Astrophysics (MPhys)

The MPhys in Astrophysics is a four-year undergraduate degree that enables you to explore Astrophysics topics in greater depth than is possible on a three-year course.

Physics students in a lab

It covers the core physical and mathematical concepts with a clear focus on our interpretation of the Universe.

This programme is designed to give you a broad physics education and a thorough grounding in physical principles, mathematical methods, computing, statistics and observational techniques - subjects that are increasingly important in a technological society. 

Students are required to maintain a minimum average of 55% in years 1 and 2 in order to remain on the MPhys programme.

Key facts

UCAS CodeF510
Entry pointSeptember 2016
Duration4 years
AccreditationsInstitute of Physics (IOP)
Typical places availableThe School typically has approx 105 places available
Typical applications receivedThe School typically receives approx 570 applications
Typical A level offerAAA-ABB, must include Physics and Mathematics at A- level. General Studies is not accepted
Typical Welsh Baccalaureate offerWBQ core will be accepted in lieu of the non Science A-level (at the grades specified above).
Typical International Baccalaureate offer32-34 points with 6 in Higher Level Physics and Maths
Other qualificationsApplications from those offering alternative qualifications are welcome. Please see detailed information about alternative entry requirements here

Detailed alternative entry requirements are available for this course.
QAA subject benchmark

Physics, Astronomy and Astrophysics

ISBN 978 1 84482 805 0

Admissions tutor(s)

Miss Nicola Hunt, Admissions Tutor

Dr Christopher North, Course Administrator

Dr Christopher North, Admissions Tutor

Important Legal Information: The programme information currently being published in Course Finder is under review and may be subject to change. The final programme information is due to be published by May 2016 and will be the definitive programme outline which the University intends to offer. Applicants are advised to check the definitive programme information after the update, to ensure that the programme meets their needs.

In your first and second years, you will study a core component of Physics and Astrophysics modules, delivered to you by a range of teaching methods. In your third year you will study advanced Astrophysics topics in detail, with additional optional modules. You will also undertake a 20 credit Astrophysics research project. In your fourth year you will take 60 credits of taught modules and 60 credits of a major Astrophysics project, based within one of School’s research groups.

I asked some of my fellow students what they most enjoyed about their four years here at the School of Physics and Astronomy, and there was an unrivalled winner: project work. Being able to work on some real science and apply what we had learned in lectures. It was the sort of science that doesn’t go according to plan, hardly provides any significant results, and is very unpredictable. Yet, at the same time it is also exciting, thoroughly enjoyable and very rewarding. Throughout the entire final year we were able to apply our own insights and ideas to physics that was being studied.

Julie Gould, MPhys graduate 2012

Year one

The first year ensures that you have a thorough basis on which to study in future years. You will study a core component of modules worth 110 credits. In the Autumn semester, you will take the ‘Mathematical Practice for Physical Sciences’ module (PX1125) or a 10-credit optional module from the free standing module catalogue. You can take a free standing module if you have achieved an A grade or higher in Mathematics A-level.

Year two

The second year of the programme continues to build on the core Physics and Astrophysics material. You will undertake a 20-credit module called 'Observational Techniques in Astronomy'. The module introduces the theory and practice of making and interpreting astronomical observations and provides the necessary skills to undertake your astronomy or astrophysics research project in your third year.

Module titleModule codeCredits
Introduction to Condensed Matter PhysicsPX223610 credits
Synoptic AstrophysicsPX223510 credits
The Sun and StarsPX213610 credits
OpticsPX223210 credits
Observational Techniques in AstronomyPX233820 credits
The Physics of Fields and FlowsPX213120 credits
Structured ProgrammingPX213410 credits
Introductory Quantum MechanicsPX213210 credits
Thermal and Statistical PhysicsPX223120 credits

Year three

In your third year you will study 80 credits of core modules with a further 20 credits from a selection of optional modules. You will also undertake an independent project of 20 credits on a related topic of Astronomy or Astrophysics research.

Module titleModule codeCredits
Astrophysics ProjectPX331620 credits
High-Energy AstrophysicsPX324510 credits
Atomic and Nuclear PhysicsPX314120 credits
CosmologyPX314610 credits
Particle Physics and Special RelativityPX324120 credits
Extragalactic AstrophysicsPX324410 credits
Formation and Evolution of StarsPX314510 credits

Module titleModule codeCredits
Condensed Matter PhysicsPX314210 credits
Computational PhysicsPX314310 credits
Electromagnetic Radiation DetectionPX314410 credits
Digital Medical ImagingPX314710 credits
Acoustics and Studio SoundPX314810 credits
Semiconductor Devices and ApplicationsPX324210 credits
Laser Physics and Non-Linear OpticsPX324310 credits
Theoretical PhysicsPX324810 credits
Statistical MechanicsPX324910 credits
Environmental PhysicsPX325010 credits
Commercialising InnovationPX314910 credits

Year four

The fourth year project is a major part of our MPhys programmes and we attach particular importance to it at Cardiff. It accounts for half of the fourth year content and provides training in analysis, synthesis and problem solving – the key skills required of a professional physicist. Both third and fourth year projects are linked to the research work of the school and provide the opportunity for students to work alongside professional researchers and academic staff.

Module titleModule codeCredits
ProjectPX431060 credits
Introduction to General RelativityPX412410 credits
Interstellar Medium and Star FormationPX422910 credits

Module titleModule codeCredits
Physics of the Early UniversePX422310 credits
Quantum Field TheoryPX412110 credits
Advanced General Relativity and Gravitational WavesPX422410 credits
Large Molecules and LifePX411910 credits
Quantum Information ProcessingPX412210 credits
Instrumentation for AstronomyPX412510 credits
Data AnalysisPX412810 credits
Physics and RealityPX423010 credits
The University is committed to providing a wide range of module options where possible, but please be aware that whilst every effort is made to offer choice this may be limited in certain circumstances. This is due to the fact that some modules have limited numbers of places available, which are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, while others have minimum student numbers required before they will run, to ensure that an appropriate quality of education can be delivered; some modules require students to have already taken particular subjects, and others are core or required on the programme you are taking. Modules may also be limited due to timetable clashes, and although the University works to minimise disruption to choice, we advise you to seek advice from the relevant School on the module choices available.

The intention of the School of Physics and Astronomy is to provide students with an in-depth education over a broad range of widely applicable skills. Teaching is carried out using a range of different techniques. There are the traditional lectures, tutorials and laboratory work and, in addition, there are computer-based courses, project-based courses and skills-based courses. 

There is a wide variety of assessment methods. Some modules are assessed purely by an end of semester exam (in January or May), some combine continual assessment with an end of semester exam and others are all continual assessment.

Students are assigned an Academic and Personal Tutor. Personal tutors are there to advise on academic, non-academic and personal matters in a confidential and informal manner. You will meet with your academic tutor once a week in the first year to discuss any study-related issues. You will also receive your marked coursework back with feedback during your tutorial.

Based on responses from the 2012-14 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) surveys, 50% of the School's graduates were in professional employment within six months of graduation while a further 33% were engaged in further study. Employers included: UK and international universities plus organisations such as the Atomic Weapons Establishment, Oclaro Technology and the Ministry of Defence.


  • Research scientist
  • Teaching
  • Operational research


4 Year(s)

Next intake

September 2016

Places available

Typical places available




Applications received

Typical applications received

600-700 each year


QAA subject benchmark

QAA subject benchmark

Physics, Astronomy and Astrophysics

ISBN 978 1 84482 805 0

Overview and aims of this course/programme

The MPhys Astrophysics degree programme is designed to give a thorough education in theoretical aspects of physics and astrophysics and an understanding of observational astronomy. The additional year’s training over a BSc programme enables students to undertake a substantial research-based project and to engage in further independent study of chosen specialised material. The overall aim of this programme is to give students a sound training in physics and astrophysics in preparation for a wide variety of employment, including industrial or academic research and development, education, and diverse areas requiring a pragmatic, numerate and analytical approach to problem solving, such as business and finance. The MPhys programme is also excellent training for those students wishing to take a higher degree by research.

What should I know about year five?

The School of Physics and Astronomy undertakes to provide high-quality taught programmes of study, to deliver them in a competent and professional way, and to listen to your comments. But you also have responsibilities which, when fulfilled, will help you gain the most from your studies. Not all of these responsibilities are stated in explicit rules and regulations because we expect that you will become self-motivated, develop a responsible attitude to the use of your time, and acquire the ability to organise your work to meet deadlines. We have tried to help you focus your efforts by providing “learning outcomes” for each of our modules. Learning outcomes form a list which shows the principal things which an “average-ranking student” should be able to do after completing the module, i.e. a kind of “syllabus” but concentrating on what you need to be able to do or to be able to reproduce to demonstrate your understanding of the subject.

Learning outcomes do not describe everything you should expect to gain from the course and you are expected to extend your knowledge and expertise by further reading, discussion and reflection. So what are your responsibilities? The most obvious is that you should take command of your learning – we do our best to teach you and guide you through the various subjects, but you have to do the learning! To this end, you should attend all teaching sessions – including lectures, laboratories, exercise classes and tutorials. You should attempt all exercises and problems provided, handing in work by the specified deadline. In some cases exercise marks are part of your continuous assessment. If you cannot complete an exercise, hand in your efforts anyway; you will then get feedback as to where you have gone wrong.

When you meet concepts or problems you do not comprehend, you should ask staff for help – we can only deal with problems when we know they exist. If you have comments on the modules, tell us. Tell the lecturer, tell your representative on the staff-student panel, put it on the questionnaire which you are asked to complete at the end of each semester. If you are unable to complete work on time or attend teaching sessions for good cause, then you should inform your tutor or the General Office and where required submit written extenuating circumstances.

If illness or other external factors have affected your work or prevented you from taking examinations, this will be taken into account by the Examinations Board, but note that written notification with supporting documentation from a doctor or counsellor is then required.

You also have a responsibility to work in accordance with the School’s safety procedures. In doing experimental work and in moving round the building you should always be aware of the safety of yourself and others. You have a responsibility to report all accidents to a member of staff, who will then complete an accident report form. Any enquiries on safety matters in the laboratories should be addressed to the responsible member of staff or the laboratory technician whenever practical.

How is this course/programme structured?

Core knowledge and understanding is acquired via lectures, exercise classes, experimental laboratory classes, computing classes, tutorials and guided study. Physics is an hierarchical discipline which requires systematic exposition.

The first two years of the programme are designed to cover carefully-chosen core material. A “team approach” has been adopted for course delivery in Years 1 and 2 to establish common approaches to organisation, to share experience and to oversee student workloads. These two years prepare students for their final year of study, which encompasses a wide range of contemporary subject material, some of which reflects research interests in the School; students have some choice in their final-year modules. Throughout the delivery of the programme, wherever possible, recent research results are used to illustrate and illuminate the subject.

Students undertake a major project in their final year (double module) under the supervision of a member of academic staff. Some projects are undertaken in research laboratories or as part of a research group’s activities.

What should I know about year four?

The University will provide the core first year Physics and Maths textbooks. Students may choose to purchase additional textbooks following advice from staff.

What should I know about year three?

Students undertake weekly laboratory classes, which, over the first two years, are designed to develop experimental and analytical skills to the extent that students can conduct a major experimental study as part of their final-year project. Investigative skills, mathematical skills, communication skills and team work are developed in all modules.

What should I know about the preliminary year?

Exercises are an integral part of all lecture-based modules, and these give students the opportunity to apply their knowledge, increase their critical awareness and enhance their problem-solving skills. Supplementary exercise classes are held in some modules. Students undertake weekly laboratory classes, which, over the first two years, are designed to develop experimental and analytical skills to the extent that students can conduct a major experimental study as part of their final-year project. Investigative skills, communication skills and team work are developed in both laboratory-based work and in Topics in Physics. Mathematics is taught in separate modules in all years, and it is also incorporated into many physics - based modules.

IT skills are taught in the first year, where students are introduced to various software packages, including Mathcad and elementary programming. Students have the opportunity of taking further computing and numerical - methods modules in later years.

Regular small-group tutorials are held in Years 1 (weekly) and 2 (fortnightly). Tutorials provide an effective means of supporting students academically and tailoring teaching methods to their specific requirements. Tutorials provide an opportunity to develop problem-solving skills, to promote a wider view of the subject and encourage good oral communication.

What should I know about year one?

In the first year, approximately 60% of the year mark is obtained by conventional end-of-semester examination with the remaining 40% determined by continual assessment (exercises and laboratory work). The proportion of the marks determined by continual assessment falls progressively to about 20% in the final year. The format of all assessments, including examination papers, is dependent on the learning outcomes of each specific module. Exercises and laboratory-based work provides both summative and formative assessment. Experimental work assesses practical skills, data collection, analysis of data and errors as well as general writing skills. In the first instance, the nature and methodology of experimental work is clearly defined, but progressively students are expected to tackle more open-ended investigations.

Project work is assessed by both the supervisor and an assessor. Summative and formative assessment takes place at the end of the first semester in the form of a written interim report and a viva voce examination. The majority of the assessment is based on the final written report and the supervisor’s assessment of the student’s ability to organise and manage the project.

Other information

Students are supported in a variety of ways, including but not limited to, one-to-one personal and academic tutorials, feedback sessions and extensive use of Learning Central.

Distinctive features

The programme outcomes have been informed by the QAA Physics, Astronomy and Astrophysics benchmark statement and also by the accreditation requirements of the Institute of Physics. The programme provides opportunities for students to develop and demonstrate a range of learning outcomes that can be categorised into three distinct groups: subject knowledge and understanding, intellectual skills and more general transferable skills. 

A.  Subject Knowledge and Understanding

Upon completion of the programme a typical student should be able to demonstrate:

- knowledge and understanding of the theory and application of core physics concepts, such as electromagnetism, quantum and classical mechanics, statistical physics and thermodynamics, wave phenomena and the properties of matter;
- an awareness of current trends in physics research and developments at the frontiers of the subject;
- an appreciation of the role of experimental physics;
- an appreciation of applying mathematical methods to describe the physical world.

B. Intellectual Skills

Upon completion of the programme a typical student should be able to:

- formulate problems in physics by identifying appropriate physical principles and seek solutions by applying mathematical or computational tools;
- appraise theory or test solutions by identifying special limiting cases or making order of magnitude estimates;
- plan, design and execute an extended experiment or investigation, using appropriate methods to analyse data and estimate uncertainties;
- sustain a critical argument, both in writing and through oral presentation;
- make critical comparison of data from models and those from experimental observations.

C. Transferable Skills

Upon completion of the programme a typical student should be able to:

- solve well- defined and open-ended problems and identify key issues;
- solve problems of a practical nature;
- design experimental equipment, electronic circuitry or computer data acquisition or data reduction algorithms;
- conduct independent research using a variety of source materials, including textbooks, scientific journals and electronic databases;
- communicate clearly and concisely complex problems or concepts;
- use precise calculations or order - of - magnitude calculations in appropriate situations;
- use computer packages and/or write software;
- describe and critically appraise their own work and the work of others, through written and verbal means;
- work effectively in a team and as an individual;
- undertake independent study;
- meet deadlines.

How will I be taught?

The distinctive features of the programme include:

- the opportunity for students to learn in a department which has a strong research ethos;

- the involvement of research-active staff in programme design and delivery;

- effective course monitoring and feedback from students used for review purposes;

- the emphasis on independent learning in a research led


- provision of excellent laboratory facilities;

- the opportunity to study free-standing modules;

- the opportunity to study abroad on an ERASMUS programme;

- an emphasis on progression towards independent learning.

Admissions tutors

Miss Nicola Hunt, Admissions Tutor

Dr Christopher North, Course Administrator

Dr Christopher North, Admissions Tutor

Key Information Sets (KIS) make it easy for prospective students to compare information about full or part time undergraduate courses, and are available on the Unistats website.


Get information and advice about making an application, find out when the key dates are and learn more about our admissions criteria.

How to apply
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