NGC 2683 - the UFO galaxy. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, used under CC-BY 2.0 license

Studying Physics at Merton

In Physics we study the universe from the largest to the smallest scales, we seek to understand why the universe behaves as it does, and we use our understanding to develop scientific and technological applications. In Philosophy of Physics we study conceptual questions that arise in physics, which are not (yet) amenable to experimental resolution.
Why Merton?
  • Our Physics community is a large and vibrant one, with typically 30 undergraduates and a similar number of graduate students in residence.
  • Three full-time tutors in Physics.
  • Oxford is the global leader in Philosophy of Physics, and Merton has its most senior figure.
  • High achievement: we put a lot of effort into helping our students to understand physics, and we expect a lot from them. We usually get it; a high proportion of our physicists graduate with first-class degrees.
  • A stimulating intellectual culture: we encourage our students to develop broad intellectual interests. Our termly Ockham Lecture, for example, provides an opportunity to hear from, and socialise with, world-leading academics.

Undergraduates at Merton are taught by active researchers who are passionate about teaching and communicating their research to students. The college has three full-time tutorial fellows in Physics, several internationally-recognized professorial fellows, who also teach our students, and typically two or three college lecturers. It has two full-time tutorial fellows in Philosophy, one of whom is a Philosopher of Physics.

Teaching takes a variety of formats, according to what tutors and students judge to be most effective. We give classes, in which the whole year group meet to discuss problems; and we hold tutorials, which is an opportunity for one or two students to discuss conceptual difficulties. Students are encouraged to think critically, to make connections between different areas of physics, and to use tutorials and classes to develop a deep understanding of all aspects of the subject.

Graduate mentors are available to provide additional help and support with all aspects of the course.

Our courses

Physics and Physics & Philosophy are four-year degree courses leading to Masters degrees. If they wish, students may leave at the end of the third year, receiving a BA qualification instead. Transfer into the Physics & Philosophy degree at the end of the first year is possible, subject to the agreement of the tutors.

The fourth year of the Physics course comprises specialist option papers plus a significant period of project work. As an alternative, students can apply to transfer to the Masters course in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics.

The fourth year of the Physics & Philosophy course can be devoted entirely to Philosophy or Physics, or continue with a mixture of both.


Physics and Physics & Philosophy are strong subjects at Merton – a high proportion of our students graduate with first class degrees – and we seek to maintain a high standard in these subjects. We usually aim to admit six students in Physics and two in Physics and Philosophy.

Applicants for Physics and Physics & Philosophy will need to sit the Physics Aptitude Test; if selected for interviews, they will usually have two interviews at Merton plus another in a different college. Candidates for Physics & Philosophy will have an additional interview on Philosophy.

Additional resources at Merton

Many of our students take advantage of summer research opportunities, both in Oxford and elsewhere. For those students who obtain summer placements at the University of Oxford or various Oxfordshire laboratories (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the Diamond Light SourceCulham Science Centre, and others) we operate a competitive scheme of student bursaries and subsidised vacation residence.

Merton hosts the termly Ockham Lecture by a special guest physicist.

Student profiles

Our physics undergraduates develop a wide range of skills including mathematical modelling, computing, analytic and experimental techniques, communication, and problem-solving. They are highly regarded by employers in industry, the civil service, academia and beyond. Many recent graduates have moved into postgraduate degrees; others have taken up careers in fields as disparate as renewable energy, international development, computing, management consultancy and finance.

Video: Physics at Oxford University
Course information
Key facts
Average intake at Merton:

Eight, typically two to study Physics & Philosophy.


All candidates must take the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT).

Specific subjects:

Physics and Mathematics essential. The inclusion of a Mechanics module is recommended; Further Mathematics is considered helpful. We expect you to have passed any practical component in your chosen science subjects.

Deferred entry:

We do not encourage deferred entry, largely because lack of practice can affect the mathematical competence achieved at A-Level or equivalent; we will consider applications in certain special circumstances, e.g. where a candidate sponsored by industry is spending a year in a laboratory.