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Subject Summary: Part III Physics

This course is intended as preparation for professional work as a physicist in industry or academic research. Entry is restricted to candidates who have attained a specified standard (currently Class 2.i) in Part II Physics, or who have attained a specified standard (currently equivalent to Class I) in Half Subject Physics of Part II Physical Sciences, and students with a 2.i in the Part II Astrophysics course or in Part II Mathematics. The fourth year course presents physics as a connected subject of considerable flexibility and applicability. All students undertake a substantial research project. The possibility exists of undertaking industrial work during the previous Long Vacation for credit in the Tripos. Lecture courses in the first two terms provide more advanced treatments of major areas of physics and are selected to reflect broad areas of current interest. It is also possible to take courses in each of the first and second terms from an approved selection of those offered in PartIIIMathematics. 

In the first term students read three or more courses selected from eight or more options, including those from PartIIIMathematics. These cover major areas, and in each of them physics is presented as a connected discipline drawing upon the material of the first three years to take the topic to the frontiers of current research. Examples of course titles are Particle Physics, Relativistic Astrophysics & Cosmology, Advanced Quantum Condensed Matter Physics, Quantum Condensed Matter Field Theory, Soft Matter, and Physics of the Earth as a Planet. 

In the second term students chose three or more courses from a menu of about a dozen. Sample subject areas are Astrophysics, Field Theory, Information Theory, Particle Physics, Semiconductor Physics, Soft Condensed Matter, Medical Physics and Biological Physics. Students may also choose the Entrepreneurship course, which can be substituted for one MinorTopic: it is taught by theJudgeBusinessSchooland assessed through coursework. Additionally students may choose 'Interdisciplinary Topics' from amongst those offered across PartIIIof theNST. Each Interdisciplinary Topic replaces one Minor Topic. Students are also able to choose the subjects Nuclear Power Engineering and Mathematical Biology of the Cell taught in Part IIB of the Engineering Tripos, again in place of one Minor Topic. 

Most courses are examined at the start of the term following that in which they are given, but there is a final examination in General Physics for all PartIIIstudents, held shortly before those graduating proceed to their B.A. and M.Sci. degrees. The examinations for the Interdisciplinary Topics and PartIIIMaths courses are also held in the main Easter Term examination period. 

Programme Specification: Part III Physics

This is a full-time course, organised and mainly taught by the Department of Physics. Some in-house courses are taught by staff from other Departments, such as Earth Sciences, the Institute of Astronomy, Addenbrookes Hospital, and the Judge Business School. Some courses are borrowed from NST Part III Materials, Part III of the Mathematical Tripos and Part IIB of the Engineering Tripos. All students make choices from Major and Minor Topics.


  1. to expose students to a wide range of areas of physics at a level which will give them a critical understanding of current research;
  2. to give all students experience of research by carrying out an original project, often at a level capable of publication;
  3. to provide what is needed to proceed to research or other activity in physics (and other sciences) at the highest international standards.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students should

  1. have had experience of a number of broad areas of physics from a choice of options, taken to an advanced level, at which current research can be appreciated in some depth;
  2. have carried out a substantial independent research project involving experimental or theoretical work, or both;
  3. maintained their skills in and critical understanding of core physics;
  4. have further developed communication skills especially in writing up the project and in presenting it to their peers or research group;
  5. be ready to undertake research work in physics at the highest level.

Teaching and learning methods

These include lectures, supervisions and examples classes, supervised project work and report writing, and, in some cases, supervised project work outside the Department. Unexamined teaching provided includes lectures on Philosophy of Physics and Ethics in Physics.


Assessment for this course is by

  • unseen examinations on three or more of the Major Topics, taken at the start of the Lent Term (for aims 1 and 3 and learning outcomes 1 and 5);
  • unseen examinations on three or more of the Minor Topics, normally taken at the start of the Easter term (for aims 1 and 3 and learning outcomes 1 and 5);
  • a General Physics Paper, taken towards the end of the Easter term (for aim 1 and learning outcome 3);
  • an Interdisciplinary paper or papers, in which candidates may choose to be examined in the Interdisciplinary subjects offered across Part III of the Natural Sciences Tripos (for learning outcome 1).
  • oral examination of the Research Project (for aims 2 and 3 and learning outcomes 2, 4 and 5).

It may also include oral assessment of an External Project work taken in lieu of one Minor Topic, and coursework assessment of the Entrepreneurship course, also taken in lieu of one Minor Topic.

Courses of Preparation

Essential: NST Part II Physics

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

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.