I’m in my fourth year at Brasenose College, studying for a master’s degree in mathematical and theoretical physics, known as the MMathPhys. Previously to this, I was enrolled on the MPhys Physics programme, also at Brasenose.
The MMathPhys course is open to students enrolled on the MMath, MPhys, and MPhysPhil degrees. It gives students the opportunity to study theoretical physics and its mathematical foundations right up to the level of modern research. There’s a huge amount of choice available on the course, giving students much more scope to explore the field compared to the ordinary degree programmes. Topics range from algebraic geometry and topological quantum theory, to high energy astrophysics and the physics of plasmas. Given the huge choice available, it’s normal for students to sample across a broad range of topics, but it’s possible to heavily specialise too.
Personally, I really enjoy astrophysics, so I decided to study kinetic theory (where you’ll study plasma kinetics and self-gravitating systems), as well as galactic and planetary dynamics. Oxford has a huge astrophysics community, as well as a world-leading group of theorists who are studying the dynamics of galaxies, so it’s a great place to learn about how our universe works. I also enjoy the more fundamental side to physics, so I took courses in quantum field theory, general relativity and conformal field theory, which really satisfied the mathematician in me! For something different, I also studied Networks, which was a fascinating look at the mathematics of social networks and how societies communicate with each other.
A major bonus of the MMathPhys is the option to do a dissertation. I chose to do a double-unit dissertation with Professor James Binney, where we modelled the resonant trapping of stars in the Milky Way using some really beautiful classical mechanics, as well as a lot of computer programming! We compared our results to data from the Gaia spacecraft, and are trying to determine the speed of rotation of our galaxy’s bar. Getting to experience research first hand with world-leading experts was an amazing opportunity, and I’d recommend it to anyone!
I’ve had an amazing time this year, and for anyone interested in theoretical physics I’d really recommend having a look at the MMathPhys. Through the research I’ve been able to experience, I developed a real passion for coding and building software, so next year I’m going to be doing a graduate software engineering scheme at a company in London. I’ve had an amazing time at Oxford and I’m really glad I took the path I did. I’ll miss Brasenose but I’m sure I’ll be coming back to visit soon!
By Tom Galligan (formerly of Urmston Grammar School, Manchester)