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Physics B

Subject Summary: Part IB Physics B

The course assumes a knowledge of Part IA Physics. Physical Scientists who will not be specialising in physics in the third year may offer one or other or both of the IB Physics courses, while those who intend to study either Part II Physics or Half-Subject Physics are expected to offer both the Physics A and the Physics B courses.

The Physics B course lays the foundation for a professional understanding of physics and is built on three key courses in classical mechanics, electromagnetism, and thermodynamics. 

Practical experiments are more advanced and longer than those encountered in Part IA.  All students also take an introductory course in C++ programming, with associated practical exercises. 

Those students not taking Part IB Mathematics as a separate subject take an additional course in Mathematical Methods, intended to cover the mathematics required in Physics A, Physics B and for the Part II core courses: the course is supervised. (Extra preparation would be required over the long vacation if students then wished to take the Theoretical Physics options in Part II.) 

Programme Specification: Part IB Physics B

This course is taught by the Department of Physics. It is suitable for combination with a wide range of other physical science subjects in the second year. When combined with NST Part IB Physics A, it can lead to NST Part II/III Physics and to Part II Physical Sciences Half-Subject Physics.


  1. to provide a continuing education in concepts in physics, which when combined with other courses will provide an illuminating survey of the natural sciences;
  2. in combination with Physics A, to establish the first part of the core understanding of physics at a professional level;
  3. to introduce new themes including more advanced classical and continuum mechanics, the general development of electromagnetism, and thermodynamics & statistical physics;
  4. to continue to develop experimental skills and to gain experience of using modern instruments and experimental techniques;
  5. to provide an introduction to scientific computation, using C/C++; and
  6. to provide a rigorous basis for experimental and theoretical physics at Part II level.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students should

  1. have learnt to use powerful tools for tackling a wide range of topics, including formal methods in electromagnetism, classical dynamics and thermodynamics;
  2. further developed their experimental skills through a series of whole-day experiments, which also illustrate major themes of the lecture courses;
  3. developed a basic ability to program in C/C++;
  4. have substantially developed problem-solving skills in physics;
  5. have further developed communication skills in describing physical arguments and reporting the results of experiments.

Teaching and learning methods

These include lectures, supervisions as well as practical and computing classes. For those not taking NST Part IB Mathematics, a separate lecture course in Mathematical Methods is offered in the Michaelmas Term. This covers all the mathematics necessary for the core courses in Part II Physics.


Assessment for this course is by

  • two unseen examinations, based on lectures and some practical class material (for aims 1-3 and 6 and learning outcomes 1 and 4-5);
  • continuously assessed practical and computing work (for aims 4-6 and learning outcomes 2-3 and 5), including a viva-voce examination on an experimental report.

Courses of Preparation

Essential: NST Part IA Mathematics and NST Part IA Physics; Or Part IA of the Mathematical Tripos Or Part IA of the Engineering Tripos.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.