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Physics A

Subject Summary: Part IB Physics A

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 A course provides a rigorous grounding in the principal themes of modern physics. The course deals with waves and optical systems; it provides a substantial course in quantum physics; and it provides an introduction to condensed matter. In addition there is a course on experimental methods, which gives the necessary formal background to support work in the practical class. Practical experiments are more advanced and longer than those encountered in Part IA. 

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 A

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 B, it can lead to 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 B, to establish the first part of the core understanding of physics at a professional level;
  3. to introduce new themes including the theory of waves & optics, quantum theory, condensed matter, and the analysis of experimental data;
  4. to continue to develop experimental skills and to gain experience of using modern instruments and experimental techniques.
  5. 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 oscillations, waves & optics, quantum mechanics and condensed matter physics;
  2. further developed their experimental skills through a series of whole-day experiments, which also illustrate major themes of the lecture courses;
  3. developed their understanding of experimental methods;
  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 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 5 and learning outcomes 1 and 3-5);
  • continuously assessed practical work (for aims 4-5 and learning outcomes 2-3 and 4), including a viva-voce examination on an experimental report.

Courses of Preparation

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

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.