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PH20016: Particles, nuclei & stars

[Page last updated: 15 October 2020]

Follow this link for further information on academic years Academic Year: 2020/1
Further information on owning departmentsOwning Department/School: Department of Physics
Further information on credits Credits: 6      [equivalent to 12 CATS credits]
Further information on notional study hours Notional Study Hours: 120
Further information on unit levels Level: Intermediate (FHEQ level 5)
Further information on teaching periods Period:
Semester 1
Further information on unit assessment Assessment Summary: EX 100%
Further information on unit assessment Assessment Detail:
  • Examination (EX 100%)

Information regarding synoptic assessment for this unit will be published shortly. In the meantime please contact the Director of Studies or consult your programme handbook for further details.

Further information on supplementary assessment Supplementary Assessment:
Like-for-like reassessment (where allowed by programme regulations)
Further information on requisites Requisites: Before taking this module you must take PH10001 OR take PH10048
While taking this module you must take PH20013
Description: Aims:
The aims of this unit are to review our current picture of elementary particles and discuss the forces between them, to describe properties and reactions of atomic nuclei and to discuss how these enable us to understand the origin of the Universe and the elements, stars and galaxies within it.

Learning Outcomes:
After taking this unit the student should be able to:
* describe the characteristics of the fundamental forces, and quote and use conservation laws to determine allowed particle reactions;
* apply decay laws to problems in particle and nuclear physics, and define and perform simple calculations on cross section and centre of mass frame;
* discuss binding in nuclei and explaing the energetics and mechanisms of radioactive decay;
* describe the liquid drop and shell models of nuclei and use them to calculate and interpret nuclear properties;
* describe the physical processes involved in fission and fusion reactions and in stellar nucleosynthesis;
* give a qualitative description of the early stages of the Universe, the condensation of particles, nuclei and the evolution of stars.

Numeracy T/F A, Problem Solving T/F A.

Particle physics (4 hours): Conservation laws; decays and reactions. Particle decay laws, half life and mean lifetime. Unification of forces. Recent developments in particle physics (e.g. pentaquarks, neutrino oscillations).
The nucleus (7 hours): Nucleon interactions and binding energy. Nuclear size and mass (isotopes and isobars). Radioactive decay; beta-decay, electron and positron emission. K-capture. Alpha decay; energetics and simplified tunnelling theory. The liquid drop model and semi-empirical mass formula. The shell model; nuclear spin, excited states.
Reactions, fission and fusion (5 hours): Centre of mass frame. Scattering. Spontaneous fission; fission products. Induced fission; chain reactions, delayed neutrons. Nuclear fusion reactions; principles of fusion reactions.
The cosmic connection (6 hours): Stellar evolution. Stellar nucleosynthesis. Stellar death; neutron stars, supernova, cosmic ray bursts. The Big Bang. Hubble's Law. Cosmic background radiation and ripples therein. Separation of unified forces. Inflation theory. Formation of elementary particles. Cosmic nucleosynthesis.
Further information on programme availabilityProgramme availability:

PH20016 is Compulsory on the following programmes:

Department of Physics
  • USPH-AFB01 : BSc(Hons) Physics (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAB02 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKB02 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Year long work placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AFB10 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAB10 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKB10 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Year long work placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AFM02 : MPhys(Hons) Physics (Year 2)
  • USPH-AFM04 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Research placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAM03 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAM12 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKM03 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Professional Placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKM04 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Professional and Research Placements (Year 2)
  • USPH-AFM10 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics (Year 2)
  • USPH-AFM11 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Research placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAM10 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKM10 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Professional Placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKM11 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Professional and Research Placements (Year 2)


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2020/21 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2021/22 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2020/21.
  • Programmes and units are subject to change in accordance with normal University procedures.
  • Availability of units will be subject to constraints such as staff availability, minimum and maximum group sizes, and timetabling factors as well as a student's ability to meet any pre-requisite rules.
  • Find out more about these and other important University terms and conditions here.