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Durham University

Department of Physics

PHYS3561 Key Skills A (2012/13)

Details of the module's prerequisites, learning outcomes, assessment and contact hours are given in the official module description in the Faculty Handbook - follow the link above.  A detailed description of the module's content is given below, together with book lists and a link to the current library catalogue entries.  For an explanation of the library's categorisation system see


General Problems

Dr T.P. Roberts and others

18 classes in Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms


Additional: Physics for Scientists and Engineers, P.A. Tipler (Worth)
Additional: Physics by Example: 200 Problems and Solutions, W.G. Rees (CUP)
Additional: Physics with Answers: 500 Problems and Solutions, A.R. King and O. Regev (CUP)
Additional: Cambridge Problems in Physics, P.P. Dendy, R. Tuffnell and C.H.B. Mee (CUP)
Additional: University Physics, H.D. Young and R.A. Freedman (Pearson)

Syllabus: In each class students will attempt to solve three problems which involve basic physical concepts. Advice and instruction will be provided by the members of staff supervising the class. Each student will be allocated to attend one of the two groups, depending on their other modules. To aid preparation for the May/June General Problems paper, there will be a ‘Collection' examination near the end of the Michaelmas Term. The examinations will contain questions on topics that may not have been included in the classes.

Computing Project

Dr N. Metcalfe and others

8 three-hour practicals in Michaelmas or Epiphany Term


Additional: Begining Python - From Novice to Professional, M. L. Hetland
Additional: Begining Python Visualisation, S.Vaingast
Additional: Computational Physics, N.J.Giordano & H. Nakauiski
Additional: Computational Physics, R.H. Landon, M.J, Piaz. & C.C. Bordeianu

Syllabus: Employing their programming skills gained from the Level 2 module Laboratory Skills and Practice, students will undertake a computational project in Physics selected from a wide range of problems reflecting the various research interests of the Department.  Students will use the program they develop to produce a writen research report at the end of the course.

Teaching methods

Tutorials: Students are assigned to a member of staff who acts as their tutor for the year. There will be five tutorials in total, with typically two occurring in the Michaelmas Term and three in the Epiphany Term. The primary focus of the tutorials will be on the Poster and Presentation (see below). Specific support for each lecture course and the associated weekly problems will be provided in the Examples Classes for the course, where students will have access to the course lecturers in a small group setting. Another aim of the tutorials is to provide personal contact and interaction with a member of staff, who will be a potential source of pastoral advice and support in the event of difficulties with the course, or other problems which may arise.

Poster and Presentation: Students prepare a poster and a presentation, based on a literature search on a topic of current interest under the guidance of a tutor, who will normally be experienced in the particular subject area chosen. The aim should be to pick a topic which has a high physics content appropriate for Level 3, which is accessible to the student and can be readily researched, and which can be discussed satisfactorily by means of a poster and oral presentation. The technical level should be appropriate to an audience which is the student's peer group. A list of the general areas are shown below.

A talk is presented by each student in Epiphany Term. This is delivered to the whole tutorial group, and is usually presented with the aid of PowerPoint slides, in which case students must inform their tutor of the intention to make a computer-based presentation and then make their own arrangements with the Audio-Visual Section for the provision of the necessary equipment. The talks should last for 20 minutes followed by 5 minutes of questions and comments from the audience.
A poster display summarising the project should be prepared by the student. The posters will be displayed at a ‘Poster Session' to be held in the last week of the Michaelmas Term. A discussion of the format and content of the poster will form part of the tutorial activities. This session is seen as an exercise in communication skills and students are expected to attend and defend their posters as well as spending some time viewing and discussing the posters of other students.

Students should discuss with their tutor the qualities expected in the talk and poster but an indication of these is given in the mark proformas used for assessment. Each student will be provided with copies of the proformas for their information in Michaelmas Term. The talk and the poster session are summatively assessed.

Students choose their topic in one of the following general areas, subject to their tutor's approval:

  • Advanced Applied Optics (depending on the specialism of the tutor, topics concerning, e.g., advanced optical devices, applications of Optics in life sciences, Adaptive Optics)
  • Astronomy/Astrophysics (e.g., extra solar planets, Solar Physics, origins and formation of galaxies, Gamma Ray Astronomy, advanced astronomical instrumentation)
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics and applications (e.g. laser-cooling of atoms, cold molecules, quantum control of atoms, formation and applications of Bose Einstein condensates, frequency standards and high precision measurements, production and applications of attosecond light pulses, applications to Quantum Information Science, fundamental tests of Quantum Mechanics) 
  • Condensed Matter Physics and applications (e.g. superconductors, advanced semiconductor devices and semiconductor structures, solar cells, organic semiconductors, Photonics, advanced materials, Soft Condensed Matter Physics and Polymer Physics, physical aspects of biological processes, Nanotechnology, applications to Quantum Information Science)
  • Particle Physics (e.g., Physics beyond the standard model, Neutrino Physics, current experiments in High Energy Physics, new developments in particle accelerators or in detectors)
  • Topics in the History or the Philosophy of Physics (e.g. the scientific aspects of a major discovery, the history of the development of a key Physics concept, the foundations of Quantum Mechanics)

Projects in other subject areas might also be possible by arrangement with the tutor.