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 3A (PHYS3621) and Planets and Cosmology 3 (PHYS3651).


  • Planets and Cosmology 4 (PHYS4231) if Planets and Cosmology 3 (PHYS3651) has not been taken in Year 3.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • General Relativity IV (MATH4051).


  • 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 3A (PHYS3621) and provides an overview of our current understanding of the formation and evolution of cosmic structure and an introduction to Einstein’s general theory of relativity at an advanced level appropriate to Level 4 physics students.


  • The syllabus contains:
  • Cosmic Structure Formation: Cosmological perturbations, fluid equations, Jeans theory, non-baryonic dark matter, temperature fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background radiation, spherical collapse model, N-body simulations, statistics of galaxy clustering.
  • General Relativity: Gravity as curvature, tensor algebra, mathematics of curved spacetime, the Einstein equations, the Schwarzschild metric, weak field tests of general relativity, black holes.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Having studied this module students will be able to describe mechanisms that seed small perturbations in the early Universe and will be able to describe mathematically how these perturbations evolve throughout cosmic history. They will understand the physical processes that have shaped our universe.
  • They will be aware of the principles of general relativity, including the interpretation of gravity as spacetime curvature, and be able to apply them to the simplest gravitational systems.
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 38 2 per week 1 hour 38
    Workshops 12 weekly 1 hour 12
    Preparation and Reading 150
    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