Physics and Astronomy

Physics is a key subject for understanding the world and universe. While there is much that is known, there is still a great deal to be explored. Physics goes all the way from some abstract theoretical physics to experimental investigations that can be directly applied to new technologies.

Astrophysics applies the laws of physics and chemistry to study the physical nature of stars and celestial bodies. At St Andrews, students have the opportunity to study and research a wide variety of astrophysics topics including star formation, galaxy evolution, dark matter and much more. With access to the University's own observatory, students are able to get a close-up view of our magnificent universe.

Undergraduate courses in Physics and Astrophysics seek to guide students to gain a solid grounding in core physics, and use this in exploring practical, theoretical, and computational aspects of the subject. There can be significant interaction with the School's research teams in this process. The specialist postgraduate MSc programmes also link with research activities. The main research programmes are in:

  • biophotonics
  • laser physics
  • optoelectronics
  • quantum optics
  • structured media
  • magnetism
  • superconductivity
  • millimetre-wave physics
  • astrophysics.

There is a strong academic community in the School, taking in both staff and students. This is helped by much of the teaching and research being carried out in the same building. The research in the School benefits students in many ways, not least by the possibility of access to state-of-the-art equipment for final year research projects.



Physics BSc (Hons)
Physics MPhys (Hons)
Astrophysics BSc (Hons)
Astrophysics MPhys (Hons)
Theoretical Physics MPhys (Hons)
Physics and Astronomy (Gateway) BSc (Hons)
Physics and Astronomy (Gateway) MPhys (Hons)
International Physics and Astronomy (Gateway) BSc (Hons)
International Physics and Astronomy (Gateway) MPhys (Hons)


You can also take Physics as part of a joint Honours degree. Find out more on the Physics course pages.

There are different entry and exit points for undergraduate degree programmes. Particularly well qualified students aiming for degrees within the School of Physics and Astronomy or for joint degrees with Mathematics may apply for direct entry to second year, allowing them bypass first year entirely and start studies in second year Physics.

There is also the Gateway entry route associated with the School's widening participation goals, and for those from overseas who have had less access to physics and maths in their programmes than is usual in the UK.

The MPhys Integrated Masters degree allows students to graduate with a Master of Physics. The course takes a year longer than the standard BSc honours degree, and may be particularly appropriate for those wishing to pursue a research or development career in physics or astronomy.



Astrophysics MSc
Photonics and Optoelectronic Devices MSc

Research degrees

There are opportunities to work towards a PhD  in most of the School's research areas. There is also an Engineering Doctorate in Applied Photonics.

Please contact a supervisor in your research area to inquire about PhD opportunities.

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Latest in Physics and Astronomy at St Andrews

Congratulations to the students from the School of Physics and Astronomy who graduated in June 2017.


Physics and Astronomy research areas

The School has a thriving research community which benefits from its modern, well-equipped laboratories and facilities. Clusters of research groups organise several series of seminars and discussion groups in theoretical physics, astronomy, condensed matter, photonics and biophotonics.

All PhD students are enrolled in the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA), which is the largest group of physics researchers in the UK, and runs the SUPA graduate school.

Research students may apply for a PhD place in the following research areas:

Physics research centres

Research groups organise several series of seminars and discussion groups within the School and with external speakers. Seminars and discussions focus on a variety of topics: theoretical physics, astronomy, condensed matter, photonics and biophotonics. There is also a weekly research colloquium in which research leaders from across the world present their research to a general physics audience.

The School of Physics and Astronomy currently has, or is collaboratively involved with, six research centres and groups:

The Centre is a collaboration between St Andrews, Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt. It provides student a rigorous graduate education in the key field of condensed matter physics and trains them for success in the workplace.

The CMR joins research groups from the Schools of Physics, Chemistry and Biology in St Andrews as well as research groups in Dundee, all working in the fields of liquid or solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), dynamic nuclear polarization (DNP), electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR), muon spin rotation or computational magnetic resonance.

The Centre, led by Heriot-Watt, offers both PhD and Engineering Doctorates (DEng) in Photonics. The programme combines PhD level research projects with masters-level technical and MBA courses, consisting of specialist topics in photonics plus business courses.

The OSC brings together physicists and chemists at the University of St Andrews to undertake collaborative research on remarkable plastic-like materials that can conduct electricity and emit light. The OSC aims to encourage synergy between physicists and chemists to develop the next generation of organic semiconductors.

The PIC offers a state-of-the-art facility for collaborative, applications-oriented research and development of photonic-based technologies. The Centre maintains and has access to a substantial equipment infrastructure for use on projects including coherent sources, diagnostic devices and CAD packages.

The Centre for Exoplanet Science brings together researchers from different disciplines to find out how planets form in different galactic environments, how their atmospheres evolve, and the relation between the evolutionary history of planets and the emergence of life.


The School of Physics and Astronomy is home to modern, well-equipped teaching and research laboratories, an on-site library, and technical services including a helium liquefier, electronics workshop and mechanical workshop.

The research labs include:

  • a state-of-the-art MBE thin-film growth kit with angle resolved photoemission facility
  • low temperature scanning tunnelling microscopes in ultra-low vibration labs
  • several cryomagnetic systems
  • high field NMR and EPR spectrometers
  • a class 10,000 cleanroom with a range of advanced fabrication facilities for photonic materials
  • ultrafast photonics
  • the largest operational optical telescope in the UK.

The lecture theatres are well equipped for their purpose, and a variety of smaller rooms are used for teaching, tutorials, and meetings. The social learning area and group study area adjacent to the café provide an area for students to relax and to work. The staff common room provides a congenial environment for all research staff and PhD students to meet and exchange ideas.


The University observatory hosts a range of astronomical telescopes for research, teaching and outreach.

  • The 37" James Gregory Telescope is the largest operational telescope in Scotland. It is mainly run by postgraduate students and is used almost exclusively for research projects.
  • The two Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes (10" and 16" aperture) in the Napier building act as the student observatory. Students can receive training on these telescopes and use them on their own for visual observations, astrophotography and research.
  • A number of smaller mobile telescopes are available.

In the 2015-2016 academic year, the Observatory was mainly used for the discovery of exoplanets, monitoring young stars and space debris, and observing the shapes of asteroids.

Careers for graduates in Physics and Astronomy

The School aims to produce graduates with appropriate knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be successful in industrial or commercial positions, or undertaking PhD study in universities. Some graduates work in careers where they use physics every day in physics-based industry, while others use well-developed transferable skills to enter management, financial services, and related industries. Some students go straight from an undergraduate degree to a job, while some do so after a vocational MSc or PhD study.

First degree destinations include:

  • systems engineering
  • research facilitation
  • industrial research and development
  • financial services
  • software consultancy
  • astrophysics research
  • observatory managers
  • MSc and PhD study.

Graduates from the MSc in Photonics and Optoelectronic Devices course have moved to destinations including:

  • laser development
  • sales and marketing with consumer optoelectronics
  • product support of optical metrology equipment
  • theoretical modelling of photonic structures
  • university teaching
  • internship with a national laser lab
  • semiconductor optoelectronics research.

Many PhD graduates find jobs as researchers in universities or national laboratories and observatories. Others begin careers in industrial research, sales or marketing, patents law, the financial sector and the media.

Companies recent PhD students have begun careers with include:

  • The UK Patent Office
  • Dyson
  • FraunhoferUK
  • Selex
  • Edinburgh Instruments
  • Photonics Solutions.

See recent graduate employment case studies.

Funding opportunities

There is a range of funding opportunities available for all levels of study.


Several undergraduate scholarships are available for prospective undergraduate students.

Undergraduate scholarships

Postgraduate students

The Scottish Funding Council is offering a scholarship of up to £7,500 for students applying for the MSc in Photonic and Optoelectronic Devices who are from Scotland or EU countries (excluding the UK).

Postgraduate taught scholarships

PhD students

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council offers studentship funding in many areas, including Physics.

Science and Technology Facilities Council studentship funding is also availble to astronomy postgraduate research students. 

Also available are China Scholarship Council scholarships for PhD students in the School of Physics and Astronomy. 

The Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA) Prize Studentships are awarded to outstanding physics students from around the world, irrespective of nationality, to study for a PhD in Scotland.

Funding for PhD students


REF 2014

The School of Physics and Astronomy was ranked third in the UK for research quality in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework Assessment.

University league tables

Physics at St Andrews was ranked first in the UK by the Guardian University Guide 2017, second in the UK by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2017, and first in Scotland by the Complete University Guide 2017 for teaching quality, student satisfaction and graduate prospects.


School of Physics and Astronomy
University of St Andrews
North Haugh
St Andrews
KY16 9SS

Phone: +44 (0)1334 46 3111 

School of Physics and Astronomy website

School of Physics and Astronomy research portal