Senior Physics Units

Third year physics is changing with the new curriculum. If you are enrolled in the old curriculum and will complete the physics major in 2018, this will not affect you. However, if you are enrolled in the old curriculum but will not complete the major this year, you will be affected. Please see the Senior Physics Units from 2019 page for an explanation of your options.

It is possible to take anywhere from 6 to 36 credit points in Senior Physics. Most units are offered at both the Normal and Advanced levels. Entry to the Advanced level (unit numbers 39xx) is restricted to students who averaged 70 or better in Intermediate Physics (this restriction can be waived if there is a good reason). Units with Special Projects are only available at the Advanced level and are undertaken in the research groups of the School of Physics.

Each Unit of Study is a combination of lectures modules (listed below), lab or a Special Project.
The combinations are listed in the Table of Units of Study.

Final mark and grade: The final mark in a unit is the total mark for the component modules (including lab/Special Project), weighted by the credit value of each, and the grade is assigned accordingly. However, as of Semester 2 2014, there is an exception to this. A pass grade in a Normal unit requires a pass in the core lecture module (Electromagnetism or Quantum Physics or Statistical Mechanics), if the unit includes a core module. A pass grade in an Advanced unit requires a pass in all component modules in the unit (including lab/Special project).

Semester 1 Lecture modules

Timeslot A: Electromagnetism followed by Quantum Physics (both core)
Timeslot B: Astrophysics followed by Plasma Physics
Timeslot C: Computational Physics

Semester 2 Lecture modules

Timeslot A: Statistical Mechanics (core) followed by Condensed Matter Physics
Timeslot B: Optics followed by High Energy Physics


In each semester, all your work in the laboratory contributes to one final lab mark. The lab work required depends on how many credit points of lab you are enrolled in. For example,
– if you take PHYS 3040 and 3043, you are doing 4cp of lab
– if you take PHYS 3090 and 3069, you are doing 6cp of lab
The maximum number of lab credit points is 12. The number of lab credit points determines how many experiments/reports/talks are required – see Section 1.5 of the handbook, which is accessible under eLearning/Blackboard, for enrolled students. Your final lab mark is then spread proportionally among the Units of Study that contain lab components.

How to choose your units

Students intending to major in Physics, or to proceed to Physics Honours, must take at least 24 credit points of Senior Physics, which must include:

  1. a Semester 1 Core unit (PHYS 3040, 3940 or 3941)
  2. a Semester 2 Core unit (PHYS 3090, 3990 or 3991)
  3. two Options units (usually one in each semester)

Students not majoring in Physics may take any of the listed units of study, provided they satisfy the prerequisites. In addition, it may be possible to select a combination of modules that is not covered in the standard units. There are 6-credit point units of study called Topics in Senior Physics A (PHYS 3015/3915; Semester 1) and Topics in Senior Physics B (PHYS 3025/3925; Semester 2) which allow this. Please contact the Senior Physics Coordinator if you wish to discuss this.

Students majoring in Nanoscience & Technology are recommended to take (i) PHYS 3039/3939 in Semester 1; and (ii) PHYS 3099/3999 in Semester 2. It is not possible to study both a Physics and a Nanoscience & Technology major.

Frequently asked questions

  • I have satisfied the prerequisities but the system won't let me enrol. What should I do? Check that you satisfy the prerequisites. (Briefly: Senior physics requires completion of Intermediate physics. The Senior EM and Quantum core modules require study of MATH 2021/2921/2061/2961/2067. The Senior Condensed Matter Physics, and High Energy Physics modules in Semester 2 require the Senior Quantum Physics module in Semester 1. Entry to Senior Advanced units requires an average mark of 70 in Intermediate physics. It is not possible to directly enrol in the Topics in Senior Physics units. It is also not possible to directly enrol in the core units including a Special Project - see this page for how to enrol.) If you still encounter difficulties please contact the Senior Physics Coordinator.
  • Can I take units without having the prerequisities? Yes, in many cases this is possible. Prerequisities are specified so that all students have the background required for the course. However, you may have taken similar units that can be substituted for the prerequisities, or you may agree to undertake private study to catch up on assumed knowledge. Please contact the Senior Physics Coordinator if this applies to you.
  • Can I study a Nanoscience & Technology, as well as a Physics major? No, this is not currently possible.
  • What if I started Senior Physics in earlier years? For students who have already completed part of their Physics major and who need to select a combination of modules that is not covered in the standard units, there are 6-credit point units of study called Topics in Senior Physics A (PHYS 3015/3915; Semester 1) and Topics in Senior Physics B (PHYS 3025/3925; Semester 2). Please contact the Senior Physics Coordinator if you wish to discuss this. You should e-mail the coordinator, explaining your situation in sufficient detail.
  • Can I take only one unit per semester and complete the major over more than one year? Yes. In that case study the core unit PHYS 3040/3940 in Semester 1 of the first year, and the core unit PHYS 3090/3990 in Semester 2 of the first year.
  • Can I take both my Options units in the same semester? Yes, this may be possible, please contact the Senior Physics Coordinator if you wish to discuss this.
  • Can I take more than 24 credit points of Senior Physics? Yes (but, of course, you cannot take the same lecture module more than once). The most you can do is 36 credit points, which will involve doing Topics in Senior Physics. Please contact the Senior Physics Coordinator if you wish to discuss this.
  • What is the minimum amount of lab I must do in a Physics Major? The minimum is 8 credit points (both Core units), or 4 cp if you do a Special Project.
  • How is my major decided? The Faculty of Science decides which major(s) a student has done by looking at their units when they have finished their degree. This information is sent to the student, who has a chance to discuss/object. In case you are planning a double major, note that each Unit of Study can only count towards one major.

What maths should you do?

Intermediate Mathematics:
Note that MATH 2021/2921 (Vector Calculus and Differential Equations) or MATH 2061/2961 (Linear Mathematics and Vector Calculus) is a prerequisite for most Senior Physics units. An acceptable alternative is MATH2067 (Differential Equations and Vector Calculus for Engineers). These are all offered in Semester 1 (and MATH 2061 and 2067 are also offered in Summer School).

Other recommended courses in Intermediate Mathematics: are:

  • MATH 2065/2965 Introduction to Partial Differential Equations (strongly recommended; includes an introduction to Fourier methods, which are of considerable use in various areas in physics.)
  • MATH 2962 Real and Complex Analysis
  • STAT 2011/2911 Statistical Models
  • STAT 2012/2912 Statistical Tests

    Senior Mathematics:
    Recommended Senior Mathematics units, particularly if you are planning to take Honours in Physics, are:

  • Semester 1:
  • MATH3977 Lagrangian and Hamiltonian Dynamics (Advanced) (strongly recommended; useful for Honours courses such as General Relativity and Physics of the Standard Model)
  • MATH3063/3963 Differential Equations and Biomathematics
    STAT3012/3912 Applied Linear Models

  • Semester 2:
  • MATH3078/3978 Partial Differential Equations and Waves
  • MATH3068 Analysis
  • MATH3968 Differential Geometry (Advanced)
  • MATH3964 Complex Analysis with Applications (Advanced)
  • MATH3974 Fluid Dynamics (Advanced)
  • STAT3013/3913 Statistical Inference

  • Year in Industry program

    When planning your courses, keep in mind the Year in Industry program, which provides students with the opportunity to spend a year using their Physics experience to work in industry between their Intermediate and Senior years.

    International Student Exchange Program

    The University of Sydney has an extensive range of Student Exchange Programs with universities throughout the Asia-Pacific, Canada, Europe, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. These programs allow you to include an overseas study period into your degree program without having to extend your degree or pay overseas tuition fees.

    In particular, we have a special arrangement with the School of Physics at the University of Exeter in south-west England.