Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2009-2010 (archived)


Department: Physics


Type Open Level 4 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2009/10 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • Foundations of Physics 3 (PHYS3522), Stars and Galaxies (PHYS2541).


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • This module is designed primarily for students studying Department of Physics or Natural Sciences degree programmes.
  • It builds on the Level 3 module Foundations of Physics 3 (PHYS3522) and provides a working knowledge of modern optical principles used to carry information on extra-galactic objects to astronomers, high energy astrophysics and physical processes in the interstellar medium at an advanced level appropriate to Level 4 physics students.


  • The syllabus contains:
  • Astronomical Optics: Fundamentals of imaging. PSFs & MTFs, Sampling theorem. Effects on the transmission of light through the atmosphere. Wavefront sensing, correction and control. Laser guide stars. Limits of adaptive optics. Results from adaptive optics. Radio astronomy. Coherent detection. Michelson's stellar interferometer. The Van Cittert Zernike theorem.
  • High Energy Astrophysics: Theoretical and observational tools. Observed properties and classifications of active galactic nuclei. Unified model. Physical processes: Bremsstrahlung, Compton, synchroton.
  • Interstellar Medium: Composition, sources and sinks; gaseous nebulae: characteristics and spectra, ionisation properties, Saha equation, heating and cooling; forbidden line spectra: O+ and O2+ levels, collision strengths, [OIII] and electron temperature, [OII] and electron density; recombination lines; charge transfer reactions; molecular clouds: molecular reaction rates and ISM thermal balance, rotational transitions; grains.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Having studied this module students will be aware of the principles, design features and use of a range of astronomical instrumentation and observation techniques.
  • They will be able to describe physical processes involved in high energy astrophysical objects such as active galactic nuclei and accretion disks.
  • They will understand the physical and chemical processes that are important in the interstellar medium in terms of atomic and molecular physics.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • In addition to the aqusition of subject knowledge, students will be able to apply knowledge of specialist topics in physics to the solution of advanced problems.
  • They will know how to produce a well-structured solution, with clearly-explained reasoning and appropriate presentation.
Key Skills:

    Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

    • Teaching will be by lectures.
    • The lectures provide the means to give a concise, focused presentation of the subject matter of the module.
    • The lecture material will be explicitly linked to the contents of recommended textbooks for the module, thus making clear where students can begin private study.
    • When appropriate, lectures will also be supported by the distribution of written material, or by information and relevant links on DUO.
    • Regular problem exercises will give students the chance to develop their theoretical understanding and problem solving skills.
    • Students will be able to obtain further help in their studies by approaching their lecturers, either after lectures or at mutually convenient times.
    • Student performance will be summatively assessed through an examination and regular problem exercises.
    • The examination and problem exercises will provide the means for students to demonstrate the acqusition of subject knowledge and the development of their problem- solving skills.
    • The problem exercises provide opportunities for feedback, for students to gauge their progress and for staff to monitor progress throughout the duration of the module.

    Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

    Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
    Lectures 39 2 per week 1 hour 39
    Preparation and Reading 161
    Total 200

    Summative Assessment

    Component: Examination Component Weighting: 90%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    one three-hour written examination 100%
    Component: Problem Exercises Component Weighting: 10%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    problem exercises 100%

    Formative Assessment:


    Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University