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Department of Physics

Advice to new Physics students on Level 1 module choices

In the first year of your degree in Physics (including degrees in Theoretical Physics and Physics & Astronomy), you need to take modules to the value of 120 credits. Some of these modules will be compulsory, whilst the others involve an element of choice. The following information is intended to help you to make these choices. Further information and advice will be available once you get to Durham.

  1. You have two compulsory modules: PHYS1122 Foundations of Physics 1 (40 credits) and PHYS1101 Discovery Skills in Physics (20 credits).
  2. You then need to choose Mathematics modules to the value of 40 credits:

    either MATH1561 Single Mathematics A and MATH1571 Single Mathematics B (20 credits each)
    or MATH1061 Calculus and Probabiliy I and MATH1071 Linear Algebra I (20 credits each).

    The vast majority (about 80%) of Physics students take the first option, MATH1561+MATH1571, and this is the 'default' choice, which we would recommend in most cases. However, if you think that you might want to switch to a Joint Honours programme in Mathematics and Physics (or even a Single Honours Mathematics programme) after your first year, and want to leave open this possibility, then you should take MATH1061+MATH1071 instead. Note that in order to take MATH1061+MATH1071 you need to have AS-Level Further Mathematics at grade A or better, or equivalent.

    All of these Mathematics modules are taught and run by the Department of Mathematical Sciences. Detailed information on MATH1561 and MATH1571, including syllabi, is available at and detailed information on MATH1061 and MATH1071 is available at . The essential difference between the two options is that MATH1061+MATH1071 are modules taken mainly by Mathematics students, so they cover more abstract concepts and take quite a formal, rigorous approach with an emphasis on proof, whereas MATH1561+MATH1571 are taken by non-Mathematics students (chiefly Physics students) and are therefore tailored more towards the needs of scientists who use Mathematics as a functional tool.

  3. Finally, you need to choose your remaining 20-credit module. For this module you have the following main options:
    • PHYS1081 Introduction to Astronomy

      This module is taught by the Physics Department and is the most popular optional module taken by Physics students. However, there is no compulsion to take it, even for the Physics & Astronomy programme: it is not a prerequisite for the Astronomy modules in later years, although clearly it will do you no harm.

    • PHYS1141 Maths Toolkit for Scientists

      Unlike the Mathematics modules listed above, this module is taught by the Physics Department and is not designed to teach you new Mathematics. Instead it aims to consolidate your existing knowledge of key mathematical concepts and to equip you with the skills that you need in order to utilise the Mathematics that you learnt at school. It involves a large number of exercises enabling you to practise and achieve confidence and fluency in techniques such as basic algebra, trigonometry, vectors and calculus. This module is particularly recommended if you have taken a year out between school and university, or you have progressed from the Foundation Programme (F302), or you did not take Further Mathematics at A-Level (or equivalent). Current students who had a long gap between school and university have said that they found this module useful. We strongly recommend that you take Maths Toolkit module if you correctly answered less than 50% of the straighforward core questions (identified by a heart sign) in the Mathematics Workbook and consider taking another module as your elective if you correctly answered more than 90% of them.

      There is no way to take both PHYS1081 and PHYS1141.

    • A 20-credit open Level 1 module chosen from those offered by another department, such as Modern Languages, Classics, Philosophy, or potentially many others. In particular, the Centre for Foreign Language Study (CFLS) offers a wide range of language modules in French, German, Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish and British Sign Language at Level 1, including introductory modules as well as post A-level modules. You can search for modules at . Note that you will need to get the approval of the other department at the time of registration. You therefore need to check in advance that you satisfy the module prerequisites (if any) and that the module is compatible with the timetable for your Physics and Mathematics modules. You may find the University's online timetable compatibility checker useful for this. (The checker's Help button will give you access to all the necessary information about using the checker. In general, dashes highlighted in red mean that the modules are not compatible, and those highlighted in yellow mean that further guidance should be sought from the department(s) concerned.)

      Note: Students on Physics Department degree programmes also have the option of taking one 20-credit open module from another department in year 3. Due to prerequisites, students who choose to take a non-physics optional module in year 1 sometimes find that they have a greater choice of non-physics modules in year 3. For example, if you choose to take a Level 1 Philosophy module in year 1 then this could mean that you become qualified to take a Level 2 or Level 3 Philosophy module in year 3. You may wish to bear this in mind when thinking about your module choices in year 1.

    • If you have chosen MATH1061+MATH1071 as your Mathematics modules then you are recommended to take MATH1051 Analysis 1 as your final module, because this increases your module options should you decide to change programme at the end of your first year (in particular, if you want to keep open the possibility of transferring to a Joint Honours degree in Mathematics and Physics then you must take MATH1051 in year 1). However, in principle you may choose any module (as described above) instead of MATH1051.