School of Physics & Astronomy

School of Physics & Astronomy

Course Structure

Honours lab experiment looking at conductivity of alloys at 4 to 270 Kelvin We offer courses leading to BSc and MPhys honours degrees in the following areas:-

  • Physics (BSc and MPhys)
  • Astrophysics (BSc and MPhys)
  • Theoretical Physics (MPhys)
  • Theoretical Physics and Mathematics (MPhys)
  • Physics & Philosophy (BSc)
  • Physics & Mathematics (BSc)
  • Physics & Computer Science (BSc)
  • Physics & Chemistry (MSci)

A summary of our BSc and MPhys degree programme is available.  Students with good Advanced Highers or A-level results are given the choice of entering at year-one or at an accelerated entry point in year two in some degree programmes (astrophysics, physics, theoretical physics, joint degrees with mathematics).

Some choose to work on the grass outside the School buildingEntry at year-two allows the completion of a BSc honours degree in three years and the MPhys in four.  These students would normally take in their year of entry two level-two physics modules, level two maths modules, and at least one other module, which would be Astrophysics 1 (condensed) and Astrophysics 2 for those wishing to take Astrophysics as their degree topic. 

Entry at year-one is appropriate for those entering directly from Highers qualifications, and those who wish to take the broad range of topics in a traditional Scottish University course (including those aiming for some of the joint degrees listed above).

We have an alternative entry route, the Gateway to Physics and Astronomy. In this strongly supported first year students spend all their academic time on physics, astrophysics, maths, and related skill development. These students can progress into the second year of a BSc or MPhys programme in physics, MPhys theoretical physics, BSc physics and mathematics, MPhys theoretical physics and mathematics, or BSc or MPhys astrophysics.

A feature of studying at St Andrews is the flexibility in the final choice of degree. Students normally study six modules in year-one and four to six in year-two. By appropriate choice of modules the final choice of degree programme from within the degrees offered by our School, Mathematics, and other schools, can be postponed until the start of year-three. 

In year-one we  run the modules Physics 1A, Physics 1B,   and Astronomy and Astrophysics 1. Physics 1A and 1B are the pre-requisites for entry into year-two physics or astronomy, with the latter also requiring a pass in first year Astronomy and Astrophysics. We also run a course for those not intending to study physics or astronomy beyond level one, the Physical Universe.  

First year lecture with lens explorationEach of the 20-credit year-one modules consists of four or five lectures and one tutorial per week, and associated laboratory work. The physics courses are at a level comparable to Advanced Highers or A-level; the Astronomy module starts from scratch, but assumes a knowledge of Highers/A-level mathematics and physics.  The picture shows a scene from a first year lectures on optical instruments. The lecturer having explained some of the aspects of refracting telescopes, the students are exploring some of these ideas with simple lenses.   Tutorials are in reasonably small groups.


Exploring the Gas LawsAt year-two (level two) we run two physics modules and choice of zero or one of the two astronomy modules (one is compulsory for those aiing for a degree in astrophysics). The physics modules contain (Physics 2A) Mechanics; Special Relativity; Thermal Physics, and Oscillations and (Physics 2B) Classical Waves, Quantum Physics, and Electricity and Electromagnetism. These modules build on previous work in year-one or at school, and provide interesting developments of these topics. Most of these courses also act as the material needed to start work on more advanced treatments at honours level. The Astronomy and Astrophysics 2 module covers the structure and evolution of stars, galactic astronomy, exoplanets, and observational techniques. There is an alternative, shorter, level two astronomy module for those with interests more in theoretical astrophysics. Students wishing to continue with physics or astronomy would also be required to take the appropriate mathematics modules.

Oscillations in electronic circuitsThe lectures of all physics and astronomy level-two modules are supplemented by tutorials, which in physics are usually in groups of four or five students meeting with a staff member once a week. Relevant and exciting laboratory experiments are also undertaken to allow a hands-on exploration of topics, and training in relevant instrumentation and techniques.  Our picture shows (above) students exploring the adiabatic compression of gases and (alongside) oscillations in electronic circuits.



Investigating the longitudinal modes of lasersAt the start of year-three those students whose results have been sufficiently good are given the choice of studying for the MPhys or BSc degree in programmes where such a choice exists. Others who meet the necessary standard are invited to join the BSc honours programme. We currently offer several titles of honours degree, and there is also a good deal of choice of modules within some of these. After consultation with their adviser of studies students choose appropriate combinations of modules for third and fourth year. These may include laboratory modules as appropriate, and a small-group tutorial system in third year.   Modules are available in "pure" science and in aspects of applying physics to particular issues.  BSc students graduate at the end of year-four, while MPhys students stay on for one more year.

Student giving talk at the Burn ConferenceIn year-three all students studying wholly within the School take the module "Transferable Skills for Physicists".   This provides training and practice in advanced written and oral communication skills, problem solving, and teamwork.   The picture shows the class at the weekend conference in a mansion in the Scottish hills, where students gave talks to each other, as well as taking part in non-academic activities. Students on the joint degrees have some work of this nature within specified other modules.

16 inch Meade telescope at the University Observatory The final year for all students includes a major project undertaken by individual students.  This is usually carried out within one of the research groups.  This is a great way to explore physics and astronomy, and on occasion can lead to a paper in a refereed international scientific journal. 

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Last updated BDS 9.17