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Physics and Astronomy

Physics is a key subject for understanding the world and universe. While there is much that is known, there is still a great deal to be explored. Physics goes all the way from some abstract theoretical physics to experimental investigations that can be directly applied to new technologies.

Astrophysics applies the laws of physics and chemistry to study the physical nature of stars and celestial bodies. At St Andrews, students have the opportunity to study and research a wide variety of astrophysics topics including star formation, galaxy evolution, dark matter and much more. With access to the University's own observatory, students are able to get a close-up view of our magnificent universe.

Undergraduate courses in Physics and Astrophysics seek to guide students to gain a solid grounding in core physics, and use this in exploring practical, theoretical, and computational aspects of the subject. There can be significant interaction with the School's research teams in this process. The specialist postgraduate MSc programmes also link with research activities. The main research programmes are in:

  • biophotonics
  • laser physics
  • optoelectronics
  • quantum optics
  • structured media
  • magnetism
  • superconductivity
  • millimetre-wave physics
  • astrophysics.

There is a strong academic community in the School, taking in both staff and students. This is helped by much of the teaching and research being carried out in the same building. The research in the School benefits students in many ways, not least by the possibility of access to state-of-the-art equipment for final year research projects.



Physics BSc (Hons)
Physics MPhys (Hons)
Astrophysics BSc (Hons)
Astrophysics MPhys (Hons)
Theoretical Physics MPhys (Hons)
Physics and Astronomy (Gateway) BSc (Hons)
Physics and Astronomy (Gateway) MPhys (Hons)
International Physics and Astronomy (Gateway) BSc (Hons)
International Physics and Astronomy (Gateway) MPhys (Hons)


You can also take Physics as part of a joint Honours degree. Find out more on the Physics course pages.

There are different entry and exit points for undergraduate degree programmes. Particularly well qualified students aiming for degrees within the School of Physics and Astronomy or for joint degrees with Mathematics may apply for direct entry to second year, allowing them bypass first year entirely and start studies in second year Physics.

There is also the Gateway entry route associated with the School's widening participation goals, and for those from overseas who have had less access to physics and maths in their programmes than is usual in the UK.

The MPhys Integrated Masters degree allows students to graduate with a Master of Physics. The course takes a year longer than the standard BSc honours degree, and may be particularly appropriate for those wishing to pursue a research or development career in physics or astronomy.



Astrophysics MSc
Photonics and Optoelectronic Devices MSc

Research degrees

There are opportunities to work towards a PhD or an Engineering Doctorate in Applied Photonics in most of the School's research areas.

Please contact a supervisor in your research area to inquire about PhD opportunities.

Visit St Andrews

If you are interested in studying at St Andrews, join us at an open day to explore the town, find out about our courses and meet current students.


Booking for our autumn visiting days will open in early September 2017.

  • Wednesday 27 September 2017
  • Wednesday 4 October 2017
  • Wednesday 18 October 2017
  • Wednesday 25 October 2017
  • Wednesday 1 November 2017



  • November 2017 - date to be confirmed.

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Latest in Physics and Astronomy at St Andrews

Congratulations to Alasdair Gent who has been awarded the Bobby Jones Fellowship to study for a Masters degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology.


Professor Jim Scott has won the UNESCO medal for contributions to nanoscience and nanotechnology.


Physics and Astronomy research areas

The School has a thriving research community which benefits from its modern, well-equipped laboratories and facilities. Clusters of research groups organise several series of seminars and discussion groups in theoretical physics, astronomy, condensed matter, photonics and biophotonics.

All PhD students are enrolled in the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA), which is the largest group of physics researchers in the UK, and runs the SUPA graduate school.

Research students may apply for a PhD place in the following research areas:

Condensed matter research

Condensed matter physics research in St Andrews covers some of the most contemporary topics in the field, including:

  • theoretical and experimental studies of the physics of correlated electron systems
  • quantum coherence
  • superconductivity
  • magnetism
  • microcavity polaritons and cold atoms.

St Andrews is part of the EPSRC funded Doctoral Training Centre in condensed matter physics.

The following members of staff are currently undertaking research in condensed matter physics:

  • Dr Bernd Braunecker: theoretical condensed matter physics; interacting electrons and magnetism in low-dimensional conductors; self-emergent phases; dynamical response; correlation effects in NMR; generation and detection of entaglement in nanostructures; topological states.
  • Dr Donatella Cassettari: Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute atomic gases; strongly correlated many-body quantum mechanics; implementation of quantum information processing with neutral atoms.
  • Dr Chris Hooley: theoretical condensed matter physics; the quantum many-body problem; vortex-mediated melting in layered systems with competing orders; interpretation of partition function zeros at complex temperature; majorana-paired mean-field states in magnetic systems; spin-orbit interaction in the jellium model; formation of edge states in topological insulators.
  • Dr Jonathan Keeling: quantum states and dynamics of non-equilibrium systems; problems in microcavity polaritons; cold atoms in optical cavities; superconducting qubits in microwave cavities.
  • Dr Phil King: investigating and manipulating electronic structure and many-body interactions in quantum materials; topological insulators; correlated electron systems; influence of spin-orbit coupling; angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy.
  • Professor Steve Lee: microscopic probes applied to superconducting and magnetic systems; magnetic structures of single crystals, multilayers, magnetic-superconductor interfact, magnetic recording media, artificial multiferroics, artificial spin-ice systems and other lithographically generated nanostructures.
  • Dr Brendon Lovett: theoretical studies of quantum coherence in condensed matter systems; optical control of electron states; electronic coherence with environmental interactions; quantum memory and biology.
  • Professor Andrew Mackenzie: the physics of correlated electrons; magnetism and superconductivity; many-body quantum states; low temperature properties of extremely pure oxide metals; magnets and superconductors.
  • Dr Peter Wahl: tunneling spectroscopy of strongly correlated electron materials; Kondo effects of single magnetic atoms at metal surfaces; competition between magnetism and electron correlations in coupled impurities; bulk correlated electron systems.

Phototonics, optoelectronics and biophysics

St Andrews photonics research covers a wide range of areas from the basic science of the interaction of light and matter, through to the development of photonic devices for particular applications. Research in biophysics has a focus on photonic techniques for detection and treatment of disease, and also includes electron spin resonance techniques using world-leading millimetre-wave instrumentation.

St Andrews is part of the EPSRC funded Doctoral Training Centre in applied photonics.

The following members of staff are currently undertaking research in phototonics, optoelectronics and biophysics:

  • Dr Tom Brown: ultrafast lasers; development of laser systems based on solid state gain media focusing; biophotonics.
  • Dr Andrea Di Falco: synthetic optics; flexible metamaterials; nanoplasmonics; photonic crystals; transformation optics; grayscale lithography; applications including imaging, sensing, biophotonics and nonlinear optics.
  • Professor Kishan Dholakia: optical micromanipulation techniques; investigation of novel light fields; characterisation of partical dynamics in optical light fields; optical traps within microfluidic environments; novel laser techniques for cell biology and medicine.
  • Professor Malcolm Dunn: nonlinear optics; solid-state laser physics; frequency conversion of coherent laser sources; optical parametric oscillators; terahertz generation; frequency comb generation; gas imaging.
  • Professor Malte Gather: biophotonics; biological lasers; organic semiconductors; plasmonics.
  • Dr Friedrich Koenig: quantum optics; Hawking radiation; event horizons; analog gravity; few-cycle pulses in fibres; fibre-optical black holes; non-linear fibre optics; solitons.
  • Dr Natalia Korolkova: theoretical quantum optics and quantum information; continuous variable quantum information; the creation of light-matter interface and quantum memory of light.
  • Dr Janet Lovett: electron spin resonance for biomolecular structure deterination; protein structure investigations; development of new spin labels and methods of spin labelling.
  • Dr Michael Mazilu: fundamental and applied photonics; optical eigenmodes for beating the diffraction limit; subwavelength focusing; optimised structured illumination; compressive imaging; micromanipulation; crosstalk free coherent control; Raman imaging.
  • Dr Liam O’Faolain: silicon photonics; photonic crystals (disorder and loss, photonic crystal cavities); optical modulators; silicon photonics compatible lasers; energy efficient optimal datacommunication.
  • Dr Carlos Penedo-Esteiro: novel biophysical techniques; single-molecule detection techniques; biomolecular interactions including proteins; DNA and RNA at the level of individual molecules; real-time monitoring of the behaviour of individual biological molecules and complexes, in vitro and in live cells.
  • Professor Ifor Samuel: organic semiconductor materials and devices; development of advanced materials; emerging applications of organic semiconductors such as explorsive sensing and skin cancer treatment; applications of fluorescence in medicine and biology.
  • Dr Graham Smith: electron spin resonance for biomolecular structure determination and materials research; high sensitivity mm-wave magnetic resonance instrumentation; mm-wave radar systems; systems and components.
  • Dr Graham Turnbull: photonic applications of soft materials; nanophotonics; organic lasers; explosive vapor sensors; nanoimprint lithography; hybrid optoelecronics; photophysics of organic semiconductors; OLEDs; polymer nanofibres.


The portfolio of astronomy research in St Andrews is extremely diverse, spanning the full range of contemporary astrophysics from the largest to the smallest scales. Research areas include:

  • theoretical cosmology
  • the formation and evolution of galaxies
  • star formation
  • extrasolar planet detection
  • physics and chemistry of very cool atmospheres
  • the formation of planetary systems and their discs
  • radiative transfer in the interstellar medium
  • magnetic fields around solar type stars.

Research teams approach these topics from theoretical, numerical and observational perspetives.

The following members of staff are currently undertaking research in astronomy:

  • Professor Ian Bonnell: dynamics of star formation and of young stellar systems; star–star collisions; formation of high mass stars and multiple stellar systems.
  • Professor Andrew Cameron: discovery and characterisation of extrasolar planets via transit surveys, radial-velocity and photometric follow-up; characterisation of stellar magnetic activity and its influence on planet characterisation; stellar rotation surveys; Doppler tomography of starspots and transiting planets; tidal interaction between close-orbiting planets and their host stars.
  • Dr Claudia Cyganowski: observational studies of massive star formation; proto-stellar feedback; star formation in clustered environments; astrochemistry; wavelength interferometry.
  • Dr Martin Dominik: detection and characterisation of extrasolar planets by means of gravitational microlensing; determination of abundance of galactic and extra-galactic planets; modelling of photometric and astrometric microlensing events and development of required numerical algorithms; intelligent real-time scheduling on robotic telescope networks; Lucky imaging.
  • Dr Scott Gregory: stellar and planetary magnetism; protoplanetary disks; pre-main sequence and low mass main sequence stars; stellar coronae; stellar rotation; accretion and outflow models; star formation; X-ray emission and flares.
  • Dr Chistiane Helling: atmospheres of extrasolar planets and brown dwarfs; cloud formation and their effects on the atmosphere; lightning and charge sparation in dust environments.
  • Professor Keith Horne: extrasolar planets; robotic telescopes; accretion disks; cataclysmic variables; active galactic nuclei; X-ray binaries; black holes; magnetic activity; magnetic accretion; Doppler tomography; eclipse mapping; echo mapping; gravitational lensing; cosmology; conformal gravity; maximum entropy methods; data analysis techniques; statistics; virtual reality.
  • Professor Moira Jardine: theoretical studies of stellar magnetic fields; early rotational evolution of the solar system; formation of planetary systems.
  • Dr Alexander Scholz: the star–planet connection; formation and early evolution of stars, brown dwarfs and planets; star formation in diverse environments; time-domain studies of young stellar objects; accretion, outflows and magnetic activity; angular momentum regulation in stars; weather in dusty environments.
  • Dr Rita Tojeiro: galaxy evolution; stellar populations in galaxies; large-scale structure of the Universe and galaxy clustering; observational cosmology; large spectroscopic surveys; science communications.
  • Dr Anne-Marie Weijmans: structure and evolution of galaxies; integral-field spectroscopy and galaxy surveys; properties of stellar and dark matter haloes.
  • Dr Vivienne Wild: evolution of galaxies; observations of recently formed galaxies in high redshift surveys; stellar population archaeology in low redshift surveys; multi-wavelength observations using space and ground-based telescopes; galaxy evolution models.
  • Dr Peter Woitke: computational modelling of low-energy astrophysical objects, such as protoplanetary discs; atmospheres of brown dwarfs; simulations of dust-driven AGB star winds.
  • Dr Kenneth Wood: simulations of transport of light through three-dimensional astrophysical systems comprising dust and gas; tests theories for the structure, evolution and composition of protostellar clouds and disks that provide the seeds for star and planet formation.
  • Dr Hongsheng Zhao: dark matter; galaxy dynamics and gravitational lensing as probes of dark matter; alternative theories of gravity.

Physics research centres

Research groups organise several series of seminars and discussion groups within the School and with external speakers. Seminars and discussions focus on a variety of topics: theoretical physics, astronomy, condensed matter, photonics and biophotonics. There is also a weekly research colloquium in which research leaders from across the world present their research to a general physics audience.

The School of Physics and Astronomy currently has, or is collaboratively involved with, six research centres and groups:

Scottish Doctoral Training Centre in Condensed Matter Physics (CM-CDT)
The Centre is a collaboration between St Andrews, Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt. It provides student a rigorous graduate education in the key field of condensed matter physics and trains them for success in the workplace.

Centre for Doctoral Training in Applied Photonics
The Centre, led by Heriot-Watt, offers both PhD and Engineering Doctorates (DEng) in Photonics. The programme combines PhD level research projects with masters-level technical and MBA courses, consisting of specialist topics in photonics plus business courses.

Centre of Magnetic Resonance (CMR)
The CMR joins research groups from the Schools of Physics, Chemistry and Biology in St Andrews as well as research groups in Dundee, all working in the fields of liquid or solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), dynamic nuclear polarization (DNP), electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR), muon spin rotation or computational magnetic resonance.

Organic Semiconductor Centre (OSC)
The OSC brings together physicists and chemists at the University of St Andrews to undertake collaborative research on remarkable plastic-like materials that can conduct electricity and emit light. The OSC aims to encourage synergy between physicists and chemists to develop the next generation of organic semiconductors.

Photonics Innovation Centre (PIC)
The PIC offers a state-of-the-art facility for collaborative, applications-oriented research and development of photonic-based technologies. The Centre maintains and has access to a substantial equipment infrastructure for use on projects including coherent sources, diagnostic devices and CAD packages.

Astronomy Group
The Astronomy Group at St Andrews covers a wide range of research areas from both theoretical and observational astrophysics, including exoplanets, star formation, galaxies and their evolution, and cosmology.

Physics and Astronomy research portal



The School of Physics and Astronomy is home to modern, well-equipped teaching and research laboratories, an on-site library, and technical services including a helium liquefier, electronics workshop and mechanical workshop.

The research labs include:

  • a state-of-the-art MBE thin-film growth kit with angle resolved photoemission facility
  • low temperature scanning tunnelling microscopes in ultra-low vibration labs
  • several cryomagnetic systems
  • high field NMR and EPR spectrometers
  • a class 10,000 cleanroom with a range of advanced fabrication facilities for photonic materials
  • ultrafast photonics
  • the largest operational optical telescope in the UK.

The lecture theatres are well equipped for their purpose, and a variety of smaller rooms are used for teaching, tutorials, and meetings. The social learning area and group study area adjacent to the café provide an area for students to relax and to work. The staff common room provides a congenial environment for all research staff and PhD students to meet and exchange ideas.


The University observatory hosts a range of astronomical telescopes for research, teaching and outreach.

  • The 37" James Gregory Telescope is the largest operational telescope in Scotland. It is mainly run by postgraduate students and is used almost exclusively for research projects.
  • The two Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes (10" and 16" aperture) in the Napier building act as the student observatory. Students can receive training on these telescopes and use them on their own for visual observations, astrophotography and research.
  • A number of smaller mobile telescopes are available.

In the 2015-2016 academic year, the Observatory was mainly used for the discovery of exoplanets, monitoring young stars and space debris, and observing the shapes of asteroids.

Careers for graduates in Physics and Astronomy

The School aims to produce graduates with appropriate knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be successful in industrial or commercial positions, or undertaking PhD study in universities. Some graduates work in careers where they use physics every day in physics-based industry, while others use well-developed transferable skills to enter management, financial services, and related industries. Some students go straight from an undergraduate degree to a job, while some do so after a vocational MSc or PhD study.

First degree destinations include:

  • systems engineering
  • research facilitation
  • industrial research and development
  • financial services
  • software consultancy
  • astrophysics research
  • observatory managers
  • MSc and PhD study.

Graduates from the MSc in Photonics and Optoelectronic Devices course have moved to destinations including:

  • laser development
  • sales and marketing with consumer optoelectronics
  • product support of optical metrology equipment
  • theoretical modelling of photonic structures
  • university teaching
  • internship with a national laser lab
  • semiconductor optoelectronics research.

Many PhD graduates find jobs as researchers in universities or national laboratories and observatories. Others begin careers in industrial research, sales or marketing, patents law, the financial sector and the media.

Companies recent PhD students have begun careers with include:

  • The UK Patent Office
  • Dyson
  • FraunhoferUK
  • Selex
  • Edinburgh Instruments
  • Photonics Solutions.

See recent graduate employment case studies.

Funding opportunities

There is a range of funding opportunities available for all levels of study.


Several undergraduate scholarships are available for prospective undergraduate students.

Undergraduate scholarships

Postgraduate students

The Scottish Funding Council is offering a scholarship of up to £7,500 for students applying for the MSc in Photonic and Optoelectronic Devices who are from Scotland or EU countries (excluding the UK).

Postgraduate taught scholarships

PhD students

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council offers studentship funding in many areas, including Physics.

Funding for PhD students


REF 2014

‌The School of Physics and Astronomy was ranked third in the UK for research quality in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework Assessment.

University league tables

Physics at St Andrews was ranked first in the UK by the Guardian University Guide 2017, second in the UK by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2017, and first in Scotland by the Complete University Guide 2017 for teaching quality, student satisfaction and graduate prospects.


School of Physics and Astronomy
University of St Andrews
North Haugh
St Andrews
KY16 9SS

Phone: +44 (0)1334 46 3111 

School of Physics and Astronomy website

School of Physics and Astronomy research portal