Welcome to the Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics (PHY-302) Home Page

Students MUST be familiar with the contents of this page and the pages linked to it detailing the arrangements for lectures and assessments.

In this module you will be introduced to the concept of the atomic nucleus and will become familiar with the various forms of radioactivity and their various properties. Models will be considered which allow us to explain some of the properties of the nuclei in terms of their constituent protons and neutrons.

With the help of these models we will explore the possible decay modes (radioactive decay and fission) of the nuclei and learn how these properties help us to explain the cosmological abundances of the various nuclides, via big-bang and stellar nucleo-synthesis.

A number of applications of the properties of nuclear radiations will be briefly considered, including their use in medical diagnosis and treatment.

Assessments for this module will be conducted using an interactive voting system. Please read the Coursework section of this website and ensure you obtain your personal "clicker" from the 2nd floor lab by Wednesday 5th October.

Lectures are held at:

  • Thursdays 9am David Sizer Lecture Theatre, Francis Bancroft building
  • Thursdays 12pm Arts Lecture Theatre, Arts One building
  • Fridays 1pm      People's Palace Lecture Theatre two

The complete u/g timetable can be found here.

My office hours for NPA are Thursdays 10am and Wednesdays 11am in room 401.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course the student will be able to:

  1. Calculate the amount of radioactive material left from an initial sample after a finite time and apply this knowledge to calculate how old a sample is given its current activity
  2. Calculate the angular distribution of alpha particles from Rutherford scatterring and explain what it reveals about the constitution of the atom.
  3. Describe the use of electron scattering to determine, the size, shape, density and charge distribution of nucleii.
  4. Describe the physical principles which underlie the liquid drop model of the nucleus and use it to explain nuclear masses and binding energies.
  5. Use the Semi-empirical mass formula to determine the stability of nuclides against beta decay, alpha decay and spontaneous fission, and to show why there is only one stable isobar for nuclei with an odd number of nucleons, but there may be two for ones with an even number of nucleons.
  6. Describe the physical principles underlying the operation of a fission reactor and how control depends on delayed neutron emission.
  7. Explain the physical principles underlying the shell model of nuclei. List the evidence for magic numbers. Given the values of closed shells calculate the spin and parity of a given nuclide.
  8. Explain the physical principles underlying the use of radiation in nuclear medicine both for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.
  9. Describe the production of the elements from primordial hydrogen in the big bang and subsequently during a star's life, distinguishing production during normal stellar evolution from that which occurs during supernovae explosions.


Experimental determination of the size and shape of atomic nuclei
Rutherford scattering.

 Introduction to radioactive decay and the exponential decay law
Implications for isotope production and use in archaeological dating.
Derivation of the masses, binding energies and spin of atomic nuclei from simple models general conditions on the stability of nuclei and nuclear disintegration via radioactive decay and spontaneous fission.

Nuclei-Nuclei collisions as a probe of nuclear properties and reaction kinematics.
 Alpha decay as a tunnelling process.
 The weak interaction and beta decay. Introduction to the neutrino and a discussion of symmetry principles in physics

De-excitations of nuclei via photon emission

 The study of neutron induced reactions and specific attention to the uranium system and fission reactions.

 Fusion in light nuclei and the solar cycle. Synthesis of heavy elements in stars and in stellar explosions. Primordial nucleosynthesis just after the Big Bang.

We examine the Standard Model of particle physics and its relation to the structure of the universe.

The use of radioisotopes and radiation beams in medical diagnosis and treatment.




There will be two elements to the coursework mark for this module. The first is through the use of 'clickers' and in-class debate. The second is through a set of about three tradittional homework problems which you will have 1 week to complete. These will be marked by the postgrad markers and will contribute 10% of the total module grade.

Formative assessments will be conducted in each lecture slot through use of the TurningPoint interactive voting system. Questions will be posed and responses given in the class will be debated. These questions will largely be multiple choice questions and in total will comprise 10% of the total module mark.

All students are required to obtain a personal voting device (a "clicker") from Pete/Saqib in the 2nd floor lab. Each device has a unique ID which needs to be associated to your Student ID allowing your individual responses to be recorded. The devices are expensive and in order to encourage students to look after them you will need to pay a £10 deposit for the clicker which will be returned to you when you return the device at the end of the semester.

During the discussion/debate sessions marks will be awarded for all your responses i.e. for participating in the discussions as well as answering correctly

 Week  Dates A1 A2 A4 A4
    Monday Tuesday Thursday Friday
1 Sept 26 - Sept 30 Three lectures; collect clickers from 2nd floor lab
2 Oct 3 - Oct 7 Three lectures; read lecture notes for week 3
3 Oct 10 - 14 Three lectures; read lecture notes for week 4
4 Oct 17 - 21 Three lectures; read lecture notes for week 5
5 Oct 24 - 28 Three lectures; read lecture notes for week 6
6 Oct 31 - Nov 5 Three lectures; start revision
Reading week
8 Nov 14 - 18 Midterm exam; Two lectures; read lecture notes for week 9
9 Nov 21 - 25 Three lectures; read lecture notes for week 10
10 Nov 28 - Dec 2 Three lectures; read lecture notes for week 11
11 Dec 5 - 9 Three lectures; read lecture notes for week 12
12 Dec 12 - 16 Revision



Students are required to read through the online lecture slides in preparation before each lecture and prepare a list of questions they do not understand.


Exam 70%

Midterm Test 10%

In-class debate 10%

Homework 10%


Students are required to read the online lecture notes and relevant sections of the module textbooks before each lecture. During the lectures sessions students will then discuss and debate the concepts involved in nuclear physics with the aim of developing a deeper conceptual understanding of the subject. Marks will be awarded for participation in the debate sessions which will contribute to 10% of the total module grade. In addition there will be about 3 sets of homework problems which will be added here during the semester. These will be marked and contribute 10% to the total module grade.

Homework 1    Solutions 1

Homework 2    Solutions 2

Exercise Classes

Exercise classes are held on Monday afternoons and the problem sets are given below. Each week you can attempt the questions and discuss the problems with the postgrad markers. If you get stuck you can look at the solutions. These questions will give you good practice in understanding the course material. Some questions are taken from past exam papers.

Example Questions and solutions from 2010

Lecture notes

  • Lecture 1: Krane Chapters 1.2 – 1.4    [video]
    The general principles of nuclear physics are introduced. An introduction to the basic principles, properties and applications of nuclear physics.
  • Lecture 2: Krane Chapters 3.1 (first half), 3.2 (first half), 3.3 (first page) / Williams Chapters 1, 2.1    [video]
    Introduction to Rutherford scattering and the Hofstadter experiment. Concept of binding energy is introduced.
  • Lecture 3: Krane 6.1-6.7 / Williams 2.3-2.9   [video]
    Introduction to radioactive decay, multimodal decays, carbon dating.
  • Lecture 4: Krane  / Williams 2.11   [video]
    We discuss how particles interact with matter predominantly via the electromagnetic interaction and the Coulomb field. This is used to detect radiation by the energy loss mechanisms of ionisation and scattering off atomic electrons, bremsstrahlung radiation and pair production. We look at the Geiger counter and scintillation devices. Finally we look at the statistics of counting experiments relevant to radioactive decays.
  • Lecture 5: Krane 2.6, 2.7 / Williams 7.1-7.3   [video]
    The Q of a nuclear reaction is introduced defined in two ways, and illustrated with an energy level diagram. The concept of symmetries is discussed and the link between symmetries of nature and conservation laws - in particular parity. In very general terms, a consideration of two particle wave functions for indistinguishable particles leads to the discovery of a very potent principle: The Pauli Exclusion Principle
  • Lecture 6: Krane  / Williams 2.10   [video]
    In this lecture the important concept of an interaction cross section is introduced and a brief recap of the course so far.
  • Lecture 7: Krane Chapter 3.3 / Williams Chapter 4   [video]
    The liquid drop model is introduced and used to motivate the Semi Empirical Mass Formula. This allows us to calculate nuclear binding energies and therefore nuclear masses. The distinction between nuclear and atomic masses is made.
  • Lecture 8: Krane Chapter 5.1 first part only (exclude spin-orbit interaction and dipole/quadrupole moments) / Williams Chapter 8.1, 8.2, 8.3    [video]
    The nuclear shell model is introduced which gives us an understanding of the observed “Magic Numbers” seen in many nuclear phenomena. This requires a consideration of angular momentum quantum states of nucleons.
  • Lecture 9: Krane Chapter 4.5 and first parts of 4.2, 4.3, 4.4 / Williams Chapter 9.7, 9.10    [video]
    We look qualitatively at nuclear scattering experiments and deduce somme general principles of nuclear interactions. The Exchange Force model is introduced as a means of describing the nucleon-nucleon interaction of the strong nuclear force.
  • Lecture 10: Krane Chapter 8.1 - 8.4 / Williams Chapter 6.1 - 6.3    [video]
    In this lecture we start our look at the first of the three radioactive decay processes: Alpha Decay. We will attempt to understand this as a quantum mechanical tunneling process. We will briefly look at decays to excited states and alpha spectroscopy.
  • Lecture 11: Krane Chapter 9.1 & p280-292  and also p295-297 / Williams Chapter 5.3    [video]
    We then turn to Beta decay and the introduction of the neutrino in Fermi Theory to explain the decay process. The energy spectrum of Beta decay electrons is determined from Fermi Theory. Finally we will look in more detail at what the neutrino actually is and in doing so introduce the Weak Nuclear Force.
  • Lecture 12: Krane Chapter 9 – Beta Decay (p309-323) / Williams Chapter 9 – Weak Interaction (p181-187)   [video]
    The properties of Beta-decay are investigated further. We shall explore the parity violation experiment performed in the 1960’s and also the other fundamental symmetries that the forces possess.
  • Lecture 13: Krane Chapter 10 – Gamma Decay (p327-350)    [video]
    Our final type of decay mode is investigated - Gamma Decay. Often gamma decay competes with the process of internal conversion.
  • Lecture 14: Krane Chapter    [video]
    In this lecture we look at the specific nature of neutron physics, including their production, and detection.
  • Lecture 15: Krane Chapter 13 – Nuclear Fission (p478-493)    [video]
    In this section of the course we start by looking at nuclear fission. Start with short historical introduction, then we consider characteristics of fission processes before concentrating on issues specific to Uranium.
  • Lecture 16: Krane Chapter 13.5 / Williams 7.12     [video]
    We will study applications of fission starting with controlled fission reactions for power generation .
  • Lecture 17: Krane Chapter 13.6    [video]
    In this lecture Mr Matthew Machowski will discuss the socio-political aspect of nuclear technology in the case of Iran.
    Last year's version of lecture 17 can be viewed here.
  • Lecture 18:    [video]
    This will be a revision lecture covering the main topics of the course so far in preparation for the mid-term exam. Time permitting we will go over some homework questions as well. Use this session to ask questions!
  • Lecture 19: Krane Chapter 14 – Nuclear Fusion (p528-536)    [video] 
    This week we concentrate on the fusion process starting by looking at solar fusion
  • Lecture 20: Krane Chapter 14 – Nuclear Fusion (p536-543)
    We focus on the fusion reaction cycles in the sun and explore a very intriguing consequence of solar fusion studies…
    The guest lecture by Dr Ceri Brenner can be found here: [slides]    [video]
  • Lecture 21: Krane Chapter 19 – Nucleosynthesis   [slides]      [video]
    The early epoch of the universe is investigated in terms of primordial nucleosynthesis – the production of nuclei in the first 3 minutes after the big bang.
  • Lecture 22:   [video]
    Supernovae play an important role in the nucleosynthesis of heavy elements. Two reaction paths are studied responsible for the creation of nuclei beyond iron.
  • Lecture 23: Krane Chapter 19 – Nucleosynthesis
    This lecture will examine the nature of the universe and models of big bang cosmology. This will lead into a discussion of the future fate of the universe as well as the nature of particle production in the early universe.
    The guest lecture by Gianluca Inguglia can be found here:   [slides]    [video]
  • Lecture 24
    Nuclear physics has allowed us to utilise radiation to image inside our bodies. This lecture looks at a range of techniques including X-rays, and MRI scans.
    The guest lecture by Kirstin Murray can be found here: [slides]    [video]
  • Lecture 25:     [video]
    Today we will finish the course by looking at the world of fundamental particles and the four fundamental forces of nature. This is the last lecture of the course.

Help with exams

QM library keeps all past exam papers and you can find them here.

Below is a collection of past exam papers and their solutions. By studying these you should have a clearer idea of what to expect in the exam. Bear in mind that the NPA course changed in 2006 to become a second year course (previously it was a third year course). Also bear in mind that some topics have changed and are no longer taught, though such syllabus changes are minor.

There are two revision lectures prepared which can be viewed online. The accompanying slides are available for download.

Selected lectures:

Guest Lectures

We will have three lectures delivered by experts in their field as part of the NPA module.

Nuclear Weapons & Iran

Mr. Matthew Machowski will deliver a lecture on the socio-political aspects of nuclear weapons on November 1st

Biography:Mr Matthew Machowski

Matthew is a Middle Eastern security specialist and a former
research analyst for the Middle East and North Africa Programme of the
Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies
(RUSI). He has so far consulted the UK Parliament and governments of
Japan, Poland and Qatar. He has additional experience in journalism
and human rights advocacy. He spent over four years living in the
Middle East, where among others he worked for one of the region’s
royal families. His commentary was featured in international media,
including The Times, NHK World News etc.

Video stream



Dr. Ceri Brenner will deliver a lecture on fusion research on November 15th

Biography:Dr Ceri Brenner

I studied Physics at the University of Oxford, before going on to do a PhD with the University of Strathclyde on ion acceleration using high power laser pulses. I'm currently a research scientist at the Central Laser Facility and technical specialist in lasers for STFC's Harwell Imaging Partnership, but have only very recently finished my PhD in high power laser-plasma interaction physics. Specifically, I'm interested in using the most intense lasers in the world to shoot small, metal targets and looking at the high quality beams of radiation (protons, electrons, X-rays) that come flying off.

Laser-plasma physics is a very application-driven area of research. From laser fusion-in which there is the promise of a clean, abundant source of energy for generations to come, to compact particle accelerators that could be used for advanced cancer treatment, to laser driven X-rays which last less than a trillionth of a second that can be used to image very fast processes.

I really enjoy the variation of my work; I carry out experiments involving super intense lasers and plasmas that are as hot as the centre of the sun, I work on the borderline of research and innovation and I spend every day telling lots of different people about laser science and what we do at the Central Laser Facility. Turning research into real applications is my motivation.

Video stream


Medical Physics

Ms. Kirstin Murray will deliver a lecture on medical physics, non-invasive imaging and radiography on November 23rd


I began my studies in Radiotherapy in Cape Town ,South Africa, then transferred to Cardiff University in Wales to complete my BSc (Hons) in Radiotherapy and Oncology. I spoke at the annual Radiotherapy conference in Birmingham in January 2010 on my undergraduate research entitled: 'A Review of the Clinical Adaptations and Management of patients with Pacemakers and Implanted Cardiac Devices receiving Radiotherapy.' Since qualifying I have worked in three London NHS Radiotherapy Departments.I am currently working as a Senior Locum Radiation Therapist for the Health Service Exective in the Republic of Ireland. I am and have for the last 2 years been doing a  part-time MSc in Advanced Radiotherapy & Oncology. So far I have completed subjects on Prostate Cancer and Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT) and currently writing an article around Contemporary Issues in Radiotherapy, focusing on the national and global cancer needs and service delivery.

Video stream