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MPhys Physics with Astrophysics / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Physics and Reality

Unit code PHYS41702
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 4
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Department of Physics & Astronomy
Available as a free choice unit? No


Physics and Reality


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Quantum Physics and Relativity PHYS10121 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Statistical Mechanics PHYS20352 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Applications of Quantum Physics PHYS30101 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Mathematical Fundamentals of Quantum Mechanics PHYS30201 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


Physics was originally an attempt to understand the "nature of things", but nowadays this tends to be overshadowed by our ability to make accurate predictions, often with theories whose implications about "the real world" are obscure. Quantum mechanics, as pointed out by Schrödinger, may not even be consistent with our everyday world in which things are either here or there, and cats are either dead or alive (but not both at once). In this course we will explore a number of issues in the interpretation of physical theories that do not seem resolvable by experiment (even in principle), and so can be labelled as metaphysics. 

Learning outcomes

This course unit detail provides the framework for delivery in 20/21 and may be subject to change due to any additional Covid-19 impact.  Please see Blackboard / course unit related emails for any further updates.
On completion of the course, successful students will be able to:
1. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different interpretations of quantum mechanics;
2. Identify the philosophical tensions between quantum mechanics and relativity associated with the concepts of entanglement and non-locality;
3. Compare and contrast the philosophies of time of Augustine, Newton, Leibniz, Einstein, and modern quantum gravity;
4. Distinguish between different "arrows of time" and relate them to each other;
5. Relate different areas of physics to the common mathematical paradigm of the gauge transformation;


Delivery method
The course consists of three topics, each taught over a four week period, where each week consists of a lecture followed by a seminar.
There will be three short student talks in each seminar, apart from in the first week. Students will be assigned a topic to speak on, and will be expected to answer questions from the audience.
The topics discussed will be chosen by the lecturers.  They will always include some subjects from the foundations of quantum mechanics and cosmology.
Students will be asked to write an essay. The essay will be set a deadline early in week 11, and will be assigned based on preferences from a set of titles covering the first three topics taught.
Students will be asked to answer questions in the exam on a topic where they neither gave a talk nor wrote an essay on.


Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 40%
Written assignment (inc essay) 45%
Oral assessment/presentation 15%

Feedback methods


Feedback will be provided through the seminars, and on the essay or talk.

Recommended reading

There is no single text for this course, nevertheless it is essential that students read extensively. During the course students will be issued with study packs containing a number of key passages (e.g. chapters of books) for each topic. The lectures will develop the ideas discussed in these texts, which students are expected to read before the lectures and seminars. Students who extend their reading around the essential passages will improve their chances of doing well in the assessment.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.5
Lectures 12
Seminars 12
Independent study hours
Independent study 74.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Tobias Galla Unit coordinator
Justin Evans Unit coordinator
Ahsan Nazir Unit coordinator

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