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Unit information: Foundations of Modern Physics in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Foundations of Modern Physics
Unit code PHYSM0023
Credit points 10
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Tony Short
Open unit status Not open



Anti-requisite: PHYSM3407 Current Topics in Physics

School/department School of Physics
Faculty Faculty of Science


The aim of this course is to enable students, who usually will already have detailed modular knowledge of topics, to appreciate physics as a whole through its foundations and fundamental assumptions. The lectures are divided into Classical, Spacetime and Quantum Physics, but their interrelation is emphasised. The course focuses on the theoretical motivation and understanding of physical laws, and aims to provide an overview of the discipline rather than a rigorous treatment of the details.

Emphasis is placed on students developing an appreciation of the foundations of different areas of physics, and the unit assessment involves students writing an essay whose detailed subject is partly decided by the student. The problems class workshops provide an environment where students can begin to explore these ideas in class exercises.


  • to introduce students to an overview of the Foundations of Physics, to gain an appreciation of how different fields fit together, and develop a writing style which can articulate these ideas.

Intended learning outcomes

Students should be able to:

  • demonstrate a mature overview of the fundamental approach to physics
  • critically evaluate ideas presented in lectures, reference books and research papers
  • write an essay on a fundamental topic in scientific language.

Teaching details

Lectures, problems classes and directed reading.

Assessment Details

Students will be encouraged to discuss preliminary essay ideas with the lecturer. Assessment will be based on a single essay of approximately 2,000 words (100%).

Reading and References

  • The Feynman Lectures on Physics
  • The Road to Reality, Roger Penrose
  • Philosophical Concepts in Physics, Cushing.