University College for Interdisciplinary Learning

Physics and the Grand Challenges of Today

Course Code


Course Details

  • Level: 2
  • Credit Load: 10
  • School/s: School of Physics and Astronomy


The aim of this course unit is to produce scientifically-literate citizens. The course unit will provide you with the knowledge and conceptual understanding of certain aspects of physics and the processes by which scientific knowledge is developed, such that you are able to evaluate critically the important scientific and technological issues and challenges facing the modern world.

The course unit will present these through the discussion of a number of 'grand challenge' issues or themes such as future energy needs, the changing climate, new quantum technologies, diagnostics for an ageing population and the origin and fate of the Universe. In studying these issues, you will be exposed to, and learn about, a wide range of areas in physics including nuclear physics, radioactivity, medical imaging, quantum physics, relativity and cosmology.


Summary of Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate knowledge and conceptual understanding of some of the fundamental principles of physics relating to energy, radioactivity, nuclear physics, climate change, relativity, quantum physics and the origins and fate of the Universe.
  • Reason logically, analyse and critique through consideration of scientific debates and the process of knowledge acquisition
  • Write and discuss in an authoritative manner some of the scientific principles involved in modern physics and the challenges facing society today.
  • Think beyond the obvious, and accept that the nature of the Universe is not necessarily what it seems.
  • Use reporting skills
  • Read and appreciate the salient points in technical articles in newspapers and popular scientific magazines
  • Comment on the work of a peer, identify strengths and weaknesses and make constructive suggestions for improvement where appropriate
  • Independently gather, sift, synthesise and organise material for various sources, (including library, electronic and online resources) and to critically evaluate its relevance and significance
  • Write and debate using appropriate technical/scientific language



  1. Short essays every two weeks moderated by peer assessment and online feedback (50%)
  2. Examination (50%)

In addition there will be formative MCQ homework


The course is only open to undergraduate students who do not have A level Physics or equivalent. However, they must have a pass (Grade C or above) in GCSE Maths or equivalent, and a pass (grade C or above) in GCSE Science or equivalent.

University College course units are available to take on programmes which have 'free choice' options available to them, (i.e. programmes which allow you, as part of the degree programme, to take a number of credits from subject areas outside of your home school). As these courses are credit bearing, you must enrol by following the standard procedure for your school when adding units outside of your home school.

If you are not sure whether you will be able to enrol in University College courses, please contact your School Undergraduate Office to find out whether these options are available for your degree programme.


Professor Gary Fuller

Teaching and Learning Methods


1-12Tues16:00 - 17:00Lecture
1-12Thur16:00 - 17:00Lecture
2,4,6,8,10,12Fri15:00 - 16:00Workshop

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