Physics Modules (Year 1)
In the first two years of my physics degree, the scope of topics we have covered has been vast. The first year felt a little bit restrictive because we only got to choose one optional module and even then it was only from a choice of two. However, in second year (and hopefully even more so in third year) the options opened up a lot more.
In this post I thought I’d share my thoughts and a brief overview of each module just to give people new to the physics department an idea of what to expect.
So let’s start with first year. There are a lot of compulsory modules that will provide you with the core skills essential to your future progress and development.
I really liked the foundations module. It covered areas of physics such as thermal physics and waves that seem to have come up in every other module since. It was a great course for bringing everyone up to the same level but never felt like we were going over an A level topic without adding something new. I am always aware of how much I am still using tricks and skills picked up in this module and I’m glad I paid attention.
Foundations covered the laws of thermodynamics, dimensional analysis and finished off with the physics of waves and really highlighted how these topics slot into other areas of physics.
Classical Mechanics & Special Relativity
A lot of the early elements of this module seemed to be repetition of stuff I had covered in my A level maths’ mechanics modules. I didn’t mind though as I found this helped ease me into university learning and by the time I had reached the end of the classical mechanics section and we had started on special relativity, it was definitely a challenging module but problems sheets and classes really helped me to keep on track with this module.
Much of the classical section covered the basics of forces, momentum and acceleration but once we moved onto special relativity we went over the formulation of this newer area and moved onto applying it to more and more complex scenarios.
Electricity & Magnetism
For me, this module seemed like the one were I really learnt how to use vectors and that skill has been indescribably useful as I have carried on through the physics course. This also repeated a lot of the ideas I had come across in A level physics but adding directions to every equation made it a challenging module. All in all though, I can see the use of the knowledge gained from this module and a good final mark was achievable with a bit of extra work.
We covered the basics of electrostatics and magnetism before looking at both AC and DC circuits.
I’m noticing a theme but this was another module that started off as a more in depth look at A level content but quickly moved beyond it. There are a lot of equations to remember in this module but with practice this became one of the modules that I quite liked doing past papers in.
We considered experiments that suggested the need for quanta such as the photoelectric effect and looked at black body radiation and Planck’s approach to finding a way of describing the ultraviolet catastrophe. Later on in the module we covered some effects that I hadn’t really encountered before such as quantum tunnelling and looked at how this helped explain certain observed results.
Mathematics for Physicists
I didn’t really think there was anything particularly exciting about the maths module but was really glad it was part of the course. Having done FP3 in my further maths A level, a lot of this module just added clarity to things I had already covered but it also helped me to apply these areas of mathematics directly to physics.
In first year maths we covered complex numbers, vectors, some differential equations and fourier series. (Fourier series was a challenging section and the worksheet was difficult but again, everything seemed achievable with hard work.)
Physics Programming Workshop
I enjoyed this short module in first year. It was a quick overview of the basics of coding in python reminding me of my GCSE computer science course but again, it applied these ideas more directly to physics.
This module was assessed on course work with a set of problems each week and I always found that it was possible to find support in workshops if the tasks were a challenge. It offered a good introduction to coding but also a bit of a challenge for someone in a similar position to me who had done a little bit of coding in the past.
And now let’s finish off with the two optional modules. I had to take at least one of these two but was encouraged by my tutor to take both which is a decision I do not regret. These are both slightly shorter modules that offer interesting insights into their respective fields.
Introduction to Astronomy
In my A level physics we opted to take an optional astronomy module so a lot of this was, again, repetition for me but astronomy is one of my favourite areas so I didn’t mind.
In this module, we covered the way units and measurements are used in astronomy, looked at some of the most important equations that come up in the field as well as looking at some of the most important constituents of the universe.
Introduction to Particle Physics
Again, some of this was repetition from my A level course but it was a much needed refresher for me. This was a rare opportunity to look into particle physics so I’m glad I opted to take both optional modules.
In this module we discussed elementary particles of the universe, their interactions, symmetries and conservation laws and then looked at practical methods and detection in particle physics.
Of course, we had to do labs as well which, while tedious at times, provided me with the ability to operate more confidently in a lab environment and really helped me with error calculations and learning proper methods for physics labs. They are hard work but essential to progress.
In first year I would suggest taking the extra workload of both optional modules just because they are so different and both very interesting. First year was definitely a period of adjustment but the workload was never too extreme. Problem sheets helped to keep me on track throughout the terms and when there were bigger assignments I would often work with other students on the course as it is sometimes really helpful just to talk a problem through.
More information is available on the university website for all of the modules I have spoken about above.
I’ll discuss second year modules soon but if you have any questions about physics, feel free to ask!