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Physics degree launch

Newcastle University opens new state of the art physics facility

Published on: 10 November 2015

The first physics students in over a decade are studying in new £2m facilities at Newcastle University after the relaunch of degree courses to meet a surge of interest in the subject.

Newcastle University has relaunched two undergraduate degree programmes in physics this year to meet high demand from students for physics learning.

Thirty-nine undergraduates are now studying for degrees in new purpose-built facilities in the university’s Herschel Annex – opened on 6th November by world-renowned physicist Professor Paul Davies.

Professor Davies said: “I welcome this initiative which restores physics to its rightful place at this esteemed institution. As the ‘queen of sciences’ physics will always be a core discipline.

“In the second decade of this century, physics is poised to transform the frontiers of research from fields as diverse as computing, cancer biology, materials science and nanotechnology. The career opportunities opening up for physics graduates herald a new Golden Age for science.”

Students with Nikolaos Proukakis, Professor of Quantum Physics

Support for learning and teaching

The first phase of the facilities has included the establishment of a physics laboratory with cryogenics and electronics laboratories to follow. Students are also allocated dedicated study and social spaces.

Four new academics have been employed as part of the relaunch to help deliver two single honours BSc and MPhys physics programmes. These are designed to give an understanding of the fundamental principles of physics together with an appreciation of some technologically important applications and also its application in astrophysics and cosmology to understand the Universe around us.

Professor Steve Homans, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering said: “I am delighted that Newcastle University has welcomed its first cohort of physics students for 11 years.  Newcastle has a world leading reputation in physics-related research and we are now set to build on these foundations to grow and develop the subject in the future."

Sam Laws, from Leeds, is part of the first group of undergraduate physics students. The 18-year-old said: “I’m excited to be one of the first students to enrol on the relaunched physics degree course at Newcastle University. I always knew I wanted to pursue a degree in Physics, and I wanted to study in a vibrant student city and at a renowned university. 

“I find the course well-structured and tutors very helpful. The labs are excellent, with brand new equipment and someone is always on hand to help us when we need support.”

Proud traditions

Newcastle University has a proud tradition of physics teaching and learning, dating back to 1871 with the formation of the Department of Physics at Armstrong College. The modern physics facility is in a building named after the first professor of physics in Newcastle, Alexander Herschel the grandson of Sir William Herschel.  One of the exhibits displayed at the opening ceremony was a telescope made by Sir William. This may have been the very telescope he used to make the discovery of the planet Uranus for which he is celebrated today.

Interest in physics as a standalone degree had diminished nationally over a number of years, but more recently this trend has dramatically reversed with increased numbers of students studying physics at school and university. After a gap of nine years, students are again studying single honours physics students at Newcastle University.

Physics however has remained a strong feature of world-class research at the University, in both traditional and emerging areas.  

The two new physics degrees will draw on the world-leading expertise of physicists already based at Newcastle University.

In addition, the close link between the new programmes and the university’s maths and engineering schools will be unique to the Newcastle degrees, opening up opportunities for employment for graduates in a wide range of fields.

Professor Paul Davies toured the new physics facilities, with university dignitaries, representatives from local partner schools, PhD students and a representative from the Institute of Physics.

A theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and best-selling author, Professor Davies’ research accomplishments include helping explain how black holes radiate energy, the origin of ripples in the cosmic afterglow of the big bang and why life on Earth may have come from Mars.

'Restoring physics to its rightful place'

Professors Paul Davies and Steve Homans at the physics degrees launch event 

A surge of interest in physics from the next generation of scientists

Undergraduate Sam Laws is among the first students to enrol on the relaunched physics degrees

A heated launch event

Exploding paper reveals the official opening plaque


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