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Undergraduate Study


Years 3 and 4 (Parts II and III)

Your choice of a broad curriculum or degree course specialisms

In Part II, students can retain a broad study of science, though most pursue a single subject to a depth matching that of single science degrees elsewhere.

Specialising in Part II is appropriate if you wish to continue to a fourth year (Part III) and progression to Part III is dependent on a satisfactory level of performance.

At these levels you study to the edge of what's known. In Part I much of the material covered can be found in textbooks. From Part II you read research papers with less well-established facts and theories, requiring you to weigh up the evidence.

Lectures in Parts II and III are given by staff actively researching the topics being covered, many of whom are world leaders in their field, and by expert guest speakers.

You also gain considerable research experience in our extremely well-equipped laboratories, using state-of-the-art technology. Practical work is exploratory and open-ended, and most students carry out a significant research project which is assessed as part of the final examination.

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

Please note that some options have a competitive entry (based on performance in the second year) due to restrictions on laboratory space. This means that you're not guaranteed your Part II subject choice. However, around 80% of students are typically able to study their first choice of subject.

Choose to study a broad curriculum:

Or pursue a specialism:

1 These subjects offer a fourth year/Part III option, leading to an MSci degree.

A broad curriculum

Biological and Biomedical Sciences

This option maintains a breadth of study by combining elements from different subjects. You take a major subject in a biological option and a minor subject from options in biology, biological anthropology, education, sociology and the history and philosophy of science.

A dissertation replaces the practical laboratory-based research project.

This route is suited to those who wish to pursue career paths outside scientific research, and to Medicine and Veterinary Medicine students who don't wish to take a single subject in their third year.

Physical Sciences

This option allows you to continue your studies in a chosen discipline and either retain or pick up another subject.

You essentially take half of one of a Part II subject, such as Chemistry, Earth Sciences or Physics, alongside a further Part IB subject and write a dissertation.

Pursue a specialism


Part II Astrophysics introduces you to a range of contemporary astrophysics topics including relativity theory, astrophysical fluid dynamics, statistical physics, physical cosmology, the structure and evolution of stars, stellar dynamics, and the structure of galaxies. In addition, you can explore an issue in current astronomy in an extended essay or offer computational projects.

Part III students choose from a variety of options offered in Part III of the Mathematics course and papers offered by the Department of Physics, which take them to the forefront of research. A substantial project gives the opportunity to undertake original research.


Part II Biochemistry is broadly based and covers the structure and function of macromolecules, gene expression, and molecular aspects of cell structure and function, discussed in the context of prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms. A one-term research project can be laboratory-, computer- or literature-based.

Part III features a two-term research project carried out alongside a research team directed by a leading scientist. Some coursework continues, including lectures and seminars on research skills, and discussion of advanced papers on topical areas of biochemistry.


Parts II and III Chemistry cover a wide range of topics that are the subject of research in our internationally renowned Department.

After studying core material which builds on the foundations from Part IB, you have the opportunity to specialise in Part II. Options available are very diverse and range from synthetic organic chemistry to atmospheric science, and from theoretical chemistry to chemical biology.

In Part III, you join a research group in the Department and work on your own project for two terms. For many students, this engagement with real research is the highlight of the course.

Earth Sciences

Parts II and III Earth Sciences explore how the Earth works, and enable you to develop independent critical and research skills. Some specialisation is possible within the main subject areas of tectonics and geophysics, petrology, climate science and surface processes, palaeobiology and mineral sciences

Part II features an independent mapping project and a field course in Greece (both compulsory trips).

Part III is excellent preparation for a research career in industry or academia, involving a major research project and culminating in a compulsory field course in Spain.


Genetics provides a conceptual framework that unites all biology disciplines.

Part II Genetics aims to give a broad understanding of the field – from how genetic information is passed from generation to generation, and how genes work and control the development and behaviour of organisms; through to the evolutionary and ecological processes that give rise to genetic change.

More informal sessions examine important papers in the field and explore the social aspects, and implications, of genetic knowledge. However, the most enjoyable parts for many are the independent library and practical projects.

History and Philosophy of Science

This subject gives an insight into the historical development of the sciences, technology and medicine; their philosophical structure political and sociological dynamics; and the methods of scientific enquiry. It provides essential resources for understanding some of the most significant institutions in the world.

In Part II, you choose options from a range offered, and write essays based on Primary Sources seminars and an optional dissertation based on your own research.

Part III students write four essays and a dissertation, focusing on the topics that interest them. The core teaching is the weekly seminar, which also gives students the opportunity to present their own work.

Materials Science

Materials Science is a key discipline in today's world, based in the physical sciences but with links to the biological sciences and branches of engineering.

Part II focuses on the links between the processing, structure and properties of numerous materials classes. Practicals and projects introduce analytical tools and computational techniques.

Part III concentrates on recent developments, with core papers highlighting modern experimental techniques, and a range of optional topics which focus on cutting-edge research. A major research project is an important component of Part III.


Pathology combines numerous biological disciplines - including molecular biology, genetics and cell biology - with the study of topics such as human genetic disease, cancer, heart disease, the immune system, parasites, and vaccines.

In Part II, you choose two from Cancer and Genetic Diseases, Dynamics of Infectious Diseases, Immunology, Microbiology and Parasitology, and Virology.

The Department is a major centre of research in medical science, and an important element of the course is a project in which you join a research group.


Part II Pharmacology covers contemporary topics taken to the level of current research. At the cellular level, subjects covered include intracellular messengers, ion channels and transporters, anti-cancer drugs, and the structure and function of receptors.

Higher level topics include strategies for drug discovery, the use of drugs to suppress the immune response, the control of neurodegenerative disease, and the scientific basis for drug treatment of neurosis.

A research project enables you to join an active research group.


In Part II, you attain graduate-level knowledge in the core areas of electrodynamics, relativity, advanced quantum theory and statistical physics. Options available cover particle and nuclear physics, quantum condensed matter physics, astrophysical fluids, and soft condensed matter physics.

Part III options reflect the Department's research interests, including astrophysics and radio astronomy, experimental particle physics, condensed matter physics including semiconductor physics, soft matter and biological physics, collective phenomena including superconductivity, and the theory of condensed matter. You also undertake a substantial project within a research group.

Physiology, Development and Neuroscience (PDN)

Physiology, Development and Neuroscience are broad but interlinked subjects.

In Part II, you focus on Development and Reproductive Biology, Integrative Physiology or Neuroscience, or combine topics from all three. Current modules include:

  • Developmental Neurobiology
  • Control of Action
  • Sensory Transduction
  • Cellular Physiology
  • Fetal and Placental Physiology
  • Patterning an Embryo
  • Cell Assembly and Interactions
  • Neural Degeneration and Regeneration
  • Central Mechanisms of Sensation and Behaviour
  • Local Circuits and Networks
  • Learning, Memory and Cognition
  • Pluripotency and Differentiation
  • Cells and Organs
  • Genes and Physiology
  • Systems and Clinical Physiology

You take part in cutting-edge research during a two-term research project.

Plant Sciences

Plants are increasingly the focus of key global issues: maintaining food, fuel and biodiversity despite climate change.

The Department's research and expertise inform teaching across the subject; from molecular systems, biochemistry, and physiology, to ecology of plant and microbial processes. Molecular biology underpins many of our interests from plant pathology and development to synthetic biology and epidemiology.

In Part II, you specialise in areas of your choice, concentrating on molecular and cellular subjects or ecological options. Lecture modules include workshops and discussion groups, and you conduct a one-term research project, embedded within one of our labs, and produce an extended essay.


Psychology is the scientific study of behaviour and mental processes.

Part II enables you to pursue interests within biological, comparative and evolutionary psychology or human psychology. You choose from options on cognitive and experimental psychology; behavioural and cognitive neuroscience; and social psychology developmental psychology, psychology and individual differences (including psychopathology). Some topics from Psychology, Development and Neuroscience are offered as well.

You also work with leading scientists on an original research project.

The course is accredited by the British Psychological Society as conferring eligibility for the Graduate Basis for Membership, provided the minimum of a second class Honours is achieved.

Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour

Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour provides an integrated account of this rapidly advancing field – from the molecular events within cells, and the electrical and chemical interactions between cells in nervous systems; to the behaviour of the whole animal or person.

Options cover developmental neurobiology, molecular neurobiology, sensory transduction, central mechanisms of sensation and behaviour, neural circuits, control of action, memory and higher functions, and neural degeneration and regeneration.

Seminars enable you to present and discuss research papers, and technical workshops provide practical experience. You also work in a laboratory on an experimental research project of your choice.

Systems Biology (Part III only)

Genome sequencing has provided us with inventories of the working parts of living organisms, and much effort is going into exploring the functions of these parts. Systems Biology determines how parts interact to make a working organism.

With thousands of cellular components, the way such interaction networks behave, and are controlled, is very complex. Therefore, computer models are used to describe the interaction networks and predict their performance.

Systems Biology comprises lectures, computer-based practicals, seminars, and a research project, where you work alongside leaders in the field.


Zoology at Cambridge encompasses aspects of biological science ranging from cells, molecules and genes, to behaviour, ecosystems and evolution.

Particular strengths of the Department include molecular and cell biology, developmental biology, animal behaviour, molecular approaches to evolution, palaeontology, physiological ecology, population biology and conservation science.

In Part II, you choose options from these areas to create a course most suited to your interests and skills (a number of topics from other Part II subjects are available as well). Alongside lectures and seminars, you carry out research projects working with leading scientists in these fields.


Return to the Natural Sciences course overview