Physics Skills Elective

Module code: NT4010

We have designed the Physics Skills Electives to help you improve your skills and enhance your career options. In this elective, you will have the choice of:

Group Project

In this skills elective you will undertake an original, multifaceted project working in a small team and in an area appropriate to physics research, industry, business, or teaching. Projects are allocated from a list of options submitted by clients within the themes of industry, business, research, and education, and these will usually lead to the development of a final deliverable (e.g. data product, equipment, software, teaching resources etc.). Recent clients have included Airbus Space and Defence, Weatherford International and the National Space Centre.

Topics covered

  • Original investigation in a research, teaching, industrial or business environment
  • Problem-solving, data analysis, and oral and written communication
  • Professional development
  • Project management and team working


This skills elective will explore the field of astrodynamics and mission design using NASA’s “General Mission Analysis Tool” (GMAT). 

You'll learn how to use GMAT to set up orbit scenarios, analyse the results, and develop your own models. You’ll consider issues such as elliptical orbits, coplanar manoeuvres, out-of-plane techniques and aspects of interplanetary trajectories and techniques.

You’ll then put these skills into practice in the ‘mission challenge’. You’ll be given a problem at the beginning of the first phase, and, in small teams, you will design a GMAT scenario which solves it. Mission challenge topics can include problems such as formation flying, orbital rendezvous or orbital insertion around planets or their natural satellites.

Topics covered

  • Astrodynamics and Celestial Mechanics
  • Use of numerical modelling techniques for astrodynamics & celestial mechanics analysis
  • NASA’s General Mission Analysis Tool (GMAT)
  • Problem solving, data analysis, and oral communication
  • Professional development and teamwork


Electronics are an indispensable part of modern life, and you’ll gain an appreciation of how they work during this skills elective, during which you will undertake a specialist lab-based project.

You’ll explore the fundamentals behind electronic boards and, working in small groups, create one which can detect small Doppler frequency shifts in an ionospheric radar, using transfer functions to derive the electronic components required to programme an active band-pass filter. You’ll explore the concepts of filtering, signal mixing, phase shifting and LRC circuits, and learn how to solder components onto boards. 

Topics covered

  • Electronics
  • Filtering, signal mixing, phase shifting and LRC circuits
  • Problem solving, data analysis, and oral and written communication
  • Professional development and teamwork

Lean Launchpad: Evidence-Based Entrepreneurship

Lean LaunchPad has been taught at Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia, and Caltech, and is designed to introduce you to real-world .Working in small teams, you’ll take a potential business idea or hypothesis (either provided by an external commercial entity or developed by the team) from a concept to a minimum value proposition or minimum viable product by testing it outside the classroom and iterating through customer engagement. During this elective, you'll work with a multidisciplinary support team containing members from both academia and industry.

Topics covered

  • Entrepreneurship
  • Lean LaunchPad® methodology
  • Challenges associated with creating start-up companies and how to search for a business model.
  • Problem solving, data analysis, and oral and written communication
  • Professional development and teamwork

Physics in Education

In this skills elective you’ll gain an invaluable introduction to physics education. 

Staff in the School of Education deliver the first part of the elective, where you’ll learn about background pedagogy and effective classroom strategies.

In the second part of the elective, you’ll apply what you’ve learnt by undertaking a school-based placement. You’ll visit a school on a weekly basis to observe and assist in the classroom, sharing your passion for the subject and engaging with pupils while gaining practical classroom experience. This contributes to the previous experience required when applying to undergo teacher training (e.g. a PGCE).

Topics covered

  • Methods of teaching and learning
  • National science curriculum
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Professional development
  • Preparation of lesson plans and teaching materials


This skills elective explores the basics of programming in Python, which is one of the most popular programming languages in use today, with a wide range of applications across industry and academia. 

Python has emerged as a popular open source language for scientific computing, with powerful libraries such as Numpy, SciPy, Matplotlib and Pandas facilitating computational modelling, data analysis and visualisation – features that you'll focus on during this elective.

Topics covered

  • Basic Python
  • Scientific Python packages
  • Data analysis
  • Image processing
  • Numerical methods
  • Signal processing
  • Object-oriented programming
  • Simulations and game design
  • Oral and written communication
  • Professional development

Numerical Programming in C

In this skills elective you will learn the basics of programming in C - one of the most common computer languages, popular in academia and industry for over 30 years. 

You’ll have the chance to write software to investigate physical problems while learning about common numerical issues in convergence, stability and accuracy. You will also build up a toolbox of vital skills in software, such as root finding and optimisation, integrating ODEs, and solving PDEs.

Topics covered

  • Basic C programming
  • Numerical methods
  • Computational models and experiments
  • Accuracy, convergence and stability of numerical methods
  • Oral and written communication
  • Professional development


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