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Undergraduate Study


Year 1 (Part IA)

You study three experimental sciences (from eight) plus one mathematics (from two), chosen at the start of the first term. Some Part I subjects have a competitive entry due to limited space.

You should indicate in your Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ) whether your interests lie broadly in biological or physical sciences. The choice isn’t absolute, and many students change direction before they start or as they progress.

For each option, you usually have three hours of lectures, some practical work and one supervision per week. Assessment varies depending on the option taken but always includes written examinations. There may also be practical examinations or continuous assessment of practical work.

Further information about the options and the various teaching and assessment methods can be found on the Natural Sciences website.

Biology of Cells

Highly desirable A Level Chemistry
Useful preparation A Level Biology

  • Biology of Cells introduces you to cell biology – topics such as cell structure and dynamics, macromolecules, biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, development and cell communication.
  • This option is for biological and physical sciences students who wish to explore the topical and rapidly advancing fields of cell biology, genetics and bioinformatics.
  • The Biology of Cells and Computer Science options cannot be combined.


Essential A Level Chemistry (A Level Mathematics is essential to continue to Chemistry A in Part IB)
Highly desirable AS/A Level Mathematics

  • Chemistry is concerned with how and why molecules form, and what determines their properties and the way in which they react.
  • You learn about the key concepts and theories which help us to understand and rationalise a wide range of molecular phenomena.

Computer Science

Essential A Level Mathematics
Useful preparation AS/A Level Further Mathematics and/or Physics

If you wish to take this option, you’re required to complete a preparatory online course.

  • In Computer Science, you explore the theoretical and practical foundations of computer science – computer programming (in ML and Java), algorithm design and analysis, and floating point and numerical computation.
  • The Computer Science and Biology of Cells options cannot be combined.  

Earth Sciences

    No previous subject knowledge necessary.

    • Earth Sciences introduces the processes that create terrestrial planets such as ours – you learn about the forces driving plate tectonics, volcanic eruptions, climate change and biological evolution, and discover why other planets are different to Earth.
    • Practical experience is gained in the laboratory and on a compulsory one-week field course in Scotland.
    • Earth Sciences offers a wide scientific perspective and leads onto a broad range of careers. See the introductory film on the Department website.

    Evolution and Behaviour

    Highly desirable A Level Biology

    • This option explores the origin, evolution and diversity of life on Earth; major transitions such as the origin of eukaryotes and multicellularity; and the evolution of behaviour, intelligence, sociality and culture.
    • You develop practical biological skills through practical classes and a fi eld course.
    • Evolution and Behaviour is relevant to the study of Cell and Developmental Biology, Ecology, Evolution and Diversity, Genetics, Plant Sciences, Psychology and Zoology.

    Materials Science

    Essential A Level Mathematics, and either Chemistry or Physics

    • Materials Science studies the structure and properties of materials in an eff ort to develop new and improved materials for advanced technological applications.
    • Topics covered include how liquid-crystal displays work, materials design inspired by biomaterials and why aeroplanes don’t fall apart.
    • You engage in experimental activities such as fuel-cell construction and nanoscale characterisation.


    Essential A Level Mathematics, and either Physics or Further Mathematics (with three units of Mechanics)
    Useful preparation AS/A Level Further Mathematics

    • Physics encompasses topics including Newtonian statics and dynamics, oscillations and waves, electric circuits, and gravitational and electromagnetic fields.
    • It also introduces new themes such as special relativity and quantum mechanics.
    • Part IA Mathematics must be taken in parallel with this option.

    Physiology of Organisms

    Useful preparation AS/A Level Biology and/or Physics

    • Physiology of Organisms explores and compares the physiology of a wide range of organisms by studying the different solutions developed by animals, plants and microbes to the problems of survival.
    • Topics include respiratory and osmoregulatory systems, homeostatic mechanisms, and how plants and animals detect and respond to changes in their environments.


    Essential A Level Mathematics

    • Mathematics focuses on mathematical techniques used in the physical sciences.
    • Subjects covered include vector calculus, vector algebra, matrices, complex numbers, ordinary and partial differential equations, elementary probability theory and computing techniques.

    Mathematical Biology

    Highly desirable A Level Mathematics

    • Mathematical Biology focuses on mathematics relevant to biologists, particularly mathematical modelling.
    • Subjects covered include differential equations, compartmental analysis, coupled non-linear systems, probability, statistics, matrix algebra and ecological modelling.
    • Weekly computing practical classes teach simple programming via biological examples.
    • A significant amount of A Level Mathematics material is needed to understand Mathematical Biology. Therefore, if you don’t have A Level Mathematics you’re required to complete 20-40 hours of preparatory work before you arrive, and are given alternative teaching and support during the first term in order to develop necessary mathematical skills.

    Further information about the options and the various teaching and assessment methods can be found at:

    Return to the Natural Sciences course overview