The School of Physics is part of the Faculty of Science. Units of study in this major are available at mainstream and advanced level.

About the major

Physics is the basis of most of the sciences. Techniques developed by physicists are used across the sciences, e.g. nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, radio-carbon dating, medical resonance imaging, nuclear medicine, atomic absorption spectroscopy and electron microscopy.

Physics is a generalist major that, instead of preparing you for a narrow career path in just one area, allows you great freedom of choice in your ultimate employment. This may appeal to students who have not yet committed themselves to one career choice. Skills acquired during a Physics major, such as numerical and logical problem solving, information handling, critical reasoning, clear communication, experimentation, and use of computers as an analysis tool, are much in demand in many fields of employment. You may end up as a professional physicist, but equally these skills are valued for a job in medicine, communications, manufacturing, teaching, journalism, public service, management, finance, and many more.

Requirements for completion

A major in Physics requires 48 credit points, consisting of:

(i) 12 credit points of 1000-level core units
(ii) 12 credit points of 2000-level core units
(iii) 12 credit points of 3000-level core units
(iv) 6 credit points of 3000-level selective units
(v) 6 credit points of 3000-level selective interdisciplinary project units

A minor in Physics requires 36 credit points, consisting of:

(i) 12 credit points of 1000-level core units
(ii) 12 credit points of 2000-level core units
(iii)12 credit points of 3000-level core units

First year

The 1000-level Physics units of study are designed to give you an introduction to Physics, whatever your background may be. They are equally valuable as a self-contained introductory study of Physics if you are intending to major in other disciplines, and as a solid foundation for further study, possibly leading to a major or minor in Physics.

Study of 1000-level Physics involves choosing 12 credit points of units comprising one unit in Semester 1 and one unit in Semester 2.
If you have a background in Physics at school, choices in Semester 1 are PHYS1001 Physics 1 (Regular) or PHYS1901 Physics 1A (Advanced) or PHYS1903 Physics 1A (Special Studies Program), our mainstream, advanced, or SSP units respectively. PHYS1002 Physics 1 (Fundamentals) is our Semester 1 unit for students without a background in high school Physics.
In Semester 2, you can choose between PHYS1003 Physics 1 (Technological) or PHYS1004 Physics 1 (Environmental and Life Sciences), emphasising applications of Physics to technology or the life sciences, respectively. If you are a high achieving student, you should choose between PHYS1902 Physics 1B (Advanced) or PHYS1904 Physics 1B (Special Studies Program), our advanced or SSP units.

Physics also offers a variety of Open Learning Environment (OLE) units, which run in both semesters. These units are designed to broaden your experience: they have no prerequisites, and are not required for continuing into second year physics.

The OLE units taught by physics cover science communication (OLET1605 Communication in STEM - taught together with the School of Chemistry), the representation of numbers in computers (OLET1622 Numbers and Numerics), introductory astronomy (OLET1636 Astronomy from Earth to Exoplanets, OLET1638 Astronomy from Stars to Black Holes, and OLET1640 Astronomy from Big Bang to Darkness), data science and astronomy (OLET1618 Data Science in Astronomy: Algorithms, and OLET1620 Data Science in Astronomy: Analysis), and quantitative estimation (OLET1652 How to Estimate Anything). The OLE units are available as elective units in Table O, the Open Learning Environment Table.

Second year

Physics has much to offer beyond first year. The School of Physics offers ten distinct units of 2000-level Physics, as well as additional units in Data Science.

To major in Physics, you must complete PHYS2011 Physics 2A (a mainstream unit) or PHYS2911 Physics 2A (Advanced) or PHYS2921 Physics 2A (Special Studies Program) in Semester 1, and PHYS2012 Physics 2B (a mainstream unit) or PHYS2912 Physics 2B (Advanced) or PHYS2922 Physics 2B (Special Studies Program) in Semester 2.

For students intending to major in Physics, we also strongly recommend the second semester units PHYS2013 Astrophysics and Relativity (a mainstream unit) or PHYS2913 Astrophysics and Relativity (Advanced), or PHYS2923 Astrophysics and Relativity (SSP). In addition we offer the unit PHYS2213 Physics 2EE for Electrical Engineers. These are available as elective units in Table S, the Shared Pool of units for Undergraduate Degrees.

If you intend to complete a major or a minor in Physics, you should also study MATH2021/2921 in the second year of your degree.
The School of Physics also teaches two units in the Data Science major in Semester 1: COSC2002 Computational Modelling and COSC2902 Computational Modelling (Advanced), which cover modelling and simulation techniques.

Third year

Third year Physics completes a major in Physics, rounding out your knowledge in core subjects (electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, optics, and computational physics), and providing additional coverage of a range of topics (astrophysics, condensed matter physics, particle physics, plasma physics). The third year includes a disciplinary project and an interdisciplinary experience.

The core mainstream/advanced units from 2019 are PHYS3034 Quantum, Statistical and Comp Physics or PHYS3934 Quantum, Statistical and Comp Phys (Adv) in Semester 1, and PHYS3035 Electrodynamics and Optics or PHYS3935 Electrodynamics and Optics (Advanced) in Semester 2. The other required unit for a major is a project unit, and you can choose between SCPU3001 Science Interdisciplinary Project (both semesters) or PHYS3888 Physics Interdisciplinary Project (Semester 2).
In addition there are two selective units (PHYS3036 Condensed Matter and Particle Physics or PHYS3936 Condensed Matter and Particle Phys (Adv), and PHYS3037 Plasma and Astrophysics or PHYS3937 Plasma and Astrophysics (Advanced)), offered in Semesters 1 and 2 respectively.

Fourth year

The fourth year is only offered within the combined Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Advanced Studies course.

Advanced Coursework
The Bachelor of Advanced Studies advanced coursework option consists of 48 credit points, with a minimum of 24 credit points at 4000-level or above. Of these 24 credit points, you must complete a project unit of study worth at least 12 credit points. Advanced coursework will be included in the table for 2020.

Meritorious students in the Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Advanced Studies may apply for admission to Honours within a subject area of the Bachelor of Advanced Studies. Admission to Honours requires the prior completion of all requirements of the Bachelor of Science, including Open Learning Environment (OLE) units. If you are considering applying for admission to Honours, ensure your degree planning takes into account the completion of a second major and all OLE requirements prior to Honours commencement.

Unit of study requirements for Honours in the area of Physics: completion of 24 credit points of project work and 24 credit points of coursework. Honours units of study will be available in 2020.

Contact and further information

School of Physics
Physics Office, Room 210, Building A28
University of Sydney NSW 2006

Physics Student Services
T +61 2 9351 3037

Associate Professor Michael Wheatland
T +61 2 9351 5965

Learning Outcomes

Students who graduate from Physics will be able to:

  1. Exhibit a broad understanding of foundation concepts in physics and the mathematical skills necessary to formalise these concepts.
  2. Explain how physical theories are formulated and tested, and how they are used to explain and interpret observations.
  3. Explain the role and relevance of physics to society and describe its role in the development and application of technology.
  4. Investigate and solve physics problems using experimental, computational, and theoretical tools and techniques.
  5. Evaluate experimental or computational data in physics, including uncertainties, and use the results to draw conclusions.
  6. Communicate physics to a variety of audiences through a range of modes using evidence-based arguments, and evaluate arguments presented by others.
  7. Source, collect, synthesise and critically evaluate information on issues in physics from a range of relevant sources.
  8. Identify how fundamental physics concepts are applicable in different contexts and apply physics knowledge and techniques to solve problems outside the discipline.
  9. Design, plan and conduct a physics experiment or project.
  10. Address authentic problems in physics, working professionally, responsibly and ethically and with consideration of cross-cultural perspectives, within collaborative, interdisciplinary teams.