BSc (Hons) Physics

The course

UCAS code
F300
Duration
4 years
Location
Edinburgh
Delivery type
Full-time

Heriot-Watt University ranked 1st in the UK for physics in the National Student Survey 2020 (Overall Student Satisfaction) and 5th in the UK in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021. BSc Physics is accredited by the Institute of Physics.

Contact

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Contact our enquiries team.

Overview

The study of physics is an investigation into the world and the universe around us. It allows us to accurately measure the things we are surrounded by, develop models to explain what is going on, and then use those models to predict what is otherwise unknown.

Physicists come from all backgrounds and have a range of strengths and interests, but the common thread between all of them is their passion for understanding and their constant wondering of 'why?' and more importantly “how?”.

The flexibility and versatility of the skillset you develop while studying physics is widely desired. From studying particles so small their existence can only be inferred, to researching the largest and most massive black holes we have found in the universe, this subject trains you to rapidly adapt and use your skills to tackle the next emerging challenge, whatever that may be.  

Physics degree structure

The Physics degree at Heriot-Watt University covers subjects including dynamics, electromagnetic fields and optics. These areas lead onto the quantum world of subatomic particles, the unique nature of laser light, and the philosophically challenging ideas of quantum physics and astrophysics. Mathematics also plays an important part to help us understand physical concepts in more depth. In later years, dedicated courses for Biophysics, Nanophotonics, Fibre-Optic Communications and Quantum Mechanics allow students to delve deep into current research areas and discuss their questions with leading experts.

Physics rankings

The National Student Survey 2020 ranked Heriot-Watt University 1st in the UK for Physics. This reflects our excellent staff-student ratio and welcoming academic community. In response to the survey, 100% of Heriot-Watt students said they were satisfied with the quality of our Physics degree. 100% of students also said that staff were good at explaining things and that the degree was intellectually stimulating.

The National Student Survey 2021 ranked Heriot-Watt University 1st in Scotland and 3rd in the UK for the “Average % Agree” score for all questions, and 2nd in Scotland and 5th in the UK for Overall Satisfaction in Physics.

Physics at Heriot-Watt University is ranked 3rd in Scotland and 15th in the UK by the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024, in the subject of Physics and Astronomy. 

Physics facilities

Physics at Heriot-Watt is built around the importance of gaining practical, hands-on experience. In the National Student Survey 2021, over 90% of our students agreed that the facilities had supported their learning well, which was the 3rd highest score in the UK.

In recent years, we have invested heavily in developing practical labs which students use through years one to three of their degree. Our well-equipped labs, with state-of-the-art experiments, are supported throughout with friendly and helpful staff to ensure everyone, whatever their background and interests get the benefits and joys of practical lab work.

First year labs offer students the opportunity to gain fundamental skills that will allow them to carry out individual experiments in future years. Typically, there will be 3 hours of timetabled laboratory work each week, exploring topics like optics, electronics, and mechanics.

Further into your time at Heriot-Watt, teaching laboratories allow you to develop your skills using more advanced experiments. Experiments in radioactivity, dynamics, solar-cell efficiency, aerodynamics, interferometry, optical fibres, and electronics. Computer modelling and computer interfaced experiments also form part of many activities.

These activities take place within our state-of-the-art research facilities.

Grounded in the research

Heriot-Watt University is ‘world-leading’ for research in Physics according to REF2021 which ranked our Physics Research as number 1 in the UK, with 97% of research classed as ‘world leading’.

Heriot-Watt University received the Queens Anniversary Prize in 2021, the highest honour for universities in the UK, in recognition of our research in Photonics.

Our physics degree taps into Heriot-Watt’s research to provide students with cutting-edge insights into key areas of physics. Our courses are delivered by passionate and engaging experts who relate taught material to their own research and explore the context and applications of the physics discussed.

Particular focus is given to the work of Heriot-Watt’s Research Institute for Photonic and Quantum Science and the Research Institute for Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering.

Student experience and Physics Society

We champion our ability to put students first. This is best reflected in our 2020 National Student Survey results where we placed 1st in the UK for Physics, and had an overall student satisfaction of 100%. We believe this is a result of the experience we offer both inside and outside of teaching.

We take great pride in our ability to provide support to all students though tutoring, pastoral support, and informal activities. Our staff to student ratio is consistently high, which allows us to offer a personalised and relaxed approach to teaching, which helps students achieve high academic standards. This forms the core of our ethos.

Students are encouraged to engage with physics beyond the classroom. For example, we run community sessions in years 1 and 2 where year groups interact and discuss a variety of physics and science themed topics. This non-assessed activity explores topics including big science, science impact, numbers and scale, science in media, ethics, and philosophy of science. Each year we explore that year’s Nobel prizes and the latest science-based conspiracy theories.

Our student-run Physics Society offers students the chance to interact with others through activities ranging from formal speakers to social events and trips.

Graduate destinations

During your degree you will develop strong problem solving, numerical and data handling skills that ensure you are highly sought-after graduate for a wide range of careers. Suitable jobs could involve research and development, engineering, scientific analysis, and data processing.

See some of the career destinations of our recent graduates below:

  • Data Scientist
  • Machine Learning Specialist
  • Medical Physicist
  • Systems Engineer
  • Statistician
  • Product Engineer
  • Industrial R&D
  • PhD research and academic research and teaching

Graduates include:

  • Josh King, Director Solar Energy Scotland
  • Heather Dalgarno, Lead Systems Engineer at Leonardo.

Global College pathway for this degree

If you do not meet the entry requirements for this degree, have a look at Heriot-Watt Global College, where you can follow an accelerated pathway which will get you onto the second year of this degree.

Accreditation

IoP Logo

This honours degree in Physics is accredited by the Institute of Physics (IOP) for the purpose of partially meeting the educational requirement for Chartered Physicist.

Susan Chan

As a student I was awarded summer internships in research groups. It was great to be part of the research going on in Physics at Heriot-Watt. I was able to see what research was like and this helped me find my PhD place.

Susan Chan, Physics BSc

Course content

Year 1

Semester one

  • Mechanics, Fields and Forces
  • Investigative Techniques (one)
  • Mathematics for Engineers and Scientists (one)
You'll choose one optional course from:
  • Introductory Biology (one)
  • Principles of Chemistry

Semester two

  • Waves and Matter
  • Investigative Techniques (two)
  • Mathematics for Engineers and Scientists (two)
You'll choose one optional course from:
  • Introductory Biology (two) 
  • Chemical Reactivity 
  • Introduction to Mechanical Engineering
  • Discrete Mathematics
  • Elements of Probability

Year 2

Semester one

  • Electronics and Programming Skills
  • Photonics and Optics
  • Mathematics for Engineers and Scientists (three)
You'll choose one optional course from:
  • Chemical Thermodynamics and Introductory Chemical Kinetics
  • Maths Apps and Labs
  • Fluid Mechanics (one)
  • Logic and proof
  • Topics in Statistical Practice

Semester two

  • Experimental Lab and Problem Solving
  • Thermal Physics and Properties of Matter
  • Mathematics for Engineers and Scientists (four)
You'll choose one optional course from:
  • Cell and Molecular Biology 
  • Atomic and Molecular Spectroscopy
  • Astrophysics
  • Dynamics
  • Discrete Mathematics
  • Elements of Probability

Year 3

Semester one

  • Physical Mathematics (one)
  • Dynamics and Relativity
  • Electromagnetism
  • Experimental Labs and Programming Skills

Semester two

  • Physical Mathematics (two)
  • Applied Physics
  • Quantum Theory and Spectroscopy 
  • Solid State Physics

Year 4

Semester one

  • Research Project
  • Electromagnetism and Laser Physics
  • Numerical Modelling and Data Analysis
  • Quantum Theory and Solid State

Semester two

  • Research Project 
  • Problem Solving
  • Statistical, Nuclear and Particle Physics
You'll choose one optional course from:
  • Optical Sensing and Energy Studies
  • Optoelectronic Devices

Discover Uni course data

Discover Uni provides data on each university's degree courses across a range of measures including student satisfaction, graduate jobs and salaries.

Employability

Work and study

This is what our BSc (Hons) Physics students are doing 15 months after graduating:

  • 35% are working
  • 55% are studying
  • 5% are working and studying.

Salary

  • The average salary of students 15 months after graduating: £27000
  • The average UK salary of students 15 months after graduating from a similar course: £29000

Potential career paths

  • Information Technology Professionals
  • Science, engineering and technology associate professionals
  • Natural and social science professionals
  • Teaching Professionals

Entry requirements

Year 1

Standard entry requirements

  • Highers ABBB (including Physics or Mathematics both at B)
  • A-Levels BCC - BBB (including Physics and Mathematics with one at B)
  • Int. Baccalaureate 29 points (with Higher Level 5 Physics and Mathematics)
  • BTEC DMM (in relevant subject)
  • HNC B in graded unit (in relevant HNC)

Minimum entry requirements*

  • Highers BBBC (including Physics and Mathematics BB)
  • A-Levels CCC (including Physics and Mathematics)
  • IB 28 points (HL 5 Physics and Maths)

* Minimum: under our Fair Access Policy, we will relax our standard entry requirements for some Scottish students depending on their circumstances. Our minimum requirements will apply if you:

  • live in an area within the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation lowest 20% (SIMD20), or
  • are care experienced.

We can also make exceptions for some Scottish students with grades above minimum but below standard. Read more about our Minimum and standard entry requirements

Year 2

  • Advanced Highers BB (Physics and Mathematics plus Highers ABBB)
  • A-Levels ABB (including Physics and Mathematics with one at A)
  • Int. Baccalaureate 33 points (with Higher Level Physics and Mathematics at 6)
  • HNC A in graded unit (in a relevant HNC)
  • HND BB in graded units (in relevant HND)
  • BTEC DDD (in relevant subject)
  • Global College Successful completion of our Science with Accelerator Programme

Additional information

  • Please note that the Chemical Physics programmes also require a relevant Chemistry qualification appropriate to the Level (for example, A-Levels or Highers at grade C for Level 1, A-Levels or Advanced Highers at grade B for Level 2)
  • For all years, applications are welcomed from holders of non-school qualifications, mature candidates and overseas students.
  • If you do not see your qualifications here please contact us at studywithus@hw.ac.uk
  • Please check that you meet our University-wide National 5/GCSE (or equivalent) English and Maths requirements.

English language requirements

  • If English is not your first language, you have to show that your English is good enough to succeed on your course. Please see our English language requirements.

Fees

Tuition fees for 2024 entry
Status* Scotland England / Wales / N Ireland / Rep of Ireland International**
Fee Paid by SAAS £9,250 £24,048

* Your residency 'status' is usually defined as the country where you have been ordinarily resident for the three years before the start of your course. Find out more about tuition fees.

** 'International' includes applicants from European Union countries who do not hold Pre-Settled or Settled status in UK. (This does not include students from the Republic of Ireland - see above). Read more about the application process for EU nationals.

Additional costs

You may incur additional costs in the course of your studies at Heriot-Watt over and above tuition fees in an academic year. Depending on your programme of study, these may include: protective equipment, field trips, professional memberships, studio fees, required course texts or other study resources.

Scholarships and bursaries

Featured scholarships

Bursaries for students from England, Northern Ireland or Wales

In addition to government loans and grants towards the costs of fees and living costs, we are offering generous financial support to attract and support eligible undergraduate students from England, Northern Ireland or Wales:

  • Heriot-Watt University Bursary (up to £3,100 per year)
View details about the Heriot-Watt University Bursary

View our full range of undergraduate scholarships.