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Unit of study_

PHYS3037: Plasma and Astrophysics

Looking at the sky it is easy to forget our Sun and the stars are continuous giant nuclear explosions, or that nebulas are vast fields of ionized gases, all obeying the same laws of physics as anything else in the universe. Astrophysics gives us great insight in the larger structures of the universe, and plasma physics is key to understanding matter in space, but also in fusion reactors or for advanced material processing. This selective unit in the physics major will provide an introduction to astrophysics and plasma physics, complemented with experimental labs. You will study three key concepts in astrophysics: the physics of radiation processes, stellar evolution, and binary stars. You will gain understanding of the physics of fundamental phenomena in plasmas and apply basic methods of theoretical and experimental plasma physics. Examples will be given, where appropriate, of the application of these concepts to naturally occurring and man-made plasmas. You will learn and apply new experimental and data analysis techniques by carrying out in-depth experimental investigations on selected topics in physics, with expert tutoring. In completing this unit you will gain understanding of the foundations of modern physics and develop skills in experimental physics, measurement, and data analysis.


Academic unit Physics Academic Operations
Unit code PHYS3037
Unit name Plasma and Astrophysics
Session, year
Semester 2, 2020
Attendance mode Normal day
Location Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney
Credit points 6

Enrolment rules

PHYS3937 or PHYS3042 or PHYS3043 or PHYS3044 or PHYS3942 or PHYS3943 or PHYS3944
(PHYS2011 OR PHYS2911 OR PHYS2921) AND (PHYS2012 OR PHYS2912 OR PHYS2922)
PHYS3035 OR PHYS3935 OR PHYS3040 OR PHYS3940 OR PHYS3941
Assumed knowledge

(MATH2021 OR MATH2921 OR MATH2061 OR MATH2961 OR MATH2067)

Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff and contact details

Coordinator Catherine Stampfl,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Final exam (Open book) Type C final exam Final exam
Type C
45% Formal exam period 2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO7 LO6 LO5 LO4 LO2
Small continuous assessment Astrophysics computer labs
5% Multiple weeks 4 x 1 hour sessions
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO6 LO5 LO4 LO2
Assignment Plasma physics quizzes
Online quizzes
5% Multiple weeks Not timed
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6 LO7
Assignment Astrophysics assignment
Assignment with non-written elements
5% Week 06 5 pages
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6 LO7
Assignment Problem assignment
Assignment with non-written elements
10% Week 09 10 pages
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6 LO7
Assignment Plasma physics assignment
Assignment with non-written elements
5% Week 12 5 pages
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6 LO7
Assignment Experimental physics report and peer review
Written assessment
10% Week 12 4 pages
Outcomes assessed: LO4 LO5 LO7
Skills based evaluation Experimental physics logbook
Experimental logbook
15% Weekly Variable
Outcomes assessed: LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7
Type C final exam = Type C final exam ?
  • Assignments: There are three coursework assignments in this unit, one per module and one larger problem assignment using aspects
    of both modules. You are encouraged to start early on the problem assignment, as you will be able to solve aspects from it as early as it is released.
  • Plasma physics online quizzes: There will be compulsory online lectures and a small quiz before each lecture starting from week 7; material covered in lectures will assume the reading has been done and will be part lecture, part tutorial. Each lecture's pre-reading and/or quizzes will need to be completed by the beginning of the lecture.
  • Astrophysics computer labs: You only need to attend one lab session, though if you have work to make up, you're welcome to attend the other sessions as well. Each lab consists of three checkpoints; all checkpoints must be handed in and marked off by the following lab session.
  • Experimental physics lab books: Every student will carry out two experiments, lasting 3x4hour sessions each, or one double experiment lasting 6x4h sessions. Experiments are to be completed in the times allocated to you; this is part of the assessment. Your lab work will be marked on what you achieve in this time only. You must record the experiments you perform in a University-supplied logbook as each experiment is carried out. This is the written record of the experiment/s.
  • Experimental physics report and peer review: You will be required to write up one report on one of the experiments you do, based on the material already in your logbook. Reports are to be written in the style of a scientific paper in a specific journal.
  • Final exam: The final exam will have questions covering all coursework aspects of this course (astrophysics and plasma physics), and will be entirely paper- based. This is a closed book exam.

Detailed information for each assessment can be found on Canvas.

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a high distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

For more information see

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Special consideration

If you experience short-term circumstances beyond your control, such as illness, injury or misadventure or if you have essential commitments which impact your preparation or performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website provides information on academic honesty, academic dishonesty, and the resources available to all students.

The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic dishonesty or plagiarism seriously.

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic dishonesty. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of dishonesty, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 1. Astrophysics: astronomical units and conventions; 2. Introduction to radiation; 3. Radiation processes; 4. Optical depth, sources of radiation, and blackbody radiation Lecture (3 hr) LO1 LO2
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (1 hr) LO3 LO4
1. Astrophysics: atomic processes and the formation of spectral lines; 2. Stellar structure; 3. The virial theorem; 4. The main sequence Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Week 02 Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (1 hr) LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 03 1. Astrophysics: stellar evolution 1; 2. Astrophysics: stellar evolution 2 Lecture (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Astrophysics: radiative transfer and the Saha and Boltzmann equations Computer laboratory (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (1 hr) LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 04 1. Astrophysics: supernovae; 2. Stellar remnants: white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes Lecture and tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Astrophysics: stellar structure Lecture and tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (1 hr) LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 05 1. Astrophysics: binary stars; 2. Accretion energy: mass transfer and the Eddington rate Lecture (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Astrophysics: stellar evolution Computer laboratory (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Week 06 Astrophysics: binary evolution Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Astrophysics: Roche potentials Computer laboratory (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (1 hr) LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 07 1. Plasma physics; 2. Debye shielding Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (1 hr) LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 08 1. Plasma physics: adiabatic invariants 2. The fluid equation of motion Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Week 09 1. Plasma physics: waves in plasmas; 2. Dispersion relations Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (1 hr) LO3 LO4 LO5
1. Plasma physics: plasma waves; 2. Resonances and cut-offs Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Week 10 Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Week 11 Plasma physics: the sheath Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (1 hr) LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 12 Plasma physics: plasma distribution function; kinetic theory; The Boltzmann equation;. Revision Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (1 hr) LO3 LO4 LO5

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University’s graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. demonstrate an understanding of key concepts in two areas of physics - astrophysics and plasma physics
  • LO2. apply these concepts to develop models, and to solve qualitative and quantitative problems in scientific contexts, using appropriate mathematical and computing techniques as necessary
  • LO3. carry out and analyse experiments to measure specific effects
  • LO4. compare and critique experimental approaches
  • LO5. communicate scientific information appropriately, through written work
  • LO6. analyse a physical problem in plasma physics and astrophysics, and develop a formalism appropriate for solving it
  • LO7. demonstrate a sense of responsibility, ethical behaviour, and independence as a learner and as a scientist.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities
No changes have been made since this unit was last offered.

Work, health and safety

We are governed by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 and Codes of Practice. Penalties for non-compliance have increased. Everyone has a responsibility for health and safety at work. The University’s Work Health and Safety policy explains the responsibilities and expectations of workers and others, and the procedures for managing WHS risks associated with University activities.

General Laboratory Safety Rules

  • No eating or drinking is allowed in any laboratory under any circumstances
  • A laboratory coat and closed-toe shoes are mandatory
  • Follow safety instructions in your manual and posted in laboratories
  • In case of fire, follow instructions posted outside the laboratory door
  • First aid kits, eye wash and fire extinguishers are located in or immediately outside each laboratory

As a precautionary measure, it is recommended that you have a current tetanus immunisation. This can be obtained from University Health Service:


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.