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 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. This grounding is used 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, including laser physics, optoelectronics, and astrophysics, among others. 

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.


Undergraduate - 2020 entry

Physics BSc (Hons)
Physics MPhys (Hons)
Astrophysics BSc (Hons)
Astrophysics MPhys (Hons)
Theoretical Physics MPhys (Hons)
Gateway to Physics and Astronomy Gateway programme
International Gateway to Physics and Astronomy Gateway programme
FE-HE Pathway to Science Pathway to BSc (Hons)

Joint degree options

You can also take the Physics BSc and the Physic MPhys as part of a joint Honours degree.

Entry routes

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 to bypass first year entirely and start studies in second year.

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.

Integrated Masters

The MPhys Integrated Masters degree allows students to graduate with a Master of Physics. MPhys courses take 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.

International Foundation programmes - 2020 entry

International Foundation programmes prepare international students for undergraduate study in the UK and at the University of St Andrews in particular.

Science September Foundation

Postgraduate - 2020 entry


Astrophysics MSc
Photonics and Optoelectronic Devices MSc

Research degrees

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

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 a visiting day or talk and tour to explore the town, find out about our courses and meet current students.

Upcoming visiting days:

  • Wednesday 1 April 2020
  • Wednesday 8 April 2020
  • Wednesday 15 April 2020

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Upcoming visiting days:

  • Wednesday 11 March 2020

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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. There is also a weekly research colloquium in which research leaders from across the world present their research to a general physics audience.

The main research programmes are in:

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

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

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


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 recent years, the Observatory has been 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 for 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
  • Fraunhofer UK
  • 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.


The Physics and Astronomy Scholarship is for entrant undergraduate students with a degree intention of Physics, Astrophysics or Theoretical Physics or any joint Honours combination.

Undergraduate scholarships

Postgraduate students

The University of St Andrews offers a range of postgraduate funding opportunities.

Postgraduate taught scholarships

PhD students

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

Science and Technology Facilities Council studentship funding is also available to astronomy postgraduate research students. 

Also available are China Scholarship Council scholarships for PhD students in the School of Physics and Astronomy. 

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.

University league tables

Physics at St Andrews was ranked first in the UK by the Guardian University Guide 2020 and the 2020 Complete University Guide.


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