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Unit information: Foundations of Modern Physics in 2021/22

Unit name Foundations of Modern Physics
Unit code PHYSM0023
Credit points 10
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Tony Short
Open unit status Not open



Anti-requisite: PHYSM3407 Current Topics in Physics

School/department School of Physics
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

The aim of this course is to enable students, who usually will already have detailed modular knowledge of topics, to appreciate physics as a whole through its foundations and fundamental assumptions. The lectures are divided into Classical, Spacetime and Quantum Physics, but their interrelation is emphasised. The course focuses on the theoretical motivation and understanding of physical laws, and aims to provide an overview of the discipline rather than a rigorous treatment of the details.

Emphasis is placed on students developing an appreciation of the foundations of different areas of physics, and the unit assessment involves students writing an essay whose detailed subject is partly decided by the student. The problems class workshops provide an environment where students can begin to explore these ideas in class exercises.


  • to introduce students to an overview of the Foundations of Physics, to gain an appreciation of how different fields fit together, and develop a writing style which can articulate these ideas.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Students should be able to:

  • demonstrate a mature overview of the fundamental approach to physics
  • critically evaluate ideas presented in lectures, reference books and research papers
  • write an essay on a fundamental topic in scientific language.

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught through a combination of

  • asynchronous online materials, including narrated presentations and worked examples
  • synchronous group problems classes, workshops, tutorials and/or office hours
  • asynchronous directed individual formative exercises and other exercises
  • guided, structured reading

Assessment Information

Students will be encouraged to discuss preliminary essay ideas with the lecturer. Assessment will be based on a single essay of approximately 2,000 words (100%).


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. PHYSM0023).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.