Meet the Department of Physics
Thinking of studying physics at University? If so, why not take a look at our Department of Physics at Surrey and check out some of the exciting experiences, great facilities and fascinating academics you’ll find here.
What’s special about the Department?
We’re a dynamic, friendly community of around 450 undergraduate and postgraduate students, researchers and academics. We’re home to internationally-leading research in astronomy, astrophysics, nuclear physics, medical physics, soft matter, photonics and quantum technologies.
Surrey is proud to be partnered with NPL (the National Physical Laboratory) – the UK’s National Metrology Institute – which brings great benefits for students. Our undergraduates were among the first people in the world to hear about the worldwide decision to redefine the International System of Units (SI)! Our students also have the opportunity to gain invaluable experience working on placements at NPL as part of their degree programme.
“Surrey’s Department of Physics is big enough to attract internationally leading academics and teach the whole range of physics subjects at the highest level, yet we are small enough that we still all know each other.” - Professor Justin Read, Head of Department.
What highlights can I expect during my course?
There’s a reason why Surrey has won the National University Employability Award for best university placement service for the past three years. Our renowned Professional Training placement scheme enables BSc students to go on a year’s paid placement with a relevant organisation, and apply what they’ve learned in the real world. Recently, our students have gone to Lockheed Martin, Lloyds Banking Group, UK National Ion Beam Centre, Toptica, Cullum Centre for Fusion Energy, DSTL and Royal Surrey County Hospital, among many others. Read about Elliot Cheetham’s placement experience at Oak Ridge National Lab, USA.
Our MPhys courses are also unique in that they include an integrated Research Year, providing our students with hands-on experience of cutting-edge research – which is particularly useful if you’re thinking about going on to a PhD or research role in industry. You can choose to undertake your Research Year anywhere in the world, or stay local to Guildford. Recently, students have gone to Riken (Japan), Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (Tenerife), the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (Italy), the Leibniz-Institute for Astrophysics (Germany), to AWE, and to the Ion Beam Centre in the UK, amongst many others.
Surrey is also an active member of SEPNET (South East Physics Network) which supports students to find paid summer placements in research or industry, providing another great opportunity to gain practical experience.
Learning to code
Physicists need to have expertise in computer coding to analyse data, model predictions and control equipment, and with the emergence of quantum technology this is more important than ever. At Surrey, you’ll find that programming is a core element of your physics course. In your first year, we teach all students Python – one of the most industry-relevant coding languages. Assuming no prior knowledge of computer programming, we bring all our students up to a level where they can use the very latest techniques in data science and machine learning.
Advanced, research-based learning
On our physics courses you’ll learn about nuclear physics, photonics, soft matter, medical physics and quantum sciences from academics who work at the forefront of these fields. In your final year, you’ll work alongside an academic, in an area that fascinates you, for your individual project. These projects often lead to published research papers, such as Evan Cryer-Jenkins’ work on relativistic measurements and Tariq Hilmi’s research on the galactic bar paradox.
“In your first and second years, you’ll be doing experiments where you know the answers. Then in your third and fourth years, you’ll be stepping out into the unknown.” – Professor Justin Read.
You’ll attend talks and lectures from well-known physicists and industry leaders throughout your time with us. We’ve welcomed Brian Cox and Maggie Aderin-Pocock, while our annual flagship Lewis Elton lecture – hosted by Professor Jim Al-Khalili – featured Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell in 2021.
Get involved beyond your course
Being part of the physics community at Surrey goes far beyond lectures and labs. Our PhySoc is run by students for students and runs a full programme of social events (from charity quizzes and pizza evenings to balls), careers talks and an annual football tournament between students and staff.
Students from the Department take part in the Physics League Across Numerous Countries for Kick-ass Students (PLANCKS) every year, which is a chance to spend three days meeting students from all over the world, challenging your physics knowledge and enjoying social events.
What’s it like to study here?
In the Department of Physics, you’ll learn through a mixture of lectures, labs, computer programming sessions and tutorials, amounting to 22 contact hours a week in Year 1.
Whichever course you choose, there’s plenty of flexibility: you can swap between pathways after a common first year, and also move from a BSc to an MPhys, provided you’re achieving sufficiently high grades on your course.
You’ll have a personal tutor who’ll support you throughout your time at Surrey and also, in the first year, a small group tutor who you’ll meet weekly. This is the perfect chance to go through lecture topics and raise points you may not have fully understood.
“Some highlights of your first year include being in the laboratory for half a day a week, conducting experiments which directly relate to what you’re learning in lectures.” – Dr Caroline Shenton-Taylor.
Who will teach me?
We’ve a relatively young team of academics with diverse experience in research and industry. When we’re not teaching, many of us are involved in public engagement of science through initiatives such as Bright Club at the BBC and Pint of Science in Guildford. Just a few of our team are:
- Theoretical physicist and well-known broadcaster Professor Jim Al-Khalili. Find out more about Jim.
- Head of Department and dark matter expert Professor Justin Read – view Justin’s inspirational lecture, Dark Matter Heats Up in Dwarf Galaxies.
- Astrophysicist Dr Michelle Collins, who writes the blog The Running Astronomer.
- Dr Caroline Shenton-Taylor, Lecturer in Applied Nuclear Physics. Check out Caroline’s Youtube channel.
What facilities will I get to use?
- Campus outreach telescope
- High performance computing facilities
- Recently refurbished undergraduate teaching labs
- High-tech research facilities during your final year project, such as our soft matter labs, photonics and quantum science facilities, and microscope and spectrometers.
What do graduates go on to?
A physics degree from Surrey opens up unique opportunities not only in science and industry, but also in sectors such as law, finance, journalism, IT and education. Recently, our graduates have gone on to work for companies such as Fourth State Medicine Ltd, Raytheon Systems Ltd, CGI, DSTL, Atkins and the NHS.
You’ll find plenty of support here to help you improve your graduate prospects, including the support of a dedicated employer engagement officer within the Department, employer talks, careers events and entrepreneurship support. Find out more about employability and careers support at Surrey.
Find out more about our physics courses.