1 year full time, 2 years part time
Starts September 2017


Explore cosmology and astrophysics at an advanced level, with an emphasis on theoretical cosmology. Our emphasis is on observational and theoretical cosmology in the pre- and post-recombination universe.

This course is one of only two MScs in this subject area in the UK. It is for you if you have graduated from a physics- or applied mathematics-based degree with substantial physics component and wish to learn how to apply your knowledge to cosmology.

Key facts

  • We are ranked in the top 15 in the UK (The Guardian University Guide 2018).
  • The Department is a founder member of SEPnet, the South East Physics Network of physics departments, which supports vital research, teaching and development 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, and galaxy formation and evolution.

How will I study?

Teaching is through:

  • lectures
  • exercise classes
  • seminars
  • personal supervision.

You’re assessed by coursework and unseen examination. Assessment for the project is an oral presentation and a dissertation of up to 20,000 words.

You’ll contribute to our weekly informal seminars and are encouraged to attend research seminars.

Full-time and part-time study

In the full-time structure, you study core modules and options in the autumn and spring terms. You start work on your project at the beginning of the spring term. Later in the spring term, you give an assessed talk about your project. In the summer term, you focus on examinations and project work.

Your project can take the form of a placement in industry, but is usually supervised by faculty. Supervisors and topics are allocated, in consultation with you, at the start of the autumn term. You work on the project throughout the year. Often the projects form the basis of research papers that are later published in journals.

Find the modules for the full-time course below. 

In the part-time structure, you take the core modules in the autumn and spring terms of your first year. After the examinations in the summer term, you begin work on your project. Project work continues during the second year when you also take options. Distribution of modules between the two years is relatively flexible. Most of your project work naturally falls into the second year.

For details about the part-time course structure, contact us at 

What will I study?

  • Module list

    Core modules

    Core modules are taken by all students on the course. They give you a solid grounding in your chosen subject and prepare you to explore the topics that interest you most.

    • Project (MSc Cosmology)

      90 credits
      All Year Teaching, Year 1

      A research project carried out under the supervision of a member of staff or a postdoctoral researcher.

    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.


    Alongside your core modules, you can choose options to broaden your horizons and tailor your course to your interests.

    • 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.

    • 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.


    • 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.

    • 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
    • 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.
    • 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
    • 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
    • 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.

Entry requirements

A lower second-class (2.2) undergraduate honours degree or above in a physics-, mathematics- or astronomy-based subject. Other degrees will be considered on an individual basis but applicants are generally expected to have a significant mathematical or physical background, including calculus, differential equations, mechanics, electrodynamics and quantum mechanics.

English language requirements

Lower level (IELTS 6.0, with not less than 6.0 in each section)

Find out about other English language qualifications we accept.

English language support

Don’t have the English language level for your course? Find out more about our pre-sessional courses.

Additional information for international students

We welcome applications from all over the world. Find out about international qualifications suitable for our Masters courses.

Visas and immigration

Find out how to apply for a student visa

Fees and scholarships

How much does it cost?


Home: £9,250 per year

EU: £9,250 per year

Channel Islands and Isle of Man: £9,250 per year

Overseas: £18,750 per year

Note that your fees may be subject to an increase on an annual basis.

How can I fund my course?

Postgraduate Masters loans

Borrow up to £10,280 to contribute to your postgraduate study.

Find out more about Postgraduate Masters Loans


Our aim is to ensure that every student who wants to study with us is able to despite financial barriers, so that we continue to attract talented and unique individuals.

Chancellor's Masters Scholarship (2017)

Open to students with a 1st class from a UK university or excellent grades from an EU university and offered a F/T place on a Sussex Masters in 2017

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Chancellor's Masters Scholarship

Sussex Graduate Scholarship (2017)

Open to Sussex students who graduate with a first or upper second-class degree and offered a full-time place on a Sussex Masters course in 2017

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Graduate Scholarship

Sussex India Scholarships (2017)

Sussex India Scholarships are worth £3,500 and are for overseas fee paying students from India commencing Masters study in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex India Scholarships

Sussex Malaysia Scholarships (2017)

Sussex Malaysia Scholarships are worth £3,500 and are for overseas fee paying students from Malaysia commencing Masters study in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Malaysia Scholarships

Sussex Nigeria Scholarships (2017)

Sussex Nigeria Scholarships are worth £3,500 or £5,000 and are for overseas fee paying students from Nigeria commencing a Masters in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Nigeria Scholarships

Sussex Pakistan Scholarships (2017)

Sussex Pakistan Scholarships are worth £3,500 and are for overseas fee paying students from Pakistan commencing Masters study in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Pakistan Scholarships

How Masters scholarships make studying more affordable

Living costs

Find out typical living costs for studying at Sussex.


Our research focuses on extragalactic astrophysics and cosmology. 

“I use some of the largest computers in the world to understand the first galaxies at the dawn of the universe.” Dr Ilian IlievReader in Astronomy and Convener of the Cosmology MSc


Graduate destinations

89% of students from the Department of Physics and Astronomy were in work or further study six months after graduating. Recent graduates have gone on to roles including:

  • KCP associate, University of Leeds and Landmark Information Group
  • postdoctoral researcher, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • teacher, Our Lady of Sion School.

(HESA EPI, Destinations of Post Graduate Leavers from Higher Education Survey 2015)

Your future career

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

Working while you study

Our Careers and Employability Centre can help you find part-time work while you study. Find out more about career development and part-time work