Department of Physics and Astronomy

Cosmology (2015 entry)

MSc, 1 year full time/2 years part time

Subject overview

  • Physics and astronomy at Sussex is ranked 11th in the UK in The Guardian University Guide 2015 and 14th in the UK in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2014
  • The Department is a founder member of SEPnet, the South East Physics Network of physics departments, which in 2008 received a joint award of £12.5 million to enhance collaboration in graduate teaching and research. In 2013 – after successfully exploiting the growing national interest in physics – we benefited from another joint award of £13.1 million to support vital research, teaching and development of physics in the South East. 
  • The Astronomy Centre carries out world-leading research in many branches of theoretical and observational astrophysics. Our particular focus is on the early universe, large-scale structure, the high-redshift universe, and galaxy formation and evolution. 

Global perspective

55th in the world for international outlook

Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013-2014

Academic quality

14th in the UK
43rd in Europe
111th in the world

Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014-2015

  • 1,600 km2 of South Downs
    National Park area

  • 4,600
    students live on campus

  • 700,000 books and e-books, and
    30,000 journals in the library

  • 13,800
    students study at Sussex

  • Around 4,500 full- and
    part-time jobs advertised each year
    Over 900 paid internships
    advertised in the last 18 months
    300 careers events each year

  • £500-million future investment
    in campus buildings and facilities

  • Over 95 countries across the world
    are home to Sussex graduates

  • 956 academic staff
    1,214 professional services staff

  • 140 student societies and
    over 30 sports clubs

  • 28,000-seater American
    Express Community Stadium

  • £24.7-million
    research income

  • < 9 minutes to Brighton
    < 30 minutes to Gatwick Airport
    < 60 minutes to central London
    < 90 minutes to Heathrow Airport

South East Physics Network logo

Specialist facilities

Theoretical astronomers have access to massively parallel supercomputers in the UK (Durham and Cambridge) and overseas. We also have our own network of high-performance Unix workstations and servers, and a departmental computer cluster. 

The Astronomy Centre has an excellent record for obtaining observing time on STFC and other overseas telescopes, such as the Anglo-Australian Telescope and the telescopes on La Palma in the Canaries and on Hawaii. We have extensive involvement in satellite projects, especially in infrared and x-ray. The Centre is also involved with the 4m Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) in Chile. 

Academic activities

Both MSc and PhD students are expected to contribute to the weekly informal seminars, and are encouraged to attend research seminars. 

PhD students have an opportunity to attend an international conference and give a paper on their specialist subject. Observational students normally make at least one observing trip each year to an overseas telescope. 

Programme outline

The MSc is intended for honours graduates from an applied mathematics- or physics-based degree who wish to learn how to apply their knowledge to cosmology. It is one of only two MScs in this subject area in the UK. The emphasis is on observational and theoretical cosmology in the pre- and post-recombination universe. 

Teaching is by lectures, exercise classes, seminars and personal supervision. 


Assessment for the taught modules is by coursework and unseen examination. Assessment for the project is by oral presentation and a dissertation of up to 20,000 words. 

A distinction is awarded on the basis of excellence in both the lecture modules and the project.

Also visit Department of Physics and Astronomy: Preparatory study

We continue to develop and update our modules for 2015 entry to ensure you have the best student experience. In addition to the course structure below, you may find it helpful to refer to the Modules tab.

Course structure (full time) 

Your time is split equally between taught modules and a research project. You have a supervisor who oversees your work in general and is responsible for supervision of your project. Supervisors and topics are allocated, in consultation with you, early in the autumn term. Most projects are theoretical, but there is an opportunity for you to become involved in the reduction and analysis of data acquired by faculty members. 

Autumn and spring terms: you take the four core modules Cosmology • Early Universe • General Relativity • Quantum Field Theory I. You also choose two options from a range of modules available. These cover a wide range of topics relating to research interests within the group and vary from year to year. Options might include Astrophysics • Advanced Astrophysics • Advanced Particle Physics • Data Analysis Techniques • Further Quantum Mechanics • Quantum Field Theory II. You start work on your project and give an assessed talk on this towards the end of the spring term. 

Summer term: examinations and project work. 

Course structure (part time) 

You take the four core modules in the autumn and spring terms of Year 1. After the examinations in the summer term, you begin work on your project. Project work continues during Year 2 when you also take two options.

Back to module list

Advanced Particle Physics

15 credits
Spring teaching, year 1

You will acquire an overview of the current status of modern particle physics and current experimental techniques used in an attempt to answer today's fundamental questions in this field. 

The topics discussed will be: 

  • Essential skills for the experimental particle physicist
  • Neutrino physics: Neutrino oscillations and reactor neutrinos
  • Neutrino physics: SuperNova, geo- and solar- neutrinos and direct neutrino mass measurements
  • Cosmic ray physics
  • Dark matter
  • Introduction to QCD (jets, particles distribution functions, etc)
  • Higgs physics
  • BSM (including supersymmetry)
  • Flavour physics & CP violation
  • Electric dipole measurements
  • Future particle physics experiments.

Astrophysical Processes

15 credits
Spring teaching, year 1

This module covers:

  • Basic properties of interstellar medium and intergalactic medium
  • Radiative transfer
  • Emission and absorption lines, line shapes
  • Hyperfine transitions, 21-cm line of hydrogen
  • Gunn-Peterson effect, Lyman-alpha forest, Damped Lyman Alpha systems
  • Radiative heating and cooling processes
  • Compton heating/cooling, Sunyaev-Zeldovich effect
  • Emission by accelerating changes, retarded potentials, thermal bremstrahlung
  • Applications of Special Relativity in Astrophysics, relativistic beaming
  • Plasma effects, Faraday rotation, Synchrotron emission
  • HII regions, re-ionization

Module outline

Specific aims are to provide you with:

  1. An overview of instrumentation and detectors
  2. An overview of some of the topical cutting edge questions in the field.

An appreciation of how scientific requirements translate to instrument/detector requirements and design.

  1. A crash course in Astronomy & Astrophysics (6 hours and directed reading)
    1. Fluxes, luminosities, magnitudes, etc.
    2. Radiation processes, black bodies, spectra
    3. Stars
    4. Galaxies
    5. Planets
    6. Cosmology
    7. Key questions
    8. Key requirements
  2. Telescopes & Instruments (3 hours student-led seminars from reading)
    1. Optical telescopes
    2. Interferometry
    3. Cameras
    4. Spectroscopy
    5. Astronomy beyond the e/m spectrum
  3. Detectors by wavelength (6 hours taught and 3 hours seminars)
    1. Gamma
    2. X-ray
    3. UV
    4. Optical
    5. NIR
    6. Mid-IR
    7. FIR
    8. Sub-mm
    9. Radio
  4. Detector selection for a future space mission X (4 x 3 hours)
    1. Scientific motivation and requirements
    2. Detector options
    3. External Constraints, financial, risk, etc.
    4. Detector selection

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the courses, you should be able to:

  • Display a basic understanding of detectors in astronomy
  • Display communication skills
  • Distil technological requirements from scientific drivers
  • Make an informed choice of detector for given application with justification.

Introduction to Cosmology

15 credits
Autumn teaching, year 1

This module covers:

  • Observational Overview: in visible light and other wavebands; the cosmological principle; the expansion of the universe; particles in the universe.
  • Newtonian Gravity: the Friedmann equation; the fluid equation; the aceleration equation.
  • Geometry: flat, spherical and hyperbolic; infinite vs. observable universes; introduction to topology
  • Cosmological Models: solving equations for matter and radiation dominated expansions and for mixtures (assuming flat geometry and zero cosmological constant); variation of particle number density with scale factor; variation of scale factor with time and geometry.
  • Observational Parameters: Hubble, density, deceleration.
  • Cosmological Constant: fluid description; models with a cosmological constant.
  • The Age of the Universe: tests; model dependence; consequences
  • Dark Matter: observational evidence; properties; potential candidates (including MACHOS, neutrinos and WIMPS)
  • The Cosmic Microwave Background: properties; derivation of photo to baryon ratio; origin of CMB (including decoupling and recombination).
  • The Early Universe: the epoch of matter-radiation equality; the relation between temperature and time; an overview of physical properties and particle behaviour.
  • Nucleosynthesis: basics of light element formation; derivation of percentage, by mass, of Helium; introduction to observational tests; contrasting decoupling and nucleosynthesis.
  • Inflation: definition; three problems (what they are and how they can be solved); estimation of expansion during Inflation; contrasting early time and current inflationary epochs; introduction to cosmological constant problem and quintessence.
  • Initial Singularity: definition and implications.
  • Connection to General Relativity: brief introduction to Einstein equations and their relation to the Friedmann equation.
  • Cosmological Distance Scales: proper, luminosity, angular distances; connection to observables.
  • Structures in the Universe: CMB anisotropies; galaxy clustering
  • Constraining Cosmology: connection to CMB, large scale structure (inc BAO and weak lensing) and supernovae.

Data Analysis Techniques

15 credits
Autumn teaching, year 1

This module introduces you to the mathematical and statistical techniques used to analyse data. The module is fairly rigorous, and is aimed at students who have, or anticipate having, research data to analyse in a thorough and unbiased way.

Topics include: probability distributions; error propagation; maximum likelihood method and linear least squares fitting; chi-squared testing; subjective probability and Bayes' theorem; monte Carlo techniques; and non-linear least squares fitting.

Early Universe

15 credits
Spring teaching, year 1

An advanced module on cosmology.

Topics include:

  • Hot big bang and the FRW model; Redshifts, distances, Hubble law
  • Thermal history, decoupling, recombination, nucleosynthesis
  • Problems with the hot big bang and inflation with a single scalar field
  • Linear cosmological perturbation theory
  • Quantum generation of perturbations in inflation
  • Scalar and tensor power spectrum predictions from inflation
  • Perturbation evolution and growth after reheating; free streaming and Silk damping
  • Matter power spectrum and CMB anisotropies.

Extragalactic Astronomy

15 credits
Spring teaching, year 1

This module covers:

  • Overview of observational cosmology – content of the Universe, incl. current evidence for Dark Matter and Dark Energy; evolution and eventual fate of the Universe; cosmic microwave background radiation; nucleosynthesis
  • Galaxy formation – linear perturbation theory; growth and collapse of spherical perturbations; hierarchical galaxy formation models
  • Galaxy structure and global properties – morphology; stellar populations; spectral energy distributions; galaxy scaling laws
  • Global properties of the interstellar medium
  • Statistical properties of the galaxy population – luminosity function; mass function; star-formation history of the Universe
  • How to detect astrophysical processes in distant galaxies using modern telescopes
  • Black holes and active galactic nuclei
  • Galaxy clusters and the intracluster medium; galaxy groups

Further Quantum Mechanics

15 credits
Autumn teaching, year 1

Topics covered include:

  • Review of 4-vector notation and Maxwell equations. 
  • Relativistic quantum mechanics: Klein-Gordon equation and antiparticles.
  • Time-dependent perturbation theory. Application to scattering processes and calculation of cross-sections. Feynman diagrams.
  • Spin-1/2 particles and the Dirac equation. Simple fermionic scatterings.


General Relativity

15 credits
Autumn teaching, year 1

This module provides an introduction to the general theory of relativity, including:

  • Brief review of special relativity
  • Scalars, vectors and tensors
  • Principles of equivalence and covariance
  • Space-time curvature
  • The concept of space-time and its metric
  • Tensors and curved space-time; covariant differentiation
  • The energy-momentum tensor
  • Einstein's equations
  • The Schwarzschild solution and black holes
  • Tests of general relativity
  • Weak field gravity and gravitational waves
  • Relativity in cosmology and astrophysics.

Monte Carlo Simulations

15 credits
Spring teaching, year 1

The module will cover topics including:

  • Introduction to R 
  • Pseudo-random number generation 
  • Generation of random variates 
  • Variance reduction 
  • Markov-chain Monte Carlo and its foundations 
  • How to analyse Monte Carlo simulations 
  • Application to physics: the Ising model 
  • Application to statistics: goodness-of-fit tests

Object Oriented Programming

15 credits
Autumn teaching, year 1

You will be introduced to object-oriented programming, and in particular to understanding, writing, modifying, debugging and assessing the design quality of simple Java applications.

You do not need any previous programming experience to take this module, as it is suitable for absolute beginners.

Programming in C++

15 credits
Autumn teaching, year 1

After a review of the basic concepts of the C++ language, you are introduced to object oriented programming in C++ and its application to scientific computing. This includes writing and using classes and templates, operator overloading, inheritance, exceptions and error handling. In addition, Eigen, a powerful library for linear algebra is introduced. The results of programs are displayed using the graphics interface dislin.

Quantum Field Theory 1

15 credits
Autumn teaching, year 1

This module is an introduction into quantum field theory, covering:

  1. Action principle and Lagrangean formulation of mechanics
  2. Lagrangean formulation of field theory and relativistic invariance
  3. Symmetry, invariance and Noether's theorem
  4. Canonical quantization of the scalar field
  5. Canonical quantization of the electromagnetic field
  6. Canonical quantization of the Dirac spinor field
  7. Interactions, the S matrix, and perturbative expansions
  8. Feynman rules and radiative corrections.

Quantum Field Theory 2

15 credits
Spring teaching, year 1

Module topics include:

  • Path integrals: Path integrals in quantum mechanics; Functionals; Path integral quantisation of scalar field; Gaussian integration; Free particle Green's functions ; Vacuum-vacuum transition function Z[J]. 
  • Interacting field theory in path integral formulation. Generating functional W[J]; Momentum space Greens functions; S-matrix and LSZ reduction formula; Grassmann variables; Fermionic path integral. 
  • Gauge field theory: Internal symmetries; Gauge symmetry 1: Abelian; The electromagnetic field; Gauge symmetry 2: non-Abelian. 
  • Renormalisation of scalar field theory; Quantum gauge theory; Path integral quantisation of non-Abelian gauge theories; Faddeev-Popov procedure, ghosts; Feynman rules in covariant gauge; Renormalisation.

Stellar & Galactic Astrophysics

15 credits
Autumn teaching, year 1


Stellar Structure & Evolution:

  • Observational properties of stars
  • Hydrostatic support; polytropes
  • Energy production
  • Equations of stellar structure
  • End-points of stellar evolution
  • Supernovae; metal production
  • The IMF; yields of (ionising) photons, metals, snr energy.

Stellar Dynamics:

  • Stars as a collisionless fluid; the Boltzmann equation
  • The Jeans equations
  • The Poisson equation
  • Simple stellar systems: spherical and disk

Astrophysical fluids:

  • Inviscid fluid equations; relationship to stellar dynamics
  • Hydrostatic gas disks
  • Shocks & Blast waves
  • Accretion disks
  • Fluid instabilities: Kelvin Helmholtz / Rayleigh Taylor

Physics of the ISM:

  • Description: relative energy densities of different components
  • Thermal instability / multiphase structure
  • Jeans instability: collapse of molecular clouds / star-formation
  • The living ISM: recycling and feedback

Back to module list

Entry requirements

UK entrance requirements

A first- or second-class undergraduate honours degree in a physics-, mathematics- or astronomy-based subject. Other degrees will be considered on an individual basis.

Overseas entrance requirements

Overseas qualifications

If your country is not listed below, please contact the University at E

The following table is given as a general guide for our taught postgraduate degrees requiring a first- or second-class undergraduate honours degree. If you have any questions, contact the University at E

CountryOverseas qualification
Australia Bachelor (Honours) degree with second-class lower division
Brazil Bacharel, Licenciado or professional title with a final mark of at least 7
Canada Bachelor degree with CGPA 3.0/4.0 (grade B)
China Bachelor degree from a leading university with overall mark of 65%-85% depending on your university
Cyprus Bachelor degree or Ptychion with a final mark of at least 6.5
France Licence with mention assez bien or Maîtrise with final mark of at least 12
Germany Bachelor degree or Magister Artium with a final mark of 2.7 or better
Ghana Bachelor degree from a public university with second-class lower division
Greece Ptychion from an AEI with a final mark of at least 6.5
Hong Kong Bachelor (Honours) degree with second-class lower division
India Bachelor degree from a leading institution with overall mark of at least 60% or equivalent
Iran Bachelor degree (Licence or Karshenasi) with a final mark of at least 14
Italy Diploma di Laurea with an overall mark of at least 100
Japan Bachelor degree from a leading university with a minimum C/GPA of at least 3.0/4.0 or equivalent
Malaysia Bachelor degree with CGPA of at least 3.0/4.0 or B
Mexico Licenciado with a final mark of at least 7
Nigeria Bachelor degree with second-class lower division or CGPA of at least 3.0/5.0
Pakistan Four-year bachelor degree, normally with a GPA of at least 3.3
Russia Magistr or Specialist Diploma with a minimum average mark of at least 4
South Africa Bachelor (Honours) degree or Bachelor degree in Technology with an overall mark of at least 60%
Saudi Arabia Bachelor degree with an overall mark of at least 65% or CGPA 3.0/5.0 or equivalent
South Korea Bachelor degree from a leading university with CGPA of at least 3.0/4.0 or equivalent
Spain Licenciado with a final mark of at least 2/4
Taiwan Bachelor degree with overall mark of 70%-85% depending on your university
Thailand Bachelor degree with CGPA of at least 2.8/4.0 or equivalent
Turkey Lisans Diplomasi with CGPA of at least 3.0/4.0 or equivalent depending on your university
United Arab Emirates Bachelor degree with CGPA of at least 2.8/4.0 or equivalent
USA Bachelor degree with CGPA 3.0/4.0 depending on your university
Vietnam Masters degree with CGPA of at least 3.0/4.0 or equivalent

If you have any questions about your qualifications after consulting our overseas qualifications, contact the University at E

English language requirements

IELTS 6.0, with not less than 6.0 in each section.

For more information, refer to What qualifications do I need?

Visas and immigration

Find out more about Visas and immigration.

For more information about the admissions process at Sussex

For pre-application enquiries:

Student Recruitment Services
T +44 (0)1273 876787

For post-application enquiries:

Postgraduate Admissions,
University of Sussex,
Sussex House, Falmer,
Brighton BN1 9RH, UK
T +44 (0)1273 877773
F +44 (0)1273 678545

Fees and funding


Fees for studying on courses available on a part-time basis will be charged at 50 per cent of the full-time fees listed below.

Home UK/EU students: £6,060 per year1
Channel Island and Isle of Man students: £6,060 per year2
Overseas students: £17,850 per year3

1 The fee shown is for the academic year 2015.
2 The fee shown is for the academic year 2015.
3 The fee shown is for the academic year 2015.

For more information on fee status, visit Fees

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The funding sources listed below are for the subject area you are viewing and may not apply to all degrees listed within it. Please check the description of the individual funding source to make sure it is relevant to your chosen degree.

Visit Postgraduate taught scholarships 2015

Visit Career development and part-time work

We are in the process of updating funding sources for postgraduate study in the academic year 2015/16. For general information, visit Postgraduate taught scholarships 2015.

For more information on scholarships go to the Scholarships web pages.

Faculty interests

Our research focuses on extragalactic astrophysics and cosmology. 

Visit Department of Physics and Astronomy

Dr Christian Byrnes
Research Fellow

Research interests: Black Holes, Cosmology, Extra-Galactic Astronomy & Cosmology, Particle astrophysics

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Prof Peter Coles
Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics

Research interests: Cosmology

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Dr Ilian Iliev
Reader In Astronomy

Research interests: Cosmology, First Stars, reionization, Simulations

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Dr Antony Lewis
Reader in Physics and Astronomy

Research interests: Cosmology, Sampling

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Dr Jonathan Loveday
Reader In Astronomy

Research interests: Astronomy - observation, Extra-Galactic Astronomy & Cosmology

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Prof Seb Oliver
Professor of Astrophysics

Research interests: Astronomy, Astronomy & Space Science Technologies, Astronomy - observation, Cosmology, Data analysis, Data Mining, Medical Imaging, Medical Informatics

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Dr Kathy Romer
Reader In Astrophysics

Research interests: Astronomy, Astronomy & Space Science Technologies, Astronomy - observation, Cosmology, Data Mining

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Dr Mark Sargent
Lecturer In Astronomy

Research interests: Astronomy - observation, Astrophysics, Data Mining, Extra-Galactic Astronomy & Cosmology, Physics

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Dr David Seery
Reader In Mathematics & Physics

Research interests: Cosmology, Quantum Field Theory, Theoretical Physics

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Dr Robert Smith
Emeritus Reader

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Prof Peter Thomas
Professor of Astronomy

Research interests: Direct Numerical Simulation, Extra-Galactic Astronomy & Cosmology, Hydrodynamics

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Dr Stephen Wilkins
Lecturer In Astronomy

Research interests: Astronomy

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Careers and profiles

Most of our graduates have gone on to study for a research degree in a closely related field. 

Julian's perspective

Julian Mayers

‘The thought of returning to education after 20 years was daunting. I’d reached my early 40s and decided that I could either buy a Harley Davidson or put my mid-life crisis on hold and embark on a MSc in Cosmology. As I was running a business and raising my family, I studied part-time over two years.

‘Attending lectures and writing essays was strange at first but I soon found that there were others in the same situation, and the workload was entirely manageable.’

‘Sussex is a great place to return to study and the programme was superbly taught. Studying the universe was a revelation – not only are we not at the centre but everything we can see makes up only about 4 per cent of the entire cosmos. There’s dark matter (which we can’t see) and dark energy, an ‘anti-gravity thingy’ that is thought to be causing the universe’s expansion to accelerate.

‘The more I learned about the universe the more I realised how little I know. So, when I finished my MSc I decided to keep exploring by doing a PhD at Sussex on how we can tell the nature of dark energy by studying clusters of galaxies. The Harley will have to wait a few more years.’

Julian Mayers
MSc in Cosmology

To find out more, visit Careers and alumni

School and contacts

Contact us

Physics and Astronomy,
Postgraduate Admissions,
University of Sussex, Falmer,
Brighton BN1 9QH, UK 
T +44 (0)1273 873254 

Visit the Department of Physics and Astronomy

Discover Postgraduate Study information sessions

If you cannot make it to our Postgraduate Open Day, you are welcome to attend one of our Discover Postgraduate Study information sessions. These are held in autumn, spring and early summer and enable you to find out more about postgraduate study and the opportunities Sussex has to offer.

Book your place on one of our Discover Postgraduate Study information sessions

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Overseas visits

Meet with Sussex staff in your country at exhibitions, visits to schools and universities, and at a wide range of other events. Forthcoming visits are planned all over the world:

Bahrain • Brazil • Brunei • Canada • China • Colombia • France • Germany • Ghana • Greece • Hong Kong • India • Indonesia • Iraq • Italy • Japan • Kenya • Kuwait • Malaysia • Mexico • Nigeria • Norway • Pakistan • Qatar • Saudi Arabia • Singapore • South Korea • Spain • Sri Lanka • Taiwan • Thailand • Turkey • UAE • USA • Vietnam.

In-country representatives

In the International Office, we manage a network of overseas representatives who have been trained to support international students with their application to study at the University. Services representatives provide can include pre-departure information, support in submitting your housing application and advice regarding applying for a UK Student Visa.

Find out more about our overseas visits and in-country representatives


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