Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module PHYS2651: Physics in Society

Department: Physics

PHYS2651: Physics in Society

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • Foundations of Physics 1 (PHYS1122) AND Discovery Skills in Physics (PHYS1101).


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • This module is designed primarily for students studying Department of Physics or Natural Sciences degree programmes.
  • To give students an insight into the history, philosophy, communication and ethics of physics.
  • To provide experience of a research-led project in physics.
  • To give students experience in communicating physics using modern digital media.


  • History of Physics: Physics and mathematics in the ancient world; Mediaeval European and Arabic science; Copernicus to Newton and the rise of cosmology; classical fields, fluids, electromagnetism and the birth of relativity; the quantum revolution.
  • Philosophy of Physics: Introduction to the philosophy of science; induction and falsification; paradigms; research programmes; Feyerabend's case against method; the Bayesian approach; why physics is special; case studies in the philosophy of physics.
  • Communicating Physics: Physics in the media; citizen science; presenting complex physical concepts; the use and misuse of statistics; communication, science and policymaking.
  • Ethics: Ethical review of experiment design; institutional ethics; personal behaviour; pathological science: deliberate fraud or unfortunate mistakes?
  • Case Studies: Topics taken from the following: climate and ocean physics; geophysics; physics at the movies and physics of sport; energy; musical physics; physics of finance.
  • In the Epiphany Term students will work in teams to create a digital media output (such as a website or app) which communicates a concept in physics. Students will choose from a wide list of broad possible topics, and will devise their own approach to communicating the topic in the light of the topics covered in the lectures. Students will be expected to work independently and to manage the direction of their work. Each team will be assigned a member of staff as supervisor. Students will be expected to decide on a suitable method or framework to use to produce their work, including self-directed learning.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Having studied the module students will be familiar with some of the key milestones in the history of physics and some of the key topics in the philosophy of physics, in science communication and in ethics in academia.
  • They will have formed an appreciation of the physics underlying a particular topic.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • In addition to the acquisition of subject knowledge, students will be able to communicate a concept in physics, using modern digital media, to a non-specialist audience.
  • They will be able to demonstrate technical competence in modern digital media.
Key Skills:
  • They will be able to work successfully as part of a team.
  • They will be able to manage their time effectively.

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

  • Teaching will be by lectures, supervisor meetings, group work and self-directed learning.
  • The lectures provide the means to give concise, focused presentation of the subject matter of the module. The lecture material will be explicitly linked to the contents of the recommended textbooks or other resources for the module, thus making clear where students can begin private study. When appropriate, the lectures will also be supported by the distribution of written material, or by information and relevant links online. Some of the lectures will incorporate interactive discussions.
  • Students will be able to obtain further help in their studies by approaching their lecturers, either after lectures or at other mutually convenient times.
  • The supervisor meetings relate to the digital media project. Each team will have an initial meeting with the supervisor towards the end of the Michaelmas Term, followed by three further meetings in Epiphany Term.
  • Students will be expected to work on their project, both as a group and individually, between the supervisor meetings. This work is to be organised by the students themselves, thereby enabling them to demonstrate their time management skills.
  • Students will undertake independent research to further their knowledge of the topic and self-directed learning to further their technical skills.
  • Student performance will be summatively assessed through an online test and a digital media project. The test will provide the means for students to demonstrate the acquisition of subject knowledge relating to the lectures. The project will provide the means for students to demonstrate their ability to communicate a concept in physics using modern digital media; it will include a group assessment of the project output plus an assessment of each student's personal contribution via a short individual interview, guided by peer assessment.
  • The supervisor meetings provide opportunities for feedback, for students to gauge their progress and for staff to monitor progress throughout the duration of the project. The final meeting will take the form of individual interviews.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 18 2 per week in term 1 1 Hour 18
Supervisor meetings 4 Every 2 or 3 weeks 1 Hour 4
Group work/meetings (self-organised) 9 3 Hours (notional) 27
Preparation and Reading 151
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Test Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Test 100% Test
Component: Project Component Weighting: 70%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Digital media project 100% Equivalent project during the summer vacation

Formative Assessment:

Practice test questions in Michaelmas Term, verbal progress reports during supervisor meetings.

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