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Undergraduate Study


In view of the COVID-19 public health emergency, we may need to make changes to the course details outlined on these pages. Offers holders will be notified of changes. Please see this page for further information.

Year 2 (Part IB)

In Part IB, you choose three of the following subjects. Some build directly on Part IA subjects and some introduce what are essentially new areas.

For most subjects you can typically expect to have three lectures, some practical work and a supervision each week.

For timetabling reasons not all combinations are possible.

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

  • This option studies biological processes at the molecular and cellular level, building on Part IA Biology of Cells.
  • Topics explored include gene structure and expression, enzyme catalysis, protein engineering, and control of cell growth and differentiation.
  • Practicals teach important skills that are developed in subsequent years.

Biology of Disease

  • This option is concerned with the scientific study of disease and encompasses all aspects of disease, including causes and effects, and the organism’s response to disease.
  • Biology of Disease involves a broad range of biological disciplines, including cellular and genetic pathology, immunology, microbiology, parasitology and virology.

Cell and Developmental Biology

  • The subject consolidates and extends your knowledge from Part IA Biology of Cells of how cells work and interact.
  • It covers sub-cellular structure and function, signalling within and between cells, the development of multicellular tissues and organisms, and the experimental approaches to these.

Chemistry A

  • Chemistry A focuses on the theories used to understand chemical bonding, structures and reactivity.
  • This option introduces quantum mechanics and demonstrates the use of this and related theories to make sense of many chemical and physical properties.

Chemistry B

Chemistry B focuses on three main topics:

  • organic (carbon-based) chemistry, which forms the basis of molecules as diverse as pharmaceuticals and synthetic polymers
  • the enormous range of compounds and structures formed by other elements (inorganic chemistry)
  • the chemical processes which are the basis of life

Earth Sciences A

  • This option covers the surface environments of the Earth – the atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere – together with their geological products.
  • It encompasses sedimentology, palaeobiology, oceanography, tectonics and sedimentary basins.
  • You have laboratory work and compulsory field courses in Cumbria and Southwest England.

Earth Sciences B

  • Earth Sciences B deals with our planet’s formation and examines the chemical and physical processes in its interior.
  • It covers mineral growth and crystallisation under different conditions; and the role of plate tectonics in igneous and metamorphic rock formation and its influence on surface volcanism.
  • You have laboratory work and compulsory field courses in Cumbria and Southwest England.

Ecology, Evolution and Conservation

  • Ecology explores the relationships between plants, animals and their environment.
  • It covers marine, freshwater and terrestrial systems; human impact on climate change and aerial pollution; ecological genetics and ecological dynamics; and the world’s biodiversity, its origin and conservation.
  • Practical work includes a field course in Surrey.

Evolution and Animal Diversity

  • Explore the evolution and diversity of animals, and look at how their form, function and behaviour are adapted to their lifestyle and their environment.
  • Comprises sections on Behaviour and Ecology, Brains and Behaviour, Insect Biology, Vertebrate Evolutionary Biology and Evolutionary Principles.

Experimental Psychology

  • Experimental Psychology is the study of the mind, brain and behaviour through experimental and observational methods.
  • Teaching is supported by practical classes.
  • Topics covered include sensory processes and perception, learning, reasoning, cognitive and social development, psychopathology, social psychology, and intelligence.

History and Philosophy of Science

  • This option explores the historical, philosophical and social dimensions of the sciences.
  • Topics covered extend from early astronomy and alchemy to the discovery of DNA and climate change.
  • We examine what is so special about science and what is the role of social and historical context in the production of knowledge.

Materials Science

  • Part IB Materials Science builds on the topics covered in IA and introduces new areas such as chemical and electrical properties of materials.
  • You learn about how different materials are fabricated, including metals, polymers and ceramics, and how these materials function in service.
  • This option also covers the behaviour of functional materials, such as semiconductors and superconductors.


  • Mathematics incorporates topics including more advanced matrix theory, Cartesian tensors, more advanced theory of differential equations, Fourier transforms, calculus of variations, complex analysis and group theory.
  • Some topics involve continually-assessed practical work, using computers to illustrate and exploit numerical techniques.


  • Neurobiology covers the development, function and plasticity of the nervous system.
  • You explore the different sensory systems, the motor system and higher functions of the nervous system (including motivation, emotion, language and memory).


  • Pharmacology deals with the effects of chemicals on biological materials.
  • The option covers how receptors work at the molecular level, intracellular messengers, synaptic pharmacology, drug discovery, antimicrobial and anti-cancer drugs, steroid receptors, and the use of drugs to control inflammation, immune responses, the central nervous system and cardiovascular system.

Physics A

  • Physics A provides a rigorous grounding in the principal themes of modern physics.
  • The option deals with waves and optical systems, quantum physics and an introduction to condensed matter.
  • A module on experimental methods supports your practical work.

Physics B

  • Physics B lays the foundation for a professional understanding of physics and is built on the three key areas of classical mechanics, electromagnetism and thermodynamics.
  • All students also take an introductory course in C++ programming, with associated practical exercises.


  • In Physiology, you study systems physiology in detail, concentrating on mammals, in particular man.
  • The option covers function at the cellular level to the complex operation of major body systems at the level of the whole organism, and how these systems respond to challenges.

Plant and Microbial Sciences

  • Plant and Microbial Sciences considers the fundamental biology of plants and microbes.
  • Studying plants and microbes is essential to deliver sustainable solutions to global issues including food security, disease control, drug discovery and bioenergy supplies.

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

Return to the Natural Sciences course overview