Course Overview : Undergraduate Study of Physics
Science students in Cambridge read for the Natural Sciences Tripos, which covers all the Physical and Biological Sciences, but is separate from Medicine, Engineering, and Mathematics. In their first year (Part IA), they will typically divide their time between three experimental sciences and mathematics (about 400 students take physics). In the second year (Part IB) and third years (Part II) about 150 physicists concentrate solely on physics and mathematics and they can graduate at this point with a BA degree. Most of our students (around 120) choose to continue to a fourth year (Part III) where they take a range of masters level courses in physics and related disciplines, do an advanced project, and graduate with an MSci degree.
The teaching term is short and intense (three terms of eight weeks) and in the first three years most of the assessment is by end of year examination. Since we do not teach pre-meds or engineers, almost all of our teaching is to students who are excited by the subject.
The Department of Physics in Cambridge offers both three- and four-year courses in physics, which form the two basic routes to a first degree with specialisation in physics. The four-year course is designed for students who wish to pursue a professional career in physics, for example, in academic or industrial research. The three-year course is designed for students with a deep interest in the subject but who may not intend to become professional physicists. A very wide range of career options are open to graduates from either course. The three-year course leads to an honours degree of Bachelor of Arts, B.A.; the four-year course leads to an honours degree of Master of Natural Sciences, M.Sci., together with a B.A.
An important objective of the three/four-year course is to develop an understanding of 'core physics' at successively deeper levels, each stage revealing new phenomena and greater insight into the behaviour of matter and radiation.
Overview of the undergraduate Physics courses (PDF) in the Natural Sciences Tripos, including aims and objectives, Tables of the courses for the each term for each year-group, and a flow chart showing various route through the undergraduate physics course.
The Physics Course Handbook (the so-called "Blue Book", as PDF) gives details about all the physics courses available for undergraduates. All students receive an updated copy each year. The table of contents is clickable in order that you can access any section of the guide. Either use the reverse key to recover the table of contents for further navigation, or click on the bookmark for the table of contents.
Important revisions of the course, started four years ago, are now (2005-6) continuing in the fourth year (Part III): this guide supersedes earlier guidance.
- Details of the NST Part II and Part III Astrophysics courses, which are taught by the Institute of Astronomy.
- The Natural Sciences Tripos web site (with information for both current and prospective students).