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Theoretical Skills & Laboratories - PHY00032C

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  • Department: Physics
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Irene D'Amico
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

Numerical and computational approaches can be used to help us better understand highly complex physical systems. From a theoretical point of view we can build models which can explore physics which might be too complicated to approach analytically. For experimentalists, numerical and computational tools offer powerful approaches to better understand and interpret our results. In this module you will learn how these approaches work, and can be applied in a range of physical scenarios. You will also advance your experimental and computational skills, including learning Fortran; a scientific programming language.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

Mathematical Modelling illustrates the general principles in constructing models by simple examples, and practice. The level of mathematics used will be modest, and some new simple mathematical techniques will be introduced to extend the range of models that can be studied. Some of the ideas will be implemented using spreadsheets but no computer programming is required. The examples will be drawn mainly from physics. Problems encountered in the real- world will also be discussed.

Modern Fortran is a high level programming language widely used by physicists for numerical computation. At the same time, as a modern language, it serves to introduce the features common to any programming language. In this module we will aim at achieving fluency in the writing and execution of simple Modern Fortran programs. The module is conducted in the Computational Laboratory, with the method of delivery being a short lecture at the beginning of the class, which includes programming examples that are then implemented in a hands-on session facilitated by the lecturer and demonstrators. The emphasis throughout is on the practical skill of constructing, editing, running and debugging programs. The Modern Fortran course provides the necessary skills to undertake the Computational Laboratory activities in stage 2.

The aim of the laboratory component of this module is to continue developing core competencies and knowledge in physics. These include experimental techniques, problem solving and scientific writing. We will explore this content through a series of laboratory practicals

Module learning outcomes

Theoretical Skills

  • Explain the basic philosophy of mathematical modelling

  • Apply dimensional analysis to propose a simple mathematical form for a model

  • Use the results of experiments to provide values for parameters in the model

  • Optimise the parameter values in the model

  • Create a mathematical model of a physical system

  • Demonstrate the ability to program in a scientific programming language


  • Demonstrate effective experimental practice, including the planning, execution, recording, appraisal and discussion of the data

  • Identify, assess, analyse, and decrease experimental uncertainties

  • Write a scientific report using the accepted structure and style

Module content

Mathematical Modelling Syllabus

  • Modelling Principles

  • Dimensional analysis and Dimensional similarity

  • Fitting and Interpolation

  • Optimisation

  • Networks

  • Difference equations and differential equations

  • Numerical Integration

  • Stochastic methods

Modern Fortran Syllabus

  • Programming logic: writing algorithms and pseudo-code

  • Data types and precision

  • Variables and arrays

  • Arithmetic and logical expressions

  • Program control: IF statements and DO loops

  • Sub-programs: functions, subroutines and modules

  • Data handling: file input/output and formatting results


  • Experimental activities based around provided laboratory scripts

  • Identification, analysis and minimisation of experimental uncertainties

  • Maintenance of a laboratory notebook

  • Scientific report writing

Laboratory component 25% weighting is split between laboratory notebooks (15%) and a formal report (10%)


Task Length % of module mark
Closed/in-person Exam (Centrally scheduled)
CLosed Exam : Mathematical Modelling Exam
1.5 hours 40
Fortran Coursework
N/A 25
Laboratory Notebooks (15%) and Formal Report (10%)
N/A 15
Mathematical Modelling Assignment
N/A 10

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Closed/in-person Exam (Centrally scheduled)
CLosed Exam : Mathematical Modelling Exam
1.5 hours 40
Fortran Coursework
N/A 25
Laboratory Notebooks (15%) and Formal Report (10%)
N/A 15

Module feedback

'Feedback’ at a university level can be understood as any part of the learning process which is designed to guide your progress through your degree programme. We aim to help you reflect on your own learning and help you feel more clear about your progress through clarifying what is expected of you in both formative and summative assessments.

A comprehensive guide to feedback and to forms of feedback is available in the Guide to Assessment Standards, Marking and Feedback. This can be found at:

The School of Physics, Engineering & Technology aims to provide some form of feedback on all formative and summative assessments that are carried out during the degree programme. In general, feedback on any written work/assignments undertaken will be sufficient so as to indicate the nature of the changes needed in order to improve the work. Students are provided with their examination results within 25 working days of the end of any given examination period. The School will also endeavour to return all coursework feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. The School would normally expect to adhere to the times given, however, it is possible that exceptional circumstances may delay feedback. The School will endeavour to keep such delays to a minimum. Please note that any marks released are subject to ratification by the Board of Examiners and Senate. Meetings at the start/end of each semester provide you with an opportunity to discuss and reflect with your supervisor on your overall performance to date.

Our policy on how you receive feedback for formative and summative purposes is contained in our Physics at York Taught Student Handbook

Indicative reading

First course in mathematical modelling (3rd ed) by F P Giordano, D Weir and W P Fox. (Brooks- Cole, 2002)***

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.