STUDY PHYSICS & ASTRONOMY IN THE UK
Physics is surely the most fundamental of the sciences. Yet it is a shortage subject! Why? The number of A-level GCE entrants has been reducing each year from over 50,000 in 1989 to less than 40,000 in 1996. So, I ask you, why not consider studying it at university?
- the basis of our understanding of the Universe and reveals, through research, the fundamental physical processes within it.
- a means of fulfilling the human desire to find out how things work, a research base for science and technology which is second to none and a basis for much modern technology and engineering.
It is certainly the most fascinating subject and provides the richest research environment of all. Data and images are necessary to develop the new ideas and concepts behind present day thinking in the subject: from atomic beam and electron microscopes to the Hubble Space Telescope and radio telescopes. Such data and the images it creates are absolutely essential to understand the Universe today.
When combined with applications through design and technology, physics forms the basis of much of what we refer to as engineering. So it is much more than a science, it forms the most important basis for the development of new technology. The successful creativity and innovation require a pretty good understanding of the subject to bring new technology to its full potential. Such an understanding includes the principles of physics as well as those of existing technology.
In good proportion of universities, certainly at the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K, you can take degrees in Physics, Astronomy or Astrophysics. Alternatively you can often take them in combination with other subjects either as a joint honours programme or within a combined studies scheme where a third subject is often involved - at least in year 1.
Because both physics and astronomy require a good understanding of mathematics, maths should be taken alongside either physics or astronomy during the first year and, when appropriate, in subsequent years. At Hertfordshire, we have a second year course that combines the mathematical methods used in physics and astrophysics with the applications of those methods in subjects such as quantum physics and electromagnetics.
What is the difference between astronomy and astrophysics? The former, requires you to gain an insight to the universe largely through observing and using advanced astronomical techniques to produce images through the use of telescopes. So does the latter, but it is the physics of the interpretation of data and images so obtained which is given top priority.
Generally speaking in most universities in the U.K, full-time BSc degrees are normally completed within three years. There are other BSc degrees offered for four years with the third year being a Sandwich placement, a Year in North America or a Year in Europe. The final y ear is then taken in Year 4.
MPhys or Msci degrees are completed in four years: the third and fourth years of the Master in Physics degree at Hertfordshire includes a selection from a wide portfolio of physics related courses across the University together with a major research project and a course in research methodology.
The final year of most physics degrees contains a project which enables you to pursue a specialised investigation. In the case of the MPhys degree this is normally a major project designed to equip you for a career in research. We, for example, offer projects related to our extensive research programmes. These include optical and infrared astronomy, laser scattering, the laser entrapment of microparticles and medical imaging and there is a STARLINK node for the reduction of astronomical data. Usually PhD programmes are available in such areas so that you can continue your studies.
Of course, for those in employment or who have other commitments, such as parents looking after children at home, it is possible to obtain a physics degree by part-time study over a longer period.
Whatever you decide to take at University, do not neglect the joys, delights and satisfaction that taking a degree in physics, astronomy or astrophysics can give you.