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Part IB Physics A & B Courses

The second year courses provided by the Department of Physics are designed to provide an appropriate foundation in Physics, which builds on the knowledge of the Part IA course, and gives students adequate preparation for Part II courses. The Department provides two subjects in Part IB: Physics A and Physics B. Students may study either Physics A or Physics B as a single subject in Part IB of the NST or offer both subjects. Students who wish to proceed to Part II ETP are expected to have studied both courses. You are advised to discuss the options you are considering with your Director of Studies.

Course outline for the 2010-11 academic year(number of lectures, and lecturer, given in brackets)


Experimental Methods (8, Prof. C Haniff)
Oscillations, Waves and Optics (16, Dr D F Buscher)
Quantum Physics (24, Prof. V Gibson)
Condensed Matter Physics (10, Dr J Ellis)
Practical class (Dr R D E Saunders and Prof. C A Haniff)

Examination: 2x3 hour written papers plus assessed practical work..

Physics A is a self-contained course dealing with waves and quantum matter. The material covers the central aspects of physical phenomena such as waves and quantum phenomena (treated both from the wave equation and using operator methods). In addition the course includes an introduction to the wave properties of quantum condensed matter. There is an integrated practical class, which is supported by lectures on Experimental Methods. The course is designed to be appropriate for scientists with a wide-range of career destinations.


Electromagnetism (20, Prof. S Withington)
Classical Dynamics & Fluids (20, Prof. S F Gull)
Thermodynamics (16, Dr E Eiser)
Great Experiments (8, Prof. M A Parker and others)
Computational Physics (2, Dr C G Lester, plus practical sessions)
Practical class (Dr R D E Saunders and Prof. C A Haniff)

Examination: 2x3 hour written papers plus assessed practical work.

Physics B runs in parallel with Physics A and covers topics that lead naturally to Part II/III Physics and other quantitative subjects. The syllabus includes substantial courses in Electromagnetism and Classical Dynamics, together with a course on Thermodynamics. Those offering Part IB Mathematics are expected to attend a non-examinable course on "Great Experiments in Physics", which explores the experimental basis underlying a number of areas in modern physics.

Mathematical Methods:

Mathematical Methods (16, Dr D A Green) -- for those not taking NST IB Mathematics

This course is designed to meet the needs of students not taking NST IB Mathematics, providing the mathematical methods needed in Physics A and Physics B course, and the core Part II physics courses.

Student perspective

Here, we provide a perspective of the courses in terms of the main ways students undertake courses in physics at the Part IB level. That is, those offering:

  • Physics A, Physics B plus Mathematics
  • Physics A, Physics B plus another experimental subject
  • Physics A plus two other Part IB subjects
  • Physics B plus two other Part IB subjects

Physics A, Physics B plus Mathematics: The mathematical level of the different lecture courses making up Physics A and B varies; we anticipate however that even the less mathematically-demanding courses will be sufficiently challenging, since many skills other than straightforward mathematical manipulation are required. Students who are confident that they wish to pursue theoretical options in Part II/III should be advised to follow this combination of Part IB subjects.

Physics A, Physics B plus another experimental subject: Students in this category may wish to pursue Part II/III courses in either Physics or another experimental subject, such as Materials Science, or may simply wish to explore other areas such as HPS or Mineral Sciences. A greater variety of Part II subjects are possible using this route, in comparison to that of offering Part IB Mathematics as the third subject. Subjects such as Materials, Mineral Sciences and Chemistry A will all provide additional insight into aspects of the physics courses. Students offering a third experimental subject will receive support in dealing with mathematical aspects of the physics courses. The "Mathematical Methods" lectures provide a full preparation for the methods used in other core lecture courses up to Part II level. Students intending to take experimental options in Part II and III should find this level of mathematical preparation to be adequate. Students who nevertheless wish to offer one or other of the theoretical options in Part II should be advised that this will be difficult without additional mathematical preparation.

Physics A plus two other Part IB subjects: Students taking Part IB Physics A alone are likely to have less mathematical preparation than those in the Physics B course. Consequently, the style of examination in the Part IB Physics A course is less mathematical and more discursive than in Part IB Physics B. The practical class, with the related Experimental Methods course, provides a rigorous introduction to the treatment of experimental data as well as developing measurement skills and techniques with general applicability. The course is suitable for those wishing to retain a broad education in the physical sciences. It is a good complement to Chemistry A and to Materials.

Physics B plus two other Part IB subjects: Physics B is a mathematically-demanding course, which deals primarily with the classical basis of theoretical physics. While we do not foresee that many students will wish to take this combination of subjects, it may appeal to students who want to explore areas of theoretical physics, while still intending to proceed to Chemistry or Materials Science in Part II, and who feel that they will gain sufficient knowledge of quantum mechanics from their other courses. Possible subject combinations would be Chemistry A, Chemistry B and Physics B; Chemistry A, Mathematics and Physics B; Chemistry A, Materials and Physics B; Materials, Mathematics and Physics B (and others are clearly possible).