Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)


Department: Physics


Type Open Level 4 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • Foundations of Physics 2A (PHYS2581) and Foundations of Physics 3B (PHYS3631) and Condensed Matter Physics 3 (PHYS3711).


  • Condensed Matter Physics 4 (PHYS4271) if Condensed Matter Physics 3 (PHYS3711) has not been taken in Year 3.

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 modules Foundations of Physics 3B (PHYS3631) and Condensed Matter Physics 3 (PHYS3711) and introduces students to some of the key topics in the area of soft matter and biological physics, provides a knowledge of the physical properties of zero, one and two dimensional materials and of the properties of metals and superconductors at an advanced level appropriate to Level 4 physics students.


  • The syllabus contains:
  • Standard models of condensed matter physics: Metals: The Fermi-gas and its predictions. Interactions in metals: adiabatic continuity in outline. Single particle band structure and tight binding. Quantum oscillations and fermiology. Examples of the behaviour of normal and exotic metals; Superfluidity and superconductivity: Superfluids and superconductors as broken symmetry states. Macroscopic quantum coherence. Microscopic description: BCS theory. Superconducting materials. Applications of superconductivity; superconducting devices.
  • Low-dimensional physics: Systems in 1D and 2D. Mermin-Wagner theorem. The Ising model in 1D. Polymers. Quantum Hall effect (magnetoresistance in 2D, conductivity and Hall effect; edge states). Topological objects in low dimensional solids. walls, kinks and solitons; vortices, monopoles and skyrmions. Semiconductor (p-n) junctions. Devices using the semiconductor p-n junction. Heterostructures and quantum wells.
  • Order and dynamics in soft matter and biophysics: Dynamics and susceptibilities. The kinetics of phase transitions including liquid-liquid demixing phase separation. Glasses. Self-assembly of micelles and membranes. Soft and biological systems out of equilibrium. Nucleation: crystal growth and self-assembly of molecular systems. Susceptibility, response and the fluctuation-dissipation theorem (in outline).

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Having studied this module, students will have an understanding of the themes of modern condensed matter research, and an appreciation of role of scales, symmetry and the structure of matter in advanced examples. They will have become familiar with the physics of a number of examples taken from across the subject.
  • Students will be able to demonstrate knowledge of the nature of order and dynamics in soft matter and biological systems.
  • They will be able to predict physical behaviour based on fundamental models of metals and superconductors.
  • They will be able to identify examples of where reduced dimensionality is relevant and to formulate descriptions of the underlying physics.
  • They will be able to apply their understanding of these topics in unfamiliar contexts in order to solve advanced problems.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • In addition to the acqusition 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 and workshops.
    • 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 online.
    • Regular problem exercises and workshops 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 open-book examination and formatively assessed through problem exercises.
    • The open-book examination 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
    Workshops 12 weekly 1 hour 12
    Preparation and Reading 149
    Total 200

    Summative Assessment

    Component: Open-book examination Component Weighting: 100%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    Open-book examination 100%

    Formative Assessment:

    Problem exercises and self-assessment; workshops and problems solved therein.

    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