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Last modified: 25 May 2018 11:16

Course Overview

This course gives insight into the Universe and looks at how modern physics impacts our world. From special relativity we will examine time dilation, length contraction and E=mc2. Quantum mechanical concepts will be introduced, such as matter waves and the uncertainty principle. Particle physics is then outlined followed by the design and purpose of the LHC. The course discusses the Big Bang theory and important cosmological issues, such as the effects of general relativity, Olbers’ paradox, dark matter and dark energy. Large-scale astronomy to be covered includes stellar and galactic evolutions and ‘exotic’ objects such as quasars and black holes.

Course Details

Study Type Undergraduate Level 2
Session Second Sub Session Credit Points 15 credits (7.5 ECTS credits)
Campus None. Sustained Study No
  • Dr Charles Wang
  • Dr Silke Henkes
  • Dr Francisco Perez-Reche

Qualification Prerequisites

  • Programme Level 2

What courses & programmes must have been taken before this course?

  • One of PX1016 Understanding the Physical World (Passed) or PX1514 Astronomy and Meteorology (Passed) or PX2011 An Introduction to Space Science and Remote Sensing (Studied)
  • Any Undergraduate Programme (Studied)

What other courses must be taken with this course?


What courses cannot be taken with this course?

  • PX2510 Relativity and Quantum Mechanics (Studied)

Are there a limited number of places available?


Course Description

In this course we aim to summarise some of the key developments in Modern (post 1900) physics in a simple and accessible manner. As such, the course is divided into "Modern Physics", comprising special relativity, quantum mechanics, nuclear physics and particle physics, and also "Cosmology and Astronomy". Where appropriate some of this will be presented in a historical context, describing how models are developed and tested, and how new theories come to light.

In the first part of the course, we discuss general "Modern Physics". The twin subjects of relativity and quantum mechanics have had an impact right across the sciences. The course discusses why these topics emerged from classical physics, outlines what they are about and some of their fundamental results. From special relativity we will examine time dilation, mass increase, length contraction and of course E=mc2 and the implications of this equation. The development of quantum mechanics will be followed, leading to such key results as the (implications of the) Schrodinger Wave equation and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. We will then go on to learn about the basics of nuclear and particle physics, leading to the design and purpose of the LHC.

The course also addresses some philosophical issues raised by the question "What is science?" and what distinguishes it from other fields of knowledge. It discusses the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe and how this theory makes predictions that can be tested by observation, such as the cosmic microwave background and the relative abundance of light elements in the Universe. The course looks at several cosmological issues, such as the role of General Relativity, Olbers paradox, dark matter and dark energy. Large-scale astronomy is discussed including the evolution of galaxies, different kinds of stars and their evolution and the presence of "exotic" objects such as quasars and black holes.

Further Information & Notes

Cannot be taken with PX 2510.

Degree Programmes for which this Course is Prescribed


Contact Teaching Time

33 hours

This is the total time spent in lectures, tutorials and other class teaching.

Teaching Breakdown


1st Attempt: 1 two-hour multiple choice examination (60%); in-course assessment (40%) comprising two group presentations and a short summary essay.

Resit: 1 two-hour multiple choice examination (60%). The in-course assessment will be carried forward, although there is the opportunity to resubmit the short summary essay (worth 10%).

Formative Assessment

Problem solving will be tackled during tutorials and help and feedback will be given individually.


Tutorial feedback will be given orally, though written feedback can also be given if tutorial work is handed in for marking. For summative (group) assessments, written feedback (by e-mail) will be given to each group on their work within a week of the assessment. For the summary essay, individual written feedback will be given.

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