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Department of Physical Sciences

The Open University’s Department of Physical Sciences is a lively and innovative department that has grown from a merger of the former Department of Physics and Astronomy with the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute and the Planetary Surfaces Group in 2012. Welcome to our website.

The Department now has around 80 staff and 70 research students drawn from across the globe, mostly based in the Robert Hooke Building on the Walton Hall campus in Milton Keynes, with a small outpost in K Block and regionally-based academic staff in several of the University’s regional and national centres. Our curriculum is supported by associate lecturer staff based all over the UK and Ireland; physics, astronomy and planetary sciences undergraduate modules are currently being studied by hundreds of students all over the world and we also contribute to an introductory and interdisciplinary science modules being studied by several thousand students.

The Department comprises four sub-groups:

Our research covers a wide range of subjects, from the behaviour of atoms at temperatures close to absolute zero to the merger of galaxies many light years away. We use microscopes to study the building blocks of stars and planets, and telescopes to study stars and planets themselves. The common thread that runs through all our research is a desire to understand the origin of matter, and how it has evolved from the Big Bang almost 14 billion years ago to what we can observe and measure today.

We have an unparalleled suite of analytical instrumentation in our modern laboratories on campus; this is complemented by our regular use of multi-national facilities such as the Diamond synchrotron and ESO’s telescopes. We have contributed to well-known space missions such as the Rosetta Mission, and have developed some of our spaceflight instrumentation for medical and environmental applications.

Departmental members also undertake educational research and contribute to the Open University’s teaching on a large range of modules. We have been at the forefront of many innovations in distance education.

Most undergraduate students who study physical sciences at the Open University take either the Physics, the Astronomy and Planetary Science, or the Earth Science pathway through our BSc Hons in Natural Sciences degree, or our BSc Hons Maths and Physics degree. Alternatively, you could study some physical science modules as part of the Open University’s Open Programme. If you don’t feel ready to commit yourself to a whole degree programme, why not try one of our short modules, such as “Galaxies, stars and planets”. Click here for more information about your options for studying physical sciences with the Open University.

We are members of SEPnet, the South East Physics Network. We hold  “Juno Practitioner” status in the Institute of Physics’ Juno Project, which seeks to recognise and reward departments that can demonstrate they have taken action to address the under-representation of women in university physics and to encourage better practice for both women and men.

Dr Sally Jordan

Head of Department of Physical Sciences