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Subject Summary: Part III Astrophysics

This course leads to a M.Sci. or MASt degree and is mainly intended as preparation for graduate studies in astrophysics, although the high level of mathematical rigour means that graduates are also highly attractive to employers in other sectors. Lecture courses are taken mainly from the wide selection of astrophysics courses taught, often by InstituteofAstronomy(IoA) staff, as part of the Part III Mathematics course and from a few courses offered in Part III Physics. Students normally take four lecture courses for examination although they often attend a wider range of lectures for interest. 

Although many of those taking Part III Astrophysics will have taken Part II Astrophysics, the fact that most Part III Astrophysics and Part III Mathematics lectures (and examinations) are the same, means that for interested Part II Mathematics students of sufficient standard, Part III Astrophysics is an alternative to Part III Mathematics. The main difference is that Part III Astrophysics students take one less lecture course (and examination), but undertake a more substantial project, instead of the essay. It is also possible for mathematically able students who have taken Part II Physics to take Part III Astrophysics (at the discretion of their Director of Studies and of the IoA), provided they have taken the Lent Term option in Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics. Students contemplating the route from either Part II Maths or Part II Physics into Part III Astrophysics should be aware that, in the case of over-subscription, priority will be given to suitably qualified students who have done part II Astrophysics. 

Astrophysics courses typically offered in Part III Mathematics (these change from year to year) include Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics, Structure and Evolution of Stars, Extrasolar planets, Galaxies, Cosmology, General Relativity, Black Holes, and Accretion Discs. Further details of the courses may be found at the Faculty of Mathematics. Examinations are the same as those taken by students taking Part III Mathematics. Part III Astrophysics students may also offer Part III Physics courses including "The Physics of the Earth as a Planet" and "Particle Physics". Further details of the courses may be found at the Department of Physics. Examinations are the same as those taken by students taking Part III Physics. 

A major component of the Part III Astrophysics course is the research project (accounting for one third of the marks) which is supervised by staff at the IoA over the Michaelmas and Lent Terms. This provides undergraduates with a unique opportunity to get to the cutting edge of astronomical research and the resulting dissertation often contains work of publishable quality. Projects often either involve the analysis of astronomical data or the running of computer simulations. In addition, students develop their communications skills through giving an oral presentation on their project.

Programme Specification: Part III Astrophysics

This course is taught by the Institute of Astronomy.

Aims (common to both Part II and Part III)

  1. to encourage work of the highest quality in astrophysics and maintain Cambridge's position as one of the world's leading centres in the field;
  2. to continue to attract outstanding students from all backgrounds;
  3. to provide an intellectually stimulating environment in which students have the opportunity to develop their skills and enthusiasms to the best of their potential;
  4. to maintain the highest academic standards in undergraduate and graduate teaching and to develop new areas.

Learning outcomes

Students completing the fourth year should have:

  1. had experience of a number of areas of astrophysics from a choice of options taken to an advanced level, at which current research can be appreciated in some depth;
  2. carried out a substantial research project amounting to about 1/3 of the work in the course;
  3. enhanced their communications skills;
  4. become well prepared for a career in academic research or one where independent research skills are required.

Teaching and learning methods

These include lectures and examples classes, and guidance in undertaking research projects.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • a written examination for each chosen lecture course. One and a half, two or three hours are allocated per paper depending on the subject (for aims 1-4 and learning outcomes 1, 3 and 4);
  • a written report on the research project of no more than 30 pages, and an oral presentation based on it (for aims 1- 4 and learning outcomes 1-4).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: NST Part II Astrophysics or Mathematics Tripos Part II or NST Part II Physics with good performances in Relativity and Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics.

The detailed entry requirements can be found at The Fourth Year - Part III.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.