Quantum and statistical mechanics of matter

Our universe is full of matter, but the laws needed to explain this matter are complicated. In this module, you’ll learn some advanced tools from quantum and statistical mechanics, and use them to unveil the properties and behaviour of atoms, molecules and exotic states of matter. You’ll learn to navigate complex problems using approximations to the physics of many-electron systems, such as atoms and molecules and their interactions with electromagnetic fields. You’ll also discover how statistical mechanics can describe exotic matter, such as Bose–Einstein condensates and the complex interactions leading to magnetic materials.


SM880 is a compulsory module in our:

SM880 is an option module in our:


Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU postgraduate modules correspond to these frameworks.
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

What you will study

This module comprises three parts.

Parts one and two are based on Physics of Atoms and Molecules by Bransden and Joachain. Part three is based on Topics in Statistical Mechanics by Cowan. Notes and video lectures guide you through the material in the books. There will also be tutorials to guide you through problem-solving.

Part 1
The first part covers the application of quantum mechanics to the interaction of hydrogen with electromagnetic fields. It begins with a review of quantum mechanical fundamentals and continues to describe the interactions between electromagnetic radiation and atoms by applying time-dependent perturbation theory. It discusses the origins of fine and hyperfine structure as perturbations representing relativistic effects and interactions of electrons with atomic nuclei. Using degenerate perturbation theory, you’ll study interactions between atoms and static electric and magnetic fields.

Part 2
The second part examines the application of quantum mechanics to the complex many-electron systems of atoms and molecules. Topics in many-electron atoms include the central-field approximation and the periodic table, spin-orbit coupling and spectroscopy. It then discusses the quantum mechanics of many-electron states in molecules. We also expect to cover the electronic structure of diatomic molecules, the quantum mechanics associated with the rotation and vibration of diatomic molecules, and their molecular spectra.

Part 3
The final part introduces the statistical mechanics of matter. A review of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics includes an overview of canonical ensembles. The statistical mechanics of Bose and Fermi gases (i.e. quantum gases) follows. You’ll study metals and ultracold gases, leading to a discussion of Bose–Einstein condensation. The module finishes with a discussion of critical behaviour, where interactions lead to phase transitions. You’ll also study van der Waals gases and spin systems, with the phenomenological theory of phase transitions applied to magnetic materials and other systems.

You will learn

The main aim of this module is to develop your advanced understanding of physics and expand your reasoning and problem-solving through the teaching of quantum and statistical mechanics.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve
  • providing individual guidance, whether for general study skills, specific module content or additional learning resources.

The module has a dedicated and moderated forum where you can join in online discussions with your fellow students. There are also online tutorials. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


The assessment details can be found in the facts box.

The first and last TMAs plus the examination assess Parts 1 and 3. The second TMA assesses Part 2.

Course work includes

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)

Future availability

Quantum and statistical mechanics of matter (SM880) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2031.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Entry requirements

You may not study this module on its own or as part of any qualification other than those listed below.

If you’re studying this module as part of our Master of Physics (M06), you must have completed all your stage 3 modules with at least grade 3 passes.

If you’re studying this module as part of our MSc in Mathematics (F04), you must have passed Calculus of variations and advanced calculus (M820) or Analytic number theory I (M823). Additionally, before attempting this module, you should have studied at least one applied mathematics module or have prior applied mathematics or physics experience.

If you’re studying this module as part of our Open Masters (F81), you must have a 2:2 (or higher) UK honours degree (or equivalent) in a related subject, i.e:

  • BSc with applied mathematics content, e.g: Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Mathematics with Applied Mathematics.
  • BSc with “physics” in the title, e.g: Astrophysics, Chemical Physics, Computational Physics, Mathematical Physics, Mathematics and Physics, Physics, Physics with Astronomy, Physics with Theoretical Physics, Theoretical Physics.

If English isn’t your first language, we recommend you have a minimum IELTS (International English Language Testing System) score of 7.


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £1450.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2031.

Future availability

Quantum and statistical mechanics of matter (SM880) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2031.

Additional costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

Ways to pay for this module

We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options, including a postgraduate loan, if you study this module as part of an eligible qualification. To find out more, see Fees and funding.

Study materials

What's included

You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course notes and other module-specific materials guiding you through the text books
  • video lectures summarising the module units
  • exercises and solutions to aid your understanding of the concepts and improve your skills and techniques
  • assessment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access
  • access to online forums.

We’ll provide the electronic textbook Topics In Statistical Mechanics by Cowan. You’ll need to buy a copy of Physics of Atoms and Molecules by Bransden and Joachain.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

If you have a disability

The material contains small print and diagrams, which may cause problems if reading text is difficult for you. If required, we’ll provide an electronic copy of Physics of Atoms and Molecules by Bransden and Joachain via the RNIB.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.

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