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Gravitational Wave Physics (MSc)

  • Duration: 1 year
  • Mode: Full time

Start date

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Why study this course

The Gravitational Wave Physics MSc provides broad and comprehensive training in both theory and experiment in gravitational wave (GW) physics and astronomy.

The field of gravitational physics has grown rapidly in the last few years following the first direct detection of gravitational waves in 2015, one hundred years since they were first predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The landmark first detection, from two black holes colliding, was followed in 2017 by the first joint gravitational-wave and electromagnetic observation of a neutron-stars merger and subsequent gamma-ray burst, and by the award of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. Gravitational-wave observations are now transforming our understanding of the universe, and the field will continue to grow in the next decades with successive improvements in the sensitivity of current detectors, the design and commissioning of the next generation of ground-based detectors, and the space-based LISA detector.

The Gravitational Wave Physics MSc provides broad and comprehensive training in both theory and experiment in gravitational wave (GW) physics and astronomy: techniques in laser interferometry for GW detection, general relativity, astrophysics, modelling of GW sources, and data analysis for GW detection and source interpretation. The programme offers three streams, which allow specialisation in GW observation, data analysis and source modelling, or a broad experience across these topics. Cardiff University staff are at the forefront of world-leading research in all of these areas, which span the core topics at the heart of the field, and which make this a unique degree programme. 

As part of the programme you will complete a three-month summer project on one of these research areas. As part of your research you will have the opportunity to join the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) and to contribute to flagship projects related to gravitational-wave experiment, source modelling, signal searches, and astrophysical interpretation.

On completion of the programme you will have the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to begin a research career in gravitational-wave physics, and be a competitive candidate for jobs in industry. 

Distinctive features

  • You will receive solid core skills training through carefully designed modules that provide practical and theoretical projects that run in parallel with up-to-date lectures, seminars and laboratory sessions.
  • You will learn how to plan and propose research projects, conduct literature reviews and critiques, code in a variety of experimental- and theoretical-physics related programming environments, and the mathematical and conceptual background of gravitational-wave sources, astrophysics, and data analysis.
  • You will be able to tailor the course to your requirements by choosing from a range of elective modules to suit your interests and ambitions. Whether you’re fascinated by state-of-the-art precision physical measurements, or want to specialise in numerical relativity, the astrophysics of compact binaries, or measurement of gravitational-wave sources, we have modules to suit you.
  • Central to the design of this programme is the opportunity for you to take ownership of real theoretical or practical projects
  • You will have acquired a full year’s worth of practical research experience by the time you complete your MSc, greatly enhancing your CV and prospects for employment or further study.
  • Cardiff University’s position at the forefront of gravitational wave physics and astronomy means that the knowledge, theory and skills that you acquire will be at the cutting-edge of the field.
  • You may well have the opportunity of carrying out your research project with one of the exciting international research teams working in this field in the US, Germany or the UK.
  • You will join a supportive student community and, as an MSc student, have sole access to a dedicated MSc Teaching Facility which includes teaching laboratories, a meeting and seminar room, close to the offices of the MSc Co-ordinators and Director of Postgraduate Taught Studies.
My masters year was challenging and, thanks to the support I received, extremely rewarding. The quality of the courses and the cycles of formative feedback offered by the MSc tutors is outstanding. I was surprised at the level of inclusiveness, collaboration and welcome in the gravitational wave group that created a really positive workplace environment. My supervisor not only offered sound scientific guidance but also knew how to encourage the best work from me, and the project resulted in a publication.
Cameron Mills, MSc student, Physics and Astronomy

Where you'll study

School of Physics and Astronomy

Our institute of Physics accredited degree programmes include specialised topics which reflect our research interests.

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Admissions criteria

In order to be considered for an offer for this programme you will need to meet all of the entry requirements. Your application will not be progressed if the information and evidence listed is not provided.

With your online application you will need to provide:

  1. A copy of your degree certificate and transcripts which show you have achieved a 2:1 honours degree in a relevant subject area such as astronomy, astrophysics, computer science, engineering, mathematics, physics, or related physical science, or an equivalent international degree. If your degree certificate or result is pending, please upload any interim transcripts or provisional certificates.
  2. A copy of your IELTS certificate with an overall score of 6.5 with 5.5 in all subskills, or evidence of an accepted equivalent. Please include the date of your expected test if this qualification is pending. If you have alternative acceptable evidence, such as an undergraduate degree studied in the UK, please supply this in place of an IELTS.

If you do not have a degree in a relevant area, your application may be considered on the basis of your professional experience. Please provide additional evidence to support your application such as signed and dated employer references.

Application Deadline

We allocate places on a first-come, first-served basis, so we recommend you apply as early as possible. Applications normally close at the end of August but may close sooner if all places are filled.

Selection process

We will review your application and if you meet all of the entry requirements, we will make you an offer.

Find out more about English language requirements.

Applicants who require a Student visa to study in the UK must present an acceptable English language qualification in order to meet UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) requirements.

Criminal convictions

You are not required to complete a DBS (Disclosure Barring Service) check or provide a Certificate of Good Conduct to study this course.

If you are currently subject to any licence condition or monitoring restriction that could affect your ability to successfully complete your studies, you will be required to disclose your criminal record. Conditions include, but are not limited to:

  • access to computers or devices that can store images
  • use of internet and communication tools/devices
  • curfews
  • freedom of movement
  • contact with people related to Cardiff University.

Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS)

International students using any type of via will need to have ATAS clearance to study this course.

Course structure

The MSc Gravitational Wave Physics is a two-stage programme delivered over three terms.

Autumn term (60 credits, taught)

You will undertake three required modules (40 credits total) covering core skills and two elective modules of 10 credits value each covering specialist skills.

Spring term (60 credits, taught)

You will undertake three required modules (40 credits total) covering core skills and two elective modules of 10 credits each covering specialist skills.

Within the optional modules, students are required to follow one of three possible streams, depending on the particular focus on gravitational-wave physics that they wish to pursue. The three streams are: (1) Observational gravitational-wave astronomy, with a pairing of PXT903 and PXT125; (2) Gravitational-wave sources, with a pairing of PXT904 and PXT112; (3) Comprehensive gravitational-wave astronomy, for students who wish to focus exclusively on gravitational-wave physics, with a pairing of PXT903 and PXT904. Students will be guided through their module choices.

You must successfully complete the 120 credits of the taught component of the course before you will be permitted to progress to the research project component.

Summer term (60 credits, research project)

The summer term consists of a single 60 credit research project module of 3 months’ duration.  You will be required to produce a research dissertation and present your research to the School in order to complete this module.

The modules shown are an example of the typical curriculum and will be reviewed prior to the 2024/25 academic year. The final modules will be published by September 2024.

You will have two weeks at the beginning of the autumn term to attend any elective modules you are interested in so that you can finalise your choice for that term.  You will need to make your final selections for the spring term before the Christmas recess.  You will be supported in generating and negotiating a research project proposal during the spring term in order to prepare for your summer research project.

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.

Learning and assessment

How will I be taught?

You will be taught through a combination of lectures, tutorials, seminars and practical laboratory sessions.

Lectures can take a variety of forms depending on the subject material being taught.  Generally, lectures are used to convey concepts, contextualise research activities in the School and to demonstrate key theoretical, conceptual and mathematical methods.

In tutorials and seminars you will have the opportunity to discuss and reflect upon particular physical, mathematical, coding / practical or specialist concepts, to consolidate and get feedback on your individual learning and to develop skills in oral presentation. Communication skills are developed in tutorials, where you will make individual contributions to group study, for example by summarising and critiquing a recent research article for the group

You will practise and develop critical, reflective, analytical and presentational skills by participating in diverse learning activities such as research group meetings, School seminar discussions and in open group discussions.  At all times you will be encouraged to reflect on what you have learned and how it can be combined with other techniques and concepts to tackle novel problems.

In the practical laboratory sessions you will put the breadth of your knowledge and skills to use, whether that be using your coding skills to automate a laboratory experiment, designing components for a large piece of equipment or troubleshooting research hardware.  The emphasis on the MSc Gravitational Wave Physics is squarely on acquiring and demonstrating practical skills which will be of use in a research environment and hence highly sought-after by employers.

How will I be assessed?

Multiple assessment methods are used in order to enhance learning and accurately reflect your performance on the course.  In the required modules, a mixture of problem-based learning, short practical projects, written assignments, coding exercises, written and oral examinations and group work will be used.

In some of the required modules there are weekly assignments.  The feedback provided for these allows you to make incremental improvements to the development of your core skillset, giving you ample opportunity to implement the suggestions made by our expert staff.

The methods used on the elective modules vary depending on the most appropriate assessment method for each module, but typically include written and/or practical assignments together with a written and/or oral examination.

All assessments make use of feedback, which can be divided into formative and summative feedback.

Formative Feedback

Formative feedback is feedback that does not contribute to progression or degree classification decisions.  The goal of formative feedback is to improve your understanding and learning before you complete your summative assessment. More specifically, formative feedback helps you to:

  • Identify your strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work;
  • Help staff to support you and address the problems identified with targeted strategies for improvement.

Summative Feedback

Summative feedback is feedback that contributes to progression or degree classification decisions.  The goal of summative assessment is to indicate how well you have succeeded in meeting the intended learning outcomes of a Module or Programme and will enable you to identify any action required in order to improve.  All feedback should directly link to the Module grading / assessment criteria.

How will I be supported?

Our MSc Coordinators will act as your personal tutors.  They will help you reflect on your performance and advise you on research and study techniques, module selection and career planning (in conjunction with the University’s Career Service). They will also provide a first point of contact if you experience any difficulties.  Since the MSc Coordinators’ office is located within the MSc Teaching Facilities, any issues can be dealt with very quickly.

MSc students are invited to all postgraduate events including the Postgraduate Lecture Series and Postgraduate Research Conference.  At these events you can meet and talk with PhD students, researchers and attend key lectures covering the School’s research activities, best practice and safety.

The School has a dedicated Student Services Administrator for Postgraduate Studies and Disabilities Contact.  This member of staff should be your first point of contact for any Disability or Extenuating Circumstances issues.  All queries will be treated in the strictest confidence and dealt with promptly.

The School also has a dedicated Education Support Officer who will be able to deal with all manner of issues including timetabling, University administration, module selection and the booking of University rooms for student-lead events / study sessions.

All of our modules make extensive use of the University’s Virtual Learning Environment, Learning Central, where you can access discussion forums and find course materials including recordings of lectures (where available), links to related materials, lecture slides, assessment scripts, model solutions and examples of student work from previous years.

When you undertake the summer research project you will be assigned a primary and secondary academic supervisor whose responsibility it will be to keep you properly advised and supported throughout your research project.  They will be your first point of contact during the research project and it is usual that your primary supervisor is the lead researcher in the group / sub-group that you join.

If you undertake your research project in placement at one of our industrial partners then your primary and usually your secondary supervisor will be industrial research scientists.  If both your primary and secondary supervisor are industrial scientists, then you will be additionally assigned a Cardiff University academic as a third, impartial academic supervisor in order to maintain your link with the University during this time.

Research project students are assigned a research project mentor, who will typically be one of the MSc Coordinators.  You will meet at least twice with your research project mentor, who will be completely impartial and able to provide advice and (if necessary) affect any urgent changes or solve problems you might be experiencing.  Altogether, you will have a minimum of three members of staff supporting you throughout your research project.

Finally, the MSc Gravitational Wave Physics is designed to foster a strong community spirit within the MSc cohort.  You will work together in pairs, in groups and as a cohort.  There will be weekly MSc group meetings at which you will report progress, discuss problems and suggest solutions.  This strong peer-support and peer-learning/teaching has proven extremely powerful, with students and External Examiners alike noting the strong positive effect it has in enhancing MSc students’ learning.

What skills will I practise and develop?

The Learning Outcomes for this Programme describe what you will be able to do as a result of your study at Cardiff University. They will help you to understand what is expected of you. 

The Learning Outcomes for this Programme can be found below:

Knowledge & Understanding:

Students completing the Programme will demonstrate:

  • A sophisticated level of knowledge and understanding of the current state-of-the-art in the field of gravitational-wave physics and astronomy;
  • A sophisticated level of the core knowledge applicable to the practice of gravitational-wave physics, including an up-to-date acquaintance with the academic literature, the state of our understanding of measurement capabilities, gravitational wave sources and astrophysics, and measurement techniques, and the wider context of the continuing development of the field;
  • Knowledge and understanding of the most effective software packages, programming languages and mathematical techniques central to tackling current problems in the field of gravitational-wave physics

Intellectual Skills:

Students completing the Programme will demonstrate:

  • A sophisticated experimental, theoretical, computational, mathematical and data-analytic skillset, and the ability to adapt these skills to gravitational-wave physics applications;
  • A sophisticated specialist skillset derived from the elective modules and the ability to adapt these skills to novel applications;
  • The ability to critically analyse, critique, curate and synthesise state-of-the-art academic literature and the most up-to-date techniques

Professional Practical Skills:

Students completing the Programme will demonstrate:

  • Efficiently and effectively integrate into a research group environment, including concisely reporting progress, negotiating activities and timescales, supporting colleagues and working in a team;
  • Plan, propose and execute a sophisticated research project with realistic goals, deliverables and contingency plans;
  • Demonstrate a solid, research-grade level of knowledge across the core elements of gravitational-wave physics and astronomy.

Transferable/Key Skills:

Students completing the Programme will demonstrate:

  • Effective communication skills, including literature reviews, literature critiques, academic article writing, long report writing and formal scientific presentations both long (>20min) and short (<20min);
  • Effective and efficient group and team working skills, including negotiation, compromise, contingency planning, time management and record-keeping;
  • Engagement, liaison and collaboration with expert academic and industrial research scientists and the ability to transfer concepts, methodologies and modes of presentation between both environments.

Tuition fees for 2024 entry

Your tuition fees and how you pay them will depend on your fee status. Your fee status could be home, island or overseas.

Learn how we decide your fee status

Fees for home status

Year Tuition fee Deposit
Year one £11,700 None

Students from the EU, EEA and Switzerland

If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss national, your tuition fees for 2024/25 be in line with the overseas fees for international students, unless you qualify for home fee status. UKCISA have provided information about Brexit and tuition fees.

Fees for island status

Learn more about the postgraduate fees for students from the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.

Fees for overseas status

Year Tuition fee Deposit
Year one £28,200 £2,500

More information about tuition fees and deposits, including for part-time and continuing students.

Financial support

Financial support may be available to individuals who meet certain criteria. For more information visit our funding section. Please note that these sources of financial support are limited and therefore not everyone who meets the criteria are guaranteed to receive the support.

Additional costs

There may be opportunities to participate in a field trip each year to a gravitational-wave observatory and other physics and astronomy sites. All effort will be made to make the cost to students minimal. The availability of sufficient funds to fully cover any field trip will vary from year to year.

Will I need any specific equipment to study this course/programme?

What the student should provide:

  • The University will provide everything necessary to undertake the degree scheme, but it is strongly recommended that you bring a relatively modern laptop computer in order to be able to tackle the coding, literature review and dissertation writing activities while away from the University facilities.

What the University will provide:

  • A dedicated MSc Teaching facility with sufficient PCs, laboratory equipment and core textbooks for the entire cohort’s activities during the required modules;
  • Access to the University’s research-grade cleanroom facilities for practical instruction in the taught component of the course and a number of the summer research projects;
  • Access to the Trevithick and other University libraries where textbooks and recommended reading for the required and elective modules;

A 1 year LabVIEW student licence for student PCs, providing access to the full LabVIEW Development System for the duration of the degree programme.  In addition, students will be able to undertake the Certified LabVIEW Associate Developer examination free of charge following successful completion of PXT101 “Advanced Experimental Techniques in Physics”.

Living costs

We’re based in one of the UK’s most affordable cities. Find out more about living costs in Cardiff.


Master's Scholarships

An award open to UK students intending to study one of our taught master’s degrees.

Postgraduate loans

If you are starting your master’s degree in September 2024 or later, you may be able to apply for a postgraduate loan to support your study at Cardiff University.

Alumni Discount

The alumni discount is available for Cardiff University graduates who are planning to start an eligible master's in 2024/25.

Careers and placements

An MSc Gravitational Wave Physics degree will open up opportunities in the following areas:

  • Theoretical, experimental and computational doctoral research in gravitational wave physics and astronomy;
  • Numerate, technical, research, development and engineering positions in related scientific fields;
  • Physics, mathematics and general science education


There may be opportunities each year for students to carry out their summer research project module at one of the LIGO observatories in the U.S. or at the GEO600 detector in Germany. The number and nature of these projects will vary from year to year and will be assigned based on merit demonstrated during the autumn and spring terms.

The MSc was the perfect course to prepare me to start a PhD, it allowed me to convert from Mathematics to Physics and to focus on my specific interest in General Relativity as the course progressed. There are a wide variety of taught modules which cater for a huge range of interests and with the support given at this stage, provide an excellent foundation for the summer project. The summer project provided me with the opportunity to carry out interesting and legitimate research alongside genuine experts in a very current and exciting field.
Rhys Green, MSc Physics

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HESA Data: Copyright Higher Education Statistics Agency Limited 2021. The Higher Education Statistics Agency Limited cannot accept responsibility for any inferences or conclusions derived by third parties from its data. Data is from the latest Graduate Outcomes Survey 2019/20, published by HESA in June 2022.