Physics returns to the curriculum at Newcastle University after 10-year break

Newcastle University will take the first cohort of physics undergraduates in 2015 after an increase in applicants for the subject

Iain Buist Newcastle University Students' Union
Newcastle University

Physics is returning to Newcastle University’s curriculum after a decade-long break.

The University, which is a lead partner in the Newcastle Science Central project currently being built, is re-introducing its pure physics undergraduate degree programmes next year.

Bosses said it was “in response to rising demand from students to study science and engineering at university”.

Newcastle sparked controversy when it stopped offering physics in its pure form in 2004, following a drop in popularity of the subject in schools and a decline in the number of students wanting to study it beyond A level.

But nationally over the past eight years, the number of students taking degrees in physics has increased by 50% and the number applying far exceeds the number of available places.

The increase has sparked a u-turn for the Russell Group university, and the new physics degree will take in its first intake in 2015. It will be led jointly by the Schools of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Maths and Statistics.

Newcastle University’s Professor Nick Wright, pro-vice-chancellor for research and innovation and himself a physicist, said: “Physics is the most fundamental science and crucial to understanding the world around us, the world inside us, and the world beyond us.

“The world needs more physicists and it is wonderful to see this revived enthusiasm for the subject and for science and technology generally.

“Newcastle has a long tradition and a world-leading reputation in physics-related research”

He added: “The decision to stop the pure degree a decade ago was not taken lightly but at the time it was felt our resources would be better deployed elsewhere in the University.

“Being able to re-launch the programmes with a clear and confident strategic plan to grow physics over the next few years is very exciting.”

Over the last 10 years, Newcastle University continued physics research and teaching under the banners of other subjects, and the institution has made a global contribution to the advancement of key areas such as electrical engineering and nanotechnology.

The university said the new course will draw on the world-leading expertise of physicists already based at Newcastle, and “the close link between the new programmes and the University’s Maths and Engineering Schools will open up opportunities for employment in a range of fields and will be unique to the Newcastle degrees”.

An initial £2m will be invested to refurbish lab space, and six new staff will be recruited to build a core team of 15.

In addition, there will be input from staff across other disciplines and research centres including Nanolab, The Joint Quantum Centre, the Chemical Nanoscience Laboratory and NEXUS – the National EPSRC XPS Centre.

Prof Steve Homans, Newcastle University pro-vice-chancellor for the faculty of science, agriculture and engineering, added: “Physics is integral to the University’s vision and the physicists of the future have a crucial role to play in some of the University’s biggest research projects, such as the £50m ‘urban laboratory’ planned for Science Central in the heart of Newcastle.

“Our plan is to have a fully-fledged School of Physics before our next significant anniversary, which is the 150th year since the founding of the College of Science in Newcastle in 1871.

“Newcastle University has a strong reputation for science and engineering and the physics programme will help to strengthen that, broadening our undergraduate intake and helping to train the leading physicists for the future.”

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