Founded in 1826 to provide higher education ‘for all who could profit by it’, UCL now has around 13,000 undergraduate and 8,500 graduate students spread over some 55 departments grouped into eight faculties. With subjects ranging from economics to engineering and fine art to physiology, UCL is truly a multifaculty university.
UCL was the third university to be founded in England (originally the University of London) after Oxford and Cambridge. In the spirit of its “founding father”, Jeremy Bentham, it was the first university to admit students irrespective of religion or social background, and later, the first to admit women on equal terms with men
With an enviable reputation for its pioneering role in education, dating back to its very foundation, astronomy has been taught here since UCL’s earliest days. In 1866 we opened the first laboratory in the country for the instruction of students in Experimental Physics.
Being in the heart of London makes UCL a lively and stimulating place to study. It is close to many renowned libraries and museums, which can add to the educational experience. UCL students have magnificent sports grounds, and are fortunate in having not only their own students’ union, but also that of the University of London nearby. Together, the combined range of facilities provides just about everything a student could want.
The College prides itself on being a multi-racial and multi-faith community giving us all the opportunity to learn about, and understand and respect, other peoples views and cultures.
Why Physics and Astronomy at UCL?
Why choose a degree in astrophysics or physics at UCL? The principal motivation for any prospective student should be an interest in the academic and personal opportunities presented by a top-quality degree programme. But in the broader view, we should recognise physics as an essential part of everyday life: when we turn on a light, use a mobile phone, or check the weather forecast, we are reaping the practical benefits of generations of physics research. Astrophysics is, both figuratively and literally, more a ‘blue skies’ field, but makes demands across a broad frontier of technologies: materials science, optics and electronics. It is tomorrow’s requirements for research and development in this wide range of commercial and academic applications that provide the challenge for today’s student.
As well as looking into fundamental science, a degree programme in physics or astrophysics goes to the ‘cutting edge’ of technologies that affect everyone in their everyday life, and equips the student with the tools and imagination to address tomorrow’s questions.
You may already be looking at employment prospects, and a science degree from UCL is a strong asset across the whole range of careers where basic scientific skills are required, from accountancy to astrophysics, and computing to cryogenics. Those looking for a deeper understanding of the world whose future lies in our hands, or for marketable skills in the technological society, need look no further.
The ‘art’ of science is to ask questions for which an answer is within – or just beyond – reach. Today’s physicist might be trying to understand how to harness nuclear fusion as a source of limitless, clean power; the evolution of the Universe in the first fractions of a second after the Big Bang; the behaviour of atoms and molecules in planetary atmospheres; or the processes underlying continental drift.
About the Department
Located on the main UCL site on Gower Street, the department has around 60 teaching staff, with about 380 undergraduate and about 125 graduate students. In a recent survey of teaching and research in departments of physics by The Times, special mention was made that ‘UCL was the nearest rival to Oxford and Cambridge, its performance enhanced by enviable staffing levels’. There is thus an excellent relationship between staff and students, which finds expression in the joint staff-student departmental committee and in the annual weekend at Cumberland Lodge (where both groups get together for a lively couple of days amidst the beautiful surroundings of Windsor Great Park).
Most of the teaching staff are also active in research over a broad range of disciplines including: astrophysics; atmospheric physics; particle physics; planetary physics; atomic, molecular and positron physics; condensed matter physics; instrumentation. Excellent research opportunities are thus available for those wanting to continue their studies after completion of their first degree.
Having a strong research base also brings benefits to our teaching activities. For instance, many of the course units available later in the degree are directly related to departmental research. For those considering Astrophysics as a degree, UCL’s University of London Observatory (ULO) at Mill Hill, which is incorporated in the department.
In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise (2008), 60% of research activity in the Department of Physics and Astronomy was judged to be in the highest two categories of either 4* (‘world-leading’) or 3* (‘internationally excellent’).
Strong teaching links are maintained with other departments, notably Space and Climate Physics, and Medical Physics and Bioengineering. These broaden the learning opportunities available for all students, as well as allowing us to offer a wider variety of degrees.
The department also has strong and developing links with industry and applied science. We are taking the leading role in the London Centre for Nanotechnology, which opened a few years ago. The centre further strengthens our Condensed Matter and Materials research area and pioneer work in the exciting new field of nanotechnology. Three UCL-wide collaborations have been initiated by our Professors: the Centre for Advanced Instrumentation Systems, the Centre for Materials Research, and the Centre for Cosmic Chemistry. Instrument development for astronomy has resulted in the formation of two companies, based on site, one of which has been awarded DTI ‘SMART’ prizes for its achievements in transferring technology from the academic to the industrial sector.
Here in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UCL we pride ourselves on the commitment we give to our students at all levels. Our programmes of modernisation and development of all aspects of our teaching are continuing as we adapt to the ever-changing world.
Living in London
UCL’s main site is in the centre of Bloomsbury, the traditional intellectual heartland of London.
The West End stretches from the College site down to the Thames, and many theatres offer students special discount or standby rates. There’s plenty of free entertainment, too such as museums and art galleries, along with frequent live performances at the BBC, the National Theatre, and Barbican – not to mention all the pub venues and the Union!
However for many students considering university in London, worries about the cost of living may deter them from choosing to study here. Although it is a fact that studying in London can be more expensive than in some other parts of the UK, the true picture is often exaggerated.