MPhys Physics with Astrophysics

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Physics of Energy Sources

Course unit fact file
Unit code PHYS10622
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Department of Physics & Astronomy
Available as a free choice unit? No


Physics of Energy Sources



Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Mathematics 1 PHYS10071 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Quantum Physics and Relativity PHYS10121 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


To understand the physical background and mechanisms associated with power generation and related issues.

Learning outcomes

On completion successful students will be able to:

  1. understand the forms of energy, its production, transport and storage
  2. understand basic nuclear physics and interactions with matter
  3. understand the conditions necessary for sustainable chain reactions in fissile material
  4. understand the design criteria for the control of a nuclear reactor
  5. understand the principles of nuclear fusion useful in power generation and stellar fusion
  6. understand physical ideas and issues associated with renewable forms of energy including solar, wind, waves, tidal and geothermal.



1.     Introduction – Energy requirements and climate impacts (2 lectures)

The greenhouse effect.

Energy requirements, consumption. 

2.     Biological forms of energy (2 lectures)

Fossil fuels.

Energy transformation – Power plant.


3.     Basic Nuclear Physics (3 lectures)

The atom.  Radioactivity and decay laws.

Interaction of radiation with matter.

4.     Nuclear Fission (3 lectures)

         Principles of nuclear fission.

         Chain reaction dynamics.

         Reactor types and control.

         Current status of nuclear fission as a power source.

5.     Nuclear Fusion (3 lectures)

         Principle and energetics of nuclear fusion (in stars and on Earth).

         Thermonuclear fusion, fuels, ignition and the Lawson criterion.

         Magnetic and inertial confinement

         Current status of nuclear fusion as a power source.

         Stellar fusion, proton-proton chain and CNO cycle.

6.     Solar Power (2 lectures)

         Solar thermal

         Solar photovoltaic

7.     Wind, waves, tides (5 lectures)

         Power from fluids. Nature of wind, wind power. Wind turbines. Betz criterion.

         Principles of water waves, energy and power. Wave power extraction.

         Origin and properties of tides. Tidal stream power and tidal range power.

8.     Energy transportation and storage (2 lectures) 

        Energy Transportation

        Hydro power

 9.   Review (1 lecture)

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 100%

Feedback methods

Feedback will be available on students’ individual written solutions to examples sheets, which will be marked, and model answers will be issued.

Recommended reading

Recommended Texts: 

Jaffe, R.L & Taylor, W. The Physics of Energy (Cambridge University Press 2018)

King G. The Physics of Energy Sources

Krane K. S. Introductory Nuclear Physics, (Wiley 1987)

MacKay, D.J.C. Sustainable energy - without the hot air (UIT Cambridge 2009)

Twidell, J. W. & Weir, A. D. Renewable energy resources, (Spon 1986) 


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.5
Lectures 24
Independent study hours
Independent study 74.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Philippa Browning Unit coordinator
Ana Soldner-Rembold Unit coordinator

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