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Unit information: Materials Physics in 2020/21

Unit name Materials Physics
Unit code PHYS30025
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Martin
Open unit status Not open

120 credit points at level I/5 in single or joint honours physics.


PHYS30021 Solid State Physics

School/department School of Physics
Faculty Faculty of Science


This third-year undergraduate physics course introduces students to the idea that the structure of materials such as metals, semiconductors, ceramics and polymers are not perfect crystal lattices, and that defects such as dislocations, grain boundaries and impurities are the key to understanding the behaviour of many of these materials.

Students will learn the fundamental theories behind defect formation and movement, phase chemistry and grain structure and how these microstructural properties affect the larger-scale properties for which materials are designed, such as strength, toughness and electrical and thermal conductivity.

The key materials characterisation techniques such as electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, photoemission spectroscopy and mass spectroscopy will be introduced, and students will learn how they can use these techniques to determine the microstructural properties of materials. There will also be some practical demonstrations.

They will also be introduced to concepts such as corrosion, creep, fatigue and irradiation damage to explore how materials can degrade in their strength, conductivity or other useful properties and eventually fail during use.

Intended learning outcomes

Students will be able to:

1. Describe how the structure of simple metals, polymers and glasses behave, and how real materials differ from perfect structures;

2. Understand the relationship between atomic structure and larger scale properties such as hardness, strength, thermal and electrical conductivity;

3. Interpret the phase diagram of simple metal alloys and the formation of polymer structures, to understand how materials are formed;

4. Understand the importance of defects in materials such as dislocations and grain boundaries, and how these can affect the macro-scale properties of a material;

5. Comprehend the principles behind common materials analysis techniques such as electron microscopy, electron/X-ray/neutron diffraction, photoemission spectroscopy and mass spectroscopy, and how these might be used to characterise the microstructure of a material;

6. Understand the behaviour of a material when exposed to heat, radiation or corrosive materials, how materials can degrade during use, and how defects contribute to this behaviour.

Teaching details

The unit will be taught through a combination of

  • asynchronous online materials, including narrated presentations and worked examples
  • synchronous group problems classes, workshops, tutorials and/or office hours
  • asynchronous directed individual formative exercises and other exercises
  • guided, structured reading

Assessment Details

Written, timed, open-book examination (100%)

Reading and References

  • Engineering Materials 1, Ashby and Jones - essential reading
  • Engineering Materials 2, Ashby and Jones - essential reading
  • Structures, J.E. Gordon - recommended reading
  • Materials, J.E. Gordon - recommended reading