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Unit information: Stellar Structure and Evolution 301 in 2020/21

Unit name Stellar Structure and Evolution 301
Unit code PHYS34013
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Birkinshaw
Open unit status Not open

120 credit points at Level I/5 in Physics, Physics with Astrophysics, Theoretical Physics or joint honours Physics and Philosophy.



School/department School of Physics
Faculty Faculty of Science


This unit introduces the physics underlying the structure and evolution of stars, through a description of applicable nuclear physics, statistical mechanics and thermal physics.

Emphasis is placed on deriving simple models for the structures of different types of star and the processes of stellar evolution.


  • To introduce the physics that underlies the behaviour and evolution of stars, and show how these physical processes lead to stability of normal stars and the instability of some special types of stars including supernovae.
  • To relate the physics of the energy generation mechanisms in stars to terrestrial fusion experiments.
  • To explore how stars process primordial material into elements that are common in the Universe today.

Intended learning outcomes

Able to use the virial theorem and equations of hydrostatic equilibrium. Understand the importance of equations of state. Understand the different nuclear processes which occur in different mass stars. Understand the radiative and convective transfer of heat. Understand the origins of the chemical elements. Understand how the different masses of stars lead to different endpoints of stellar evolution.

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 (70%) Coursework (30%)

Reading and References

  • Phillips, The Physics of Stars
  • Prialnik, An Introduction to the theory of Stellar Structure and Evolution
  • M Salaris and S Cassisi, Evolution of Stars and Stellar Populations, Wiley 2005 [more advanced text].