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Durham University

Department of Physics

PHYS3691 Physics in Society 3 (2018/19)

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


Physics in Society

Prof T. Lancaster

18 lectures in Michaelmas Term


Required: What Is This Thing Called Science? A. F. Chalmers (Open University Press).
Required: Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey, P. J. Bowler, Iwan Rhys Morus (University of Chicago Press)
Additional: Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues, J. A. Cover, Martin Curd, Christopher Pincock (W. W. Norton & Company)
Additional: The Ascent Of Man, Jacob Bronowski (BBC)
Addtional: Metaphysics: A very short introduction, Stephen Mumford (Oxford)
Additional: Logic: A very short introduction, Graham Priest (Oxford)


History and Philosophy of Physics: Physics and mathematics in the ancient world; Mediaeval European and Arabic science; Copernicus to Newton and the rise of cosmology; classical fields, fluids, electromagnetism and the birth of relativity; the quantum revolution. Introduction to the philosophy of science; induction and falsification; paradigms; research programmes; Feyerabend’s case against method; the Bayesian approach; why physics is special; case studies in the philosophy of physics.

Communicating Physics: Physics in the media; citizen science; presenting complex physical concepts; the use and misuse of statistics; communication, science and policymaking.

Ethics: Ethical review of experiment design; institutional ethics; personal behaviour; pathological science: deliberate fraud or unfortunate mistakes?

Case Studies: Topics taken from the following: climate and ocean physics; geophysics; physics at the movies and physics of sport; energy; musical physics; physics of finance.

Digital Media Project

In the Epiphany Term students will work in teams to create a digital media output (such as a website or app) which communicates a concept in physics. Students will choose from a wide list of broad possible topics, and will devise their own approach to communicating the topic in the light of the topics covered in the lectures. Students will be expected to work independently and to manage the direction of their work. Each team will be assigned a member of staff as supervisor. Students will be expected to decide on a suitable method or framework to use to produce their work, including a significant component of self-directed learning.

Teaching methods

Lectures: 2 one-hour lectures per week in Michaelmas Term.

Test: The lecture material will be summatively assessed through an online test after the first term.

Project: Each team will have an initial meeting with the supervisor towards the end of the Michaelmas Term, followed by three further meetings in Epiphany Term. Students will be expected to work on their project, both as a group and individually, between the supervisor meetings. The final supervisor meeting will take the form of individual interviews as part of the project assessment process.