skip to content

Subject Summary: Part III Physics

The course aims to bring you close to the boundaries of current research, and is therefore somewhat linked to the expertise from within the specific research groups. You make a series of choices as the year proceeds which allows you, for instance, to select a bias towards particular broad areas of physics such as condensed matter physics, particle physics, astrophysics, or semiconductor physics. You can also range over the spectrum from strongly experimental to highly theoretical physics, and choose from a range of specialist options.

All students undertake a substantial research project, which is expected to take up one third of your time for the year.

The Michaelmas Term lectures are the Major Topics, which cover substantial areas of physics. The Lent Term lectures are the Minor Topics, which cover more specialised areas, mostly of active research interest in Cambridge.

Some of the Major and Minor Topics are given by staff from other Departments such as The Institute of Astronomy and the Department of Earth Sciences. You can also take as Major or Minor Topics certain courses given in Part III of the Mathematical Tripos but you may note that the style of Part III Mathematical Tripos is different from that experienced in the Part III Physics Topics, reflecting the difference in approaches of the two Departments.

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 and Addenbrookes Hospital. 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 Symmetry and Duality 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 coursework assessment of the Innovation and Entrepreneurshup for Physiciists course, 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.