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

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About the course


This course will give you the skills to understand the world in terms of forces and particles in small or complex systems. You will learn you comprehend everything from the streamlined shape of dolphins to the quantum encryption of messages.

Physics is undergoing review during the current academic year (2015/16). Consequently the current structure and content of the programme as described will be subject to change from 2016/17 student entry. The changes to the course will be posted on and applicants to the programme will be contacted in writing to inform them of these changes. 

Therefore our website will be updated within 28 days of the successful completion of the Periodic Review in order to provide applicants with further confirmed details on the following:

  • Module titles
  • Whether the modules are core or optional
  • The expected contact hours
  • How the programme will be assessed
  • Staff teaching on the programme

What you will learn

You will learn both the fundamentals of Physics 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 internationally excellent and world-leading Physics research covers the microphysics of air quality, atmospheric physics, light scattering, quantum optics and mathematical physics. The School’s vibrant research programmes feed into the course content and into Final Year project investigation. Your degree will provide you with a highly regarded professional qualification and prepare you for postgraduate study.

First Year: You will cover a broad range of topics in classical and modern physics, with an introduction to relativity, quantum physics and cosmology. This will be supported by practical work in the laboratory and at the observatory. As well as developing sound mathematical skills, you will be introduced to a high-level programming language. By taking part in academic tutorials and workshops, you will be able to discuss your ideas with others.

Second Year: You will study electromagnetism and optics, nuclear and quantum physics, thermal and statistical physics, condensed matter physics and further mathematics.

Third Year: You will have the opportunity of working in industry or at a research institution. Study abroad opportunities are available at universities in Europe, Australia and the USA.

Final Year (3rd or 4th):  Subjects include computational physics, contemporary quantum physics and fluid dynamics. You will carry out a research investigation on a physics topic of your choice. This could be in conjunction with one of our existing research programmes. A range of optional subjects is also available. These include space dynamics, stellar physics and partial differential equations.

Why choose this course?

  • Our degree lets you study the fundamental theories behind Physics and their application to modern-day research and technology. We will take you from the knowledge that you have gained in your school or college studies right the way to the most up-to-date developments.
  • During your second and third years you begin to specialise in experimental physics or more theoretical and mathematical concepts. You can choose from a range of options in your final year, including Nonlinear Systems, Quantum Computing, Space Dynamics or astrophysics.
  • You will also carry out a final year investigative project in a cutting-edge area of Physics research. You will be closely supervised and guided by one of our experienced researchers in the Centre for Atmospheric & Instrumentation Research. Previous projects have included designing a calibration system for airborne ice sensors, modelling the behaviour of soliton waves in the oceans, and examining quantum dynamics using topological methods.
  • 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...


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Key staff

Dr James Collett
For academic queries
Find out more about Dr James Collett

Dr Mark Thompson
For admissions queries
Find out more about Dr Mark Thompson

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 physics
students say

What our physics<br>students say

As part of my studies at the University of Hertfordshire I opted to take a placement year at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory where I had to learn new skills on the job, working to precision, provide excellent customer service and liaising with other members of a multidisciplinary team. Most of the research at the laboratory was geared up towards laser-driven nuclear fusion, and I was able to work on one of the lasers; the Vulcan.

I have just graduated with first class honours in BSc Physics from the University of Hertfordshire and got accepted onto a graduate scheme with Frank Hirth PLC; a UK/US tax advisory firm in London. I keep the science ticking over in the background and plan on returning to it from a career perspective at some point in the future.

-Daniel Johnson, BSc Physics


A physics degree will open up opportunities for careers in industry, teaching, telecommunications, computing and research.  The analytical skills you will gain are also highly valued in a variety of non-scientific jobs, including finance, accounting or commerce.  You will also be able to progress onto postgraduate study.

More about the course

Physics is one of the most fundamental of all sciences, dealing with the underlying nature of the Universe and the behaviour of matter, energy and forces.  Advances in Physics have driven modern day society, from the thermal physics that underpinned the Industrial Revolution, to the electromagnetism, quantum physics and relativity that are an integral part of things like GPS, computers and lasers. Physics graduates are in high demand in a number of sectors due to their well-developed analytic, mathematical 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 Physics 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 internationally excellent and world-leading Physics research covers the microphysics of air quality, atmospheric physics, light scattering, quantum optics and mathematical physics.

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 Physics. 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 a Physics 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 Physics degrees, ranging from small-group tutorials, to lectures and practical classes. 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 Physics 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 University’s 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

  • Thermal and Condensed Matter Physics (L2)

    The module introduces the concepts of thermal and statistical physics. These include the concepts of entropy, heat, temperature, and thermal equilibrium. Reversible, irreversible, cyclic and non-cyclic processes are treated. Applications, such as the operation and efficiency of heat engines, are considered. The module also introduces the principles of condensed matter physics. This includes a study of dielectric and magnetic materials, the electronic structure of solids and thermal and electrical conduction. Refer to the teaching for a more detailed description.

  • 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

  • Waves and Fluids

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

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

Fees 2016

UK/EU Students

Full time: £9,000 for the 2016 academic year

Part time: If you decide to study this course on a part time basis you will be charged on a modular basis. The cost is £1,125 for each 15-credit module

International Students

Full time: £11,500 for the 2016 academic year

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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.

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