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Durham University

Faculty Handbook Archive

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2012-13. The current handbook year is 2019-20

Department: Physics


Type Open Level 4 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2012/13 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • Foundations of Physics 3 (PHYS3522), Astrophysics (PHYS3541).


  • Planets and Cosmology 4 (PHYS4231) if Astrophysics (PHYS3541) has not been taken in Year 3.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • General Relativity III (MATH3331), General Relativity IV (MATH4051).


  • This module is designed primarily for students studying Department of Physics or Natural Sciences degree programmes.
  • It builds on the Level 3 module Foundations of Physics 3 (PHYS3522) and provides a working knowledge of galaxy formation and large scale structure of the universe, the foundations of general relativity and its experimental tests, and the foundations of hydrodynamics and their applications in astronomy at an advanced level appropriate to Level 4 physics students.


  • The syllabus contains:
  • Galaxy Formation and Large-scale Structure: Linear fluctuations, growth rates, non-baryonic dark matter, power spectrum, cosmic microwave background. Galaxy clustering, redshift surveys. Non-linear evolution, top-hat model, scaling relations, hierarchical clustering. Confrontation with observations.
  • General Relativity: inertial frames and the principle of equivalence. Tensors and tensor algebra. Tensor derivatives and Christoffel symbols for curved spacetime. Geodesic paths and the Euler–Lagrange equations. Newtonian gravity from free fall paths in the weak field limit. Riemann curvature tensor. Energy-momentum tensor and its conservation laws. Ricci tensor and the Einstein equations.
  • Experimental tests of general relativity: Schwarzschild metric. Weak field limits for particle and photon paths. Precession of the perihelion of Mercury and lightbending around the Sun. Gravitational redshift. Black holes and event horizons.
  • Astrophysical Fluids: Lagrangian particle paths. Euler equation of motion. Bernoulli equation. Kelvin's circulation theorem. Compressible fluids, sound waves. Sub and supersonic motion, Mach number, 1-D shock waves. Star formation. Physics of accretion flows. Bondi accretion.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Having studied this module students will be able to describe galaxy formation and the large scale structures of the universe.
  • They will be aware of the principles of general relativity and be able to apply them to the simplest gravitational systems.
  • They will be familiar with the basic equations of hydrodynamics and their application to a range of problems including star formation and accretion.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • In addition to the aqusition of subject knowledge, students will be able to apply knowledge of specialist topics in physics to the solution of advanced problems.
  • They will know how to produce a well-structured solution, with clearly-explained reasoning and appropriate presentation.
Key Skills:

    Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

    • Teaching will be by lectures.
    • The lectures provide the means to give a concise, focused presentation of the subject matter of the module.
    • The lecture material will be explicitly linked to the contents of recommended textbooks for the module, thus making clear where students can begin private study.
    • When appropriate, lectures will also be supported by the distribution of written material, or by information and relevant links on DUO.
    • Regular problem exercises will give students the chance to develop their theoretical understanding and problem solving skills.
    • Students will be able to obtain further help in their studies by approaching their lecturers, either after lectures or at mutually convenient times.
    • Student performance will be summatively assessed through an examination and regular problem exercises.
    • The examination and problem exercises will provide the means for students to demonstrate the acqusition of subject knowledge and the development of their problem- solving skills.
    • The problem exercises provide opportunities for feedback, for students to gauge their progress and for staff to monitor progress throughout the duration of the module.

    Teaching Methods and Contact Hours

    Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
    Lectures 39 2 per week 1 hour 39
    Preparation and Reading 161
    Total 200

    Summative Assessment

    Component: Examination Component Weighting: 90%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    one three-hour written examination 100%
    Component: Problem Exercises Component Weighting: 10%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    problem exercises 100%

    Formative Assessment:


    â–  Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University