Institute of Astronomy

Part II Astrophysics - 2017-2018


Natural Sciences Tripos - Programme Specification: Part II Astrophysics

Welcome to the Institute of Astronomy and to Part II Astrophysics. We hope you will enjoy this course and the friendly and relaxed working environment offered by the Institute of Astronomy.

Those enrolling for Part II Astrophysics in 2017 may either graduate in 2018 or, subject to satisfactory performance – a II.1 in Part II Astrophysics – proceed to Part III. All students proceeding to Part III Astrophysics are strongly advised to complete a computational project, either as assessed work for

Part II Astrophysics or as additional work over the summer before starting the Part III course. It is assumed that most of you will have studied Physics A, Physics B and Mathematics, in Part IB of the Natural Sciences Tripos, or have taken Part IB of the Mathematical Tripos.

The following sections provide information on the course and on the department. We have not included sections describing general undergraduate life and facilities in Cambridge, because you have been here for two years and know almost all of it already. If you do need any further information at any stage, then please see the Course Secretary. She is normally able to deal directly with most matters, and otherwise will consult or put you in touch with a relevant staff member.

The Aims and Objectives of the Part II Astrophysics Course

The University's stated aims are "to foster and develop academic excellence across a wide range of subjects and at all levels of study". Furthermore, the University aims "to provide an education of the highest calibre at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, and so produce graduates of the calibre sought by industry, the professions, and the public service, as well as providing academic teachers and researchers for the future".

In addition, the specific aims of the Institute of Astronomy are

  • to encourage and pursue research of the highest quality in astronomy and maintain Cambridge's position as one of the world's leading centres in the field,
  • to continue to attract outstanding students from all backgrounds,
  • to provide an intellectually stimulating environment in which students have the opportunity to develop their skills and enthusiasms to the best of their potential,
  • and to maintain the highest academic standards in undergraduate and graduate teaching and to develop new areas of teaching and research in response to the advance of scholarship.

The Part II Astrophysics course is part of the Natural Sciences Tripos and the topics covered follow on from several in the first two years of the Mathematical Tripos and the Physics part of the Natural Sciences Tripos.

The syllabus includes eight lecture courses split between the Michaelmas and Lent terms. These lecture courses come in two flavours, those which teach the fundamental physics underlying the rest of the course - Relativity, Principles of Quantum Mechanics, Statistical Physics and Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics - and those which apply these concepts to particular astronomical subject areas - Physics of Astrophysics, Introduction to Cosmology, Stellar Dynamics and Structure of Galaxies and Structure and Evolution of Stars.

Four lecture courses are unique to Astrophysics. The rest are courses shared with Part II Mathematics or Physics. Michaelmas Term includes foundation courses in Quantum Mechanics (in the Maths Department) and Structure and Evolution of Stars and Introduction to Cosmology and Relativity (in the Physics Department).  In the Lent Term there are four courses, Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics (shared with Physics), Galactic Dynamics, Physics of Astrophysics,  and Statistical Physics (in the Maths Department).  Physics of Astrophysics plays the dual role of introducing students to a range of exciting topics in contemporary astrophysics and developing abilities in physical reasoning and order of magnitude estimates in an astronomical context.  In addition to the lectures, students must choose between two options.  One option is an extended essay on a topic which is selected from a list of approved titles provided during the Michaelmas term.  Advisory sessions are offered for the essays, which must be submitted early in the Easter term.  The other option is that students instead complete computational projects from those offered by Part II of the Mathematics Tripos.  However, for Part II Astrophysics students, there are two major differences from those taking Part II Mathematics.

After completing the year's work students should have

  1. obtained an introduction from the course as a whole to astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology, emphasising the very wide range of applicability of concepts from many areas in physics,
  2. obtained experience of independent investigation, either through reading for and preparing the essay or through completion of the computational projects,
  3. developed their appreciation of general reasoning in the physical sciences and
  4. developed transferable skills. (see details of Journal Club and Public Outreach on p12).

Preparation for Part II

In order that all students are well equipped for the course, we strongly recommend that students entering from Part IB Physics should complete two computational CATAM projects, which will be marked for feedback at the beginning of Michaelmas Term. Full details of these assignments are emailed to students early in the summer.


The Department organises supervisions on behalf of the Colleges and students are told who their supervisors are within about two weeks of the start of Full Term. There are normally 4 supervisions in groups of two for each course. It is usual for the lecturers in each topic to supervise two pairs of students on their course. Supervisions may be held in the Meeting Room (Observatory Building, room 1) which may be booked for this purpose, or in offices elsewhere as appropriate. If there are any problems with supervision arrangements, please see the Course Coordinator at the earliest opportunity.


There is no practical element to the course. However, students are encouraged to get involved in the IoA's flourishing Public Outreach Programme (see p12). Students may also  join the Cambridge University Astronomy Society through which they can gain access to various telescopes on the IoA site.

Feedback and Consultation Mechanisms

Teaching Committee

During the first two weeks of Michaelmas Term students will be invited to elect one representative from their Part II Astrophysics cohort to attend Teaching Committee meetings. Normally these meetings are held at 2pm on the fourth Thursday of each Full Term.


These will be distributed at the end of each of the lecture courses so you have an opportunity to tell us what you think of each of them. However, if something needs changing it is then too late to be of use to you, so we encourage you to tell us about it over coffee, or through the Course Secretary or any member of the staff. During the Easter term there is a meeting so you can give feedback on the course overall.

Key Contacts

  Contact Phone Office E-mail
Course Coordinator Cathie Clarke 39087 Hoyle Rm 10 cclarke(at)
CATAM Advisor at IoA Richard McMahon 37519 Hoyle Rm 49 rgm(at)
Course Secretary Judith Moss 37521 Hoyle Rm 4 jm(at)
Teaching Committee Chair Cathie Clarke 39087 Hoyle Rm 10 cclarke(at)
Director Richard McMahon 37519 Hoyle Rm 49 rgm(at)
Director's PA Alex Moelwyn- Hughes 39071 Hoyle Rm 63 amh(at)
IoA Librarian Mark Hurn 37537 Obs Library Office hurnm(at)
Public Astronomer Carolin Crawford 37510 Hoyle Rm 60 csc(at)

The Course Secretary is in charge of the day-to-day administration of the course and has copies of all relevant materials such as handouts, examples sheets, past examination papers and formula sheets. She is normally the first point of contact for anything related to the course. If she is not available then try the Course Coordinator.

Several course-related items are notified directly by email so you should check your email frequently. Please ensure that the Course Secretary has your up-to-date email address. The Part II Noticeboard outside Hoyle Room 6 should also be checked frequently. In addition it is advisable to give her contact details for your Director of Studies.

CATAM_IBmanual 2017.pdf2.13 MB
poster_2017-2018.jpg1.77 MB
Part II course guide October 20173.13 MB
Page last updated: 10 October 2017 at 09:56