What topics in a Physics degree don't appear in an Astrophysics degree?

  • Thread starter NovaeSci
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  • #1
Summary:: Looking for advice on what Physics topics, which may be dropped, to brush up on whilst studying an Astrophysics focussed degree

I'm embarking on an part-time distance learning BSc in Astronomy at UCLAN. I was originally torn between this degree and the BSc Physics at the Open University at first.

I decided on UCLAN for two main reason: My passion is the physics of "out-there" and I didn't really fancy studying barely any Astro over the next 6 years - I intend to go on to a MSc in Astrophysics; and that UCLAN seem to provide you with way more experience on writing scientifically (essays, reports, etc) as well as a lot of opportunities within a fair few modules to do research, which is definitely mandatory in this field - the OU only have 2 modules to do that. Plus I feel I will enjoy this degree ay more.

What I want to know is: when you study a straight Physics degree, what topics would you learn that, you would say, aren't really relevant to Astrophysics? Of course, in some way, all Physics is relevant to some extent; however, what topics would you normally find dropped from a Physics degree in order to make it an Astrophysics degree - there must be some topics dropped in order to make room for the Astro ones? There are 3 core Physics/Maths modules within this degree: Energy, Matter and the Universe which is essentially all the main core Physics and Maths that is required for Astrophysics up to, I'd say, the end of year 1; the second module, Extreme States of Matter is sort of a follow on from the previous module, but at an advanced mathematical level and takes the knowledge of Physics required for Astrophysics up to the end of the degree; the third is, Cosmology and Relativity pretty much is self explanatory and is also very highly mathematical. By the module descriptions, it sounds like the core-physics are taught with an emphasis on how to apply them to the Universe. There are of course modules on Stars, Galaxies, Planetary systems, etc. so I'm sure they will cover the Physics as is needed.

As mentioned, there will obviously be topics in a BSc in Physics which are dropped and I'm just trying to get more experience in to what they might be so I can ask why they have been? As in, are they dropped because they don't really have much value in Astrophysics; or, have they been dropped purely to make room, but would still be valuable to study on the side.

Thanks for your advice :)

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Vanadium 50
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This varies from college to college. Most colleges have this on their web pages.
  • #3
Since I'm only starting my journey, a lot of what I'm reading is still a bit foreign to me. I'm asking what branches of physics within a physics degree aren't that important when focussing on Astrophysics. As mentioned, I of course know all physics is relevant to some extent, but I'm curious as to which topics I'm least likely to need when it comes to Astrophysics. Studying a circuit board for example comes to mind. :)
  • #4
Vanadium 50
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Studying a circuit board for example comes to mind.

Not if you are doing observational/instrumentation.
  • #5
My impression is that in the US at least, "moving" from a generic physics degree to a specialized one such as astrophysics, medical physics, etc., tends to mean adding more required topics, rather than subtracting some of them.

A generic physics degree usually has a set of required core physics topics beyond the introductory sequence: typically these are classical mechanics, classical electromagnetism, thermodynamics + statistical mechanics, and quantum mechanics. There are also usually some required ancillary topics such as maths, electronics, programming, lab work / research. After that, students are usually required to study a certain minimum number of elective physics topics of their choosing, e.g. nuclear physics, particle physics, fluid dynamics...

A specialized degree might convert some of those elective topics into required ones, or simply add more required topics, while leaving the core topics intact.
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  • #6
^ This is how it works at my son's university. The core programs are all the same. Where they differ is in the required electives depending on area of interest: computational/theoretical, experimental, astrophysics, bio/medical, or geophysics.

The core courses consist of:

Physics 1 (linear and rotational mechanics - kinematics, dynamics, and the relevant conservation laws )
Physics 2 ( simple harmonic motion, waves, interference, electrostatics, magnetostatics and an introduction to quantum physics)
Modern Physics
Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics
Quantum Mechanics I

And then support courses in the relevant maths (Calculus I-III, Linear Algebra, Intro to Differential Equations, Mathematical Physics I & II), supporting sciences (chemistry, biology, geology, computing etc.), laboratory practice, and final year project or thesis courses.

The rest are elective courses to be filled with a combination of physics specialty and general interest courses.
  • #8
@jtbell meaning that they are mandatory credits for your major such that you're required to take x # of upper level credits from specific departments (e.g. 6.0 credits from Level 3/4/5 ASTRON/BIOPHYS/MEDPHYS/PHYS/MATH/EARTHSC) but the specific courses you take are up to you based on your area of interest. Perhaps I should have said "restricted" electives as the term is often used in Engineering programs. In any case my intention was to differentiate them from "free choice" or "unrestricted" electives which are not required to be related to your major.
  • #9
Gold Member
The issue is that ”astrophysics” is a huge field. I look back at my undergraduate physics courses and I can map each one to an area of astrophysics.

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