Artificial Intelligence (3 Years) [BSc]

Physics & The Grand Challenges of Today

Unit code: UCIL29002
Credit Rating: 10
Unit level: Level 2
Teaching period(s): Semester 2
Offered by School of Physics and Astronomy
Available as a free choice unit?: Y



Additional Requirements

  • Students with an A level or equivalent in Physics are not eligible to take this unit.


This course aims to provide students with the knowledge and conceptual understanding of certain aspects of physics and the processes by which scientific knowledge is developed, such that they are able to evaluate critically the important scientific and technological issues and challenges facing the modern world.



  • Many of the issues being addressed by society today have complex scientific and technical backgrounds.
  • Much of the discussion of these issues is based on scientific and technical arguments and so an informed view therefore requires some knowledge of the science behind the issues.
  • This non-mathematical course will provide an overview of the science behind some of these issues helping you better understand topics ranging from quantum encryption, nuclear power and climate change to the origin and contents of the Universe.  
  • If you are interested in the science of the world (and Universe) around you and some of the issue society faces, but haven’t had the opportunity to study it in a non-mathematical way, this is the course for you.

Teaching and learning methods

The students will be able to:

  • Recognise the science behind some of the issues being addressed by society today.
  • Understand the science and scientific principles used to quantify and evaluate issues.
  • Evaluate numerical and observational data in context.
  • Communicate scientific issues to a non-technical audience. 

Employability skills

  • Analytical skillsThe course provides a range of insights on the analysis of information, in particular numerical data.
  • Problem solving
  • Research
  • Written communicationThe coursework essays develop the skills of researching, summarizing and evaluating scientific and technical information and presenting this to a broad audience.

Assessment methods

  • Other - 50%
  • Written exam - 50%

Assessment Further Information

  • Three 1500 word essays throughout the course (50%)


  • Weeks 1 - 3     The Energy to Power Society. The cost, economics and usage of energy. Power and energy. Sources of energy. Energy generation covering fossil fuels, renewables and nuclear.   


  • Weeks 4 - 5     Global Climate Change. The greenhouse effect. The origin of climate change and its impact


  • Weeks 6 - 7     Quantum Technology. Understanding the quantum world. Sensing, scanners and encryption.


  • Week 8            Natural Disasters: The physics and impact of earthquakes and volcanoes.


  • Weeks 9 - 11   Our Understanding Our Place in the Universe. Overview of the origin, history and properties of the Universe. Introduction to how we measure the properties of the universe and its constituents. The nature of stars and planets. Habitable planets and the possibility of other life in the Universe.

Feedback methods

  • Written feedback will be provided on course work essays.

Study hours

  • Lectures - 22 hours
  • Practical classes & workshops - 6 hours
  • Independent study hours - 72 hours

Teaching staff

Gary Fuller - Unit coordinator

Kieran Flanagan - Unit coordinator

Timothy O'Brien - Unit coordinator

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