lectures. Instead, students work their way through a set of computer exercises using Matlab. The exercises allow the student to tackle problems in different ways and develop their own style of problem-solving. The module covers various aspects in spacecraft dynamics including: atmospheric drag; aerobraking; transfer orbits; injection orbits; spacecraft spin; the stability of spinning motion – Euler’s equations; three-dimensional spin motion and mass models of irregular objects.

  • Contemporary Quantum Physics

    This module will cover advanced concepts in contemporary quantum physics and discuss some modern applications. Content is a selection of topics from the following, or similar: - The time evolution of quantum systems - Time dependent perturbation theory - Interaction of an atom with an electromagnetic wave - The time-energy uncertainty relation - The quantum states of light - The harmonic oscillator - Quantization of the radiation field - Zero point energy and the Casimir force - Experiments and applications - Interferometry and indistinguishability - Entangled states and quantum correlations - Lasers and Cold atoms

  • Partial Differential Equations

    PDEs arise as part of the mathematical modeling of real life problems connected to many areas of science. These connections must be exploited to find a solution to these problems. PDEs provide the foundation for a robust and important field concerned with applied mathematics. In this module we will be look at the derivation of some important PDEs and their classifications scheme. The different methods for solving first- and second-order PDEs using method of characteristics for linear and quasi-linear PDEs, d’Alembert’s solution to the wave equation and propagation of discontinuities; Separation of Variables: homogeneous equations, examples from the heat, wave, and Laplace equations, Sturm-Liouville Theory, Adjoint Operators, Non-Homogeneous PDEs, Method of Eigenfunction Expansion. Introduction to Green’s functions.

  • Dynamics and Geometry

    This module introduces the powerful mathematics used in the study of dynamical systems. We start with the calculus of variations, a topic which deals with “extremization” questions in geometry – for example, “What shape does a soap-film form?”, or “What curve is formed by a heavy chain hanging under its own weight?”. We go on to show how these techniques can be applied to mechanical systems: it turns out that the laws of motion themselves arise from extremizing some quantity: the action. This Lagrangian perspective gives a powerful way to compute the equations of motion of a system and to understand its symmetries. Typically the equations are second-order differential equations. In the final section of the module we will describe how the Hamiltonian formalism reduces them to first-order equations. In so doing we introduce the concept of phase space, and will be able to touch briefly on the rich topic of symplectic geometry.

  • Further Numerical Methods

    You discover how to use advanced numerical methods to solve mathematical problems and to discuss the relative performance of different methods in terms of accuracy and efficiency. You also learn about the theoretical background to the methods.

  • Nonlinear Systems

    You will learn how to investigate and evaluate the qualitative behaviour of the solutions of differential equations which relate to problems in a wide variety of application areas. You will recognise that the behaviour of the solution of a differential equation can be drastically altered by a small change in a parameter. These observations have important contributions in improving the applications of mathematics in industry, business and the physical sciences. The module provides the student with an understanding of differential equations by the construction, analyse and interpretation of phase portraits. In particular you will be able to identify if and when periodic solutions and other types of behaviour exist.

Fees & funding

The government has yet to announce the upper limit of Tuition Fees for applicants wishing to study an undergraduate course in 2018/19. As soon as this information becomes available, our website will be updated and we will contact everyone who has applied to the University to advise them of their Tuition Fee.

Fees 2017

UK/EU Students

Full time: £9,250 for the 2017 academic year

Part time: If you decide to study this course on a part time basis you will be charged £1155 per 15 credits for the 2017 academic year

International Students

Full time: £11,850 for the 2017 academic year

Part time: If you decide to study this course on a part time basis you will be charged £1485 per 15 credits for the 2017 academic year

*Tuition fees are charged annually. The fees quoted above are for the specified year(s) only. Fees may be higher in future years, for both new and continuing students. Please see the University’s Fees and Finance Policy (and in particular the section headed “When tuition fees change”), for further information about when and by how much the University may increase its fees for future years.

View detailed information about tuition fees

Other financial support

Find out more about other financial support available to UK and EU students

Living costs / accommodation

The University of Hertfordshire offers a great choice of student accommodation, on campus or nearby in the local area, to suit every student budget.

View detailed information about our accommodation

How to apply


Start DateEnd DateLink
29/09/201724/05/2018Apply online (Full Time)
29/09/201731/05/2018Apply online (Part Time)
29/09/201724/05/2018Apply online (Full Time/Sandwich)
29/09/201724/05/2018Apply online (Full Time/Sandwich)


Start DateEnd DateLink
29/09/201824/05/2019Apply online (Full Time)
29/09/201831/05/2019Apply online (Part Time)
29/09/201824/05/2019Apply online (Full Time/Sandwich)
29/09/201824/05/2019Apply online (Full Time/Sandwich)


Start DateEnd DateLink
29/09/201924/05/2020Apply online (Full Time)
29/09/201931/05/2020Apply online (Part Time)
29/09/201924/05/2020Apply online (Full Time/Sandwich)
29/09/201924/05/2020Apply online (Full Time/Sandwich)