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 (Foundations of Physics 2B (PHYS2591) OR Foundations of Physics 3C (PHYS3671)) .


  • Foundations of Physics 4A (PHYS4251) if Foundations of Physics 3A (PHYS3621) was not taken in Year 3.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • Foundations of Physics 3B (PHYS3631).


  • This module is designed primarily for students studying Department of Physics or Natural Sciences degree programmes.
  • It is designed partly for the benefit of students taking certain MSci Joint Honours degrees and partly for any physics students who undertook their third year abroad and could not match the corresponding learning outcomes at the host institution.
  • It builds on the Level 2 modules Foundations of Physics 2A (PHYS2581), Foundations of Physics 2B (PHYS2591) and Mathematical Methods in Physics (PHYS2611) by providing courses on Statistical Physics and Condensed Matter Physics.
  • It develops transferable skills in researching a topic at an advanced level and making a written presentation on the findings.


  • The syllabus contains:
  • Statistical Physics: Introduction and basic ideas:- macro and microstates, distributions; distinguishable particles, thermal equilibrium, temperature, the Boltzmann distribution, partition functions, examples of Boltzmann statistics: spin-1/2 solid and localized harmonic oscillators; Gases: the density of states: fitting waves into boxes, the distributions, fermions and bosons, counting particles, microstates and statistical weights; Maxwell-Boltzmann gases: distribution of speeds, connection to classical thermodynamics; diatomic gases: Energy contributions, heat capacity of a diatomic gas, hydrogen; Fermi-Dirac gases: properties, application to metals and helium-3; Bose-Einstein gases: properties, application to helium-4, phoney bosons; entropy and disorder, vacancies in solids; phase transitions: types, ferromagnetism of a spin-1/2 solid, real ferromagnetic materials, order-disorder transformations in alloys; statics or dynamics? ensembles, chemical thermodynamics: revisiting chemical potential, the grand canonical ensemble, ideal and mixed gases; dealing with interactions: electrons in metals, liquid helium 3 and 4, real imperfect gases; statistics under extreme conditions: superfluid states in Fermi-Dirac systems, statics in astrophysical systems.
  • Condensed Matter Physics: Review of the effect of a periodic potential, energy gap; reduced and periodic zone schemes; semiconductor crystals: crystal structures, band gaps, equations of motion, carrier concentrations of intrinsic and extrinsic semiconductors, law of mass action, transport properties, p-n junction; superconductivity: Meissner effect, London equation, type I and type II superconductors, thermodynamics of superconductors, Landau-Ginzburg theory, Josephson junctions; diamagnetism and paramagnetism: Langevin equation; quantum theory of paramagnetism, Hund’s rules, crystal field splitting, paramagnetism of conduction electrons; ferromagnetism and antiferromagnetism: Curie point, exchange integral, magnons, antiferromagnetism, magnetic susceptibility, magnetic domains; dielectrics and ferroelectrics: macroscopic and local electric fields, dielectric constant and polarizilbility, structural phase transitions.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Having studied this module, students will understand the use of statistical concepts such as temperature and entropy and models to describe systems with a large number of weakly interacting particles.
  • They will build on their knowledge of nearly-free electron theory, and other concepts gained at Level 2, to explain the properties of semiconductors, superconductors, dielectric and magnetic materials.
  • They will understand the common theoretical treatment of quasiparticles and the experimental techniques used to understand the behaviour of materials.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • In addition to the acquisition of subject knowledge, students will be able to apply the principles of physics to the solution of complex problems.
  • They will know how to produce a well-structured solution, with clearly-explained reasoning and appropriate presentation.
Key Skills:
  • Students will have developed skills in researching a topic at an advanced level and making a written presentation.

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 defined by, and explicitly linked to, the contents of the recommended textbooks 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.
  • 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 other mutually convenient times.
  • Lecturers will provide a list of advanced topics related to the module content. Students will be required to research one of these topics in depth and write a dissertation on it. Some guidance on the research and feedback on the dissertation will be provided by the lecturer.
  • Student performance will be summatively assessed through a written examination and an online test and a dissertation and formatively assessed through problem exercises and a progress test. The written examination and online test will provide the means for students to demonstrate the acquisition of subject knowledge and the development of their problem-solving skills. The dissertation will provide the means for students to demonstrate skills in researching a topic at an advanced level and making a written presentation.
  • The problem exercises and progress test will 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 46 2 or 3 per week 1 Hour 46
Workshops 17 Weekly 1 Hour 17
Preparation and Reading 137
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
written examination 2 hours 100%
Component: Online tests Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
online tests 100%
Component: Dissertation Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
dissertation 1500 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Problem exercises and self-assessment; one progress test, 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