School of Physics & Astronomy

Teaching Facilities


Main entrance to our SchoolWe benefit from the use of a modern building with purpose-built facilities. Essentially all the teaching is done in this building or in the adjoining mathematical sciences building.  These building are situated on the western edge of town, on an area known as the North Haugh.  Chemistry, biomolecular sciences, and computer science are also in this area, along with some halls of residence and the sports centre.   A medical sciences building has been built to the north of the School. The centre of town is five minutes walk away.

Lecture in theatre BTeaching on-site means that demonstrations can be a regular part of lectures (particularly in first year).  The theatres are well equipped with audio-visual facilities, and "clickers" can be used as "audience response units" to allow class members quickly to respond to questions posed in lectures.  The relatively small sizes of the lecture classes mean than that students can and do take the opportunity to ask questions during the lectures. In the summer of 2009 the two largest lecture theatres, the library, and main concourse in the building were stripped back to the concrete and rebuilt, with our students and staff involved in the consultations on the design..


first year tutorial discussionTutorials are provided to allow students and staff to discuss aspects of the science covered in the courses, and wider issues.  In first year physics students meet weekly in groups of up to about eight students.  In second and third year students meet weekly in groups of four or five with a member of staff.

Study desks in the J F Allen Library The library on our top floor houses books and other material needed by students in physics, astronomy, computing, and mathematics. There are also study tables, a range of journals, on-line catalogues, and a helpful librarian. The library also has a pair of group study rooms.

In the main concourse we provide a range of social and working areas.



Part of the group study areaPart of the main concourse looking through to the cafe







The area from the main entrance to the cafe has "comfy" seating, higher-level tables, and tables best suited for the cafe itself. Behind the cafe is a group study area where students may work together, sometimes sharing computer resources via the "large" screen displays.

Exploring physics in the PC Classroom We have a classroom of 34 networked PCs complete with data projection and other facilities.  This room is used for taught classes, individual study, and general use. All students are entitled to use these facilities. We find that good simulations on the computers can be powerful learning tools, as illustrated by two of our students alongside exploring ideas of interference.  However, we still see lecturer-student interaction as being as important as ever.  A number of computers are also available elsewhere in the building, including Unix-based machines that are heavily used by senior astrophysics students.

measuring the charge to mass ratio of the electron in the first year lab experiment in electromagnetic induction The Gregory Telescope, a 0.94 m reflector


The teaching laboratories are well equipped with a range of apparatus. They are staffed by excellent technicians. In the first year physics lab students work in pairs or small groups on topics strongly associated with their lecture work. The first picture shows a study of the charge to mass ratio of electrons.  The second picture shows first year students studying electromagnetic induction by dropping magnets through coils. The induced currents are recorded on a computer and the students can then deduce aspects of the electromagnetic induction or the fall of the magnet.  First year students spend 2.5 hours per week in the physics labs.  Similar arrangements apply to astronomy students, with observing from the University telescopes being an optional extra.   The University Observatory contains a number of excellent telescopes, including the largest operational optical telescope in the UK, as pictured above right.

Second year electronics practical





In the second year physics lab students work for sets of three afternoons on more advanced experiments, including lasers, polarisation (shown to the right above), damped driven oscillations, magnetic fields, etc. Teaching is also provided in practical electronics, as shown above.  Second year students spend 2.5 hours per week in the physics lab, with additional time spent in teaching workshops.

Exploring the electrical properties of superconductors at cryogenic temperatures In third year and fourth year, those students taking a degree in experimental physics continue with advanced work in the teaching laboraties, and astrophysics students are involved in computational astrophysics and observational techniques. Thoeretical physics students have the option whether or not to take level three and four lab modules.

Exerimental investigations in the level three physics lab include optical tweezers, atomic-force-microscopy, superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs), cryogenic studies of alloy conduction (shown alongside), X-ray crystal diffraction, signal processing, interfacing to computers, and studies of semiconductor bandgaps. 

The optical parametric oscillator (a tunable laser) in our honours teaching labOne of many advanced experiments is the optical parametric oscillator, as pictured alongside, which is a tunable laser-like device.  This is an example of the successful partnership between teaching and research, coming as it does out of the experience of our research team in tunable coherent optical sources.

Final year projects are carried out by all students, usually in collaboration with one of the School's research groups. This project is an exciting and challenging way to discover aspects of physics and astronomy at first hand.

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Last updated BDS 9.17