MPhys Physics with Astrophysics

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Physics and Reality

Course unit fact file
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


While physics was originally an attempt to understand the "nature of things”, modern physics is dominated by a focus on making quantitative predictions, often with theories whose wider implications about the real world are obscure. As pointed out by Schrödinger, quantum mechanics appears inconsistent with our everyday world in which things are either here or there, but not in superposition states (cats are either dead or alive, but not both at once). Similar questions on the philosophical interpretation of physical theories arise for example in cosmology and thermodynamics. In this course we will explore a range of issues relating to the connection of theories in physics with the reality we experience as humans.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the course, successful students will be able to: 

1. Identify, select, read and absorb complex literature at the interface of physics and philosophy;

2. Be aware of the main physics concepts in the topics to be discussed, and of the history of these areas of physics;

3. Make coherent verbal arguments about questions at the interface of physics and reality;

4. Summarise, articulate and discuss different points of view on topics surrounding physics and reality;

5. Present and summarise complex questions in physics and reality in written form, to take a critical stance on existing points of view, and to formulate their own perspective.



The course consists of three topics, each taught over a four week period, where each week consists of a lecture followed by a seminar. The topics discussed will be chosen by the lecturers at the beginning of the course. They will normally include some subjects from the foundations of quantum mechanics and cosmology. Other topics discussed in the past include relativity, the second law of thermodynamics and the arrow of time, complexity and information, concepts of time, theories of everything, and the purposes of mathematical and computational modelling of natural phenomena.

Delivery method:

In addition to lectures or online videos, there will be weekly seminars with three short student talks (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. 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 two topics taught (these topics may change from year to year). Students will normally be asked to answer questions in the exam on topics they have not written their 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, on student presentations, on a practice essay, and on the assessed essay. 

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
Henggui Zhang Unit coordinator
Tobias Galla Unit coordinator
Ahsan Nazir Unit coordinator

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