Natural Sciences Physical


The Natural Science Tripos at Cambridge is arguably the best undergraduate science course in Britain. The first year course encourages breadth, allowing students to study sciences not encountered at school. In this foundation year students choose three science subjects and a compulsory mathematics course. Many Physical Natrual Scientists chose from Chemistry, Materials Science, Geology, and Physics in their first year, with some opting instead for Biology of Cells in order to get a taste for Biochemistry and Biophysics.

The choices become much broader in the 2nd year with some 11 Physical Sciences available for study, of which three must be chosen. Potential chemists will probably take Chemistry A and B in the second year. These can be combined with either a more biological subject, such as Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, or with Physics, Mathematics, or Materials Science and Metallurgy or even Experimental Psychology or History and Philosophy of Science. Potential physicists, will probably choose Physics A and Physics B, with either another science subject or Mathematics.

In the third year Natural Scientists specialise in one subject, which for Physical scientists is usually one of the following: Chemistry, Geological Sciences, Materials Science and Metallurgy or Physics. Some scientists however change Tripos at this point to read Chemical Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical and Information Sciences or Management Studies. Candidates who think that they are likely to wish to make such a move eventually, should indicate this on the Supplementary Application Questionnaire on their UCAS application form.

The 3rd year courses in Natural Science are intended to take students to the edge of knowledge in their subject, and a research project is included in the course at this stage. In Chemistry, for instance, this may take students into Atmospheric Chemistry, Protein Engineering or High Temperature Superconductors. A long way from school titrations!
Another possibility, for those with a background in Physics, is to change to Astrophysics, which is taught as a 3rd and 4th year subject. Most of our Corpus Natural Sciences students opt to stay on for a fourth year, which is excellent preparation for further study at graduate level.

A full description of the course structure and the many possible subject choices can be found on the university admissions webpage.


Corpus Christi has an extremely strong reputation for Physical Natural Sciences. On the Physics and Chemistry side this is reflected by the wide range of research interests to be found among fellows, from Cosmology to Metal Catalysis to Liquid Crystals. Sir George Thomson, whose Nobel Prize winning work on electron diffraction is well known, was a Fellow (and later Master) of the College. Mr Joe Farman, a former undergraduate, was the discoverer of the hole in the Ozone Layer.

The large number of Fellows in Natural Sciences at Corpus means an excellent chance to interact with and learn from leading researchers. We have a strong community of scientists, with regular social events like barbeques, pub trips and dinners,  as well as  problem solving evenings designed to stetch and challenge our students. To get a sense of the sorts of problems some of our Fellows are interested in, watch Corpus Fellow Prof. Mark Warner and former Corpus student Dr. John Biggins explain ‘the chain fountain’, a rather interesting mechanics problem in the video above.

Corpus is also one of the few Cambridge colleges to participate in the Caltech SURF scheme, which offers a chance for high achieving undergraduates to spend a summer at California’s Institute of Technology working on a research project. Past Corpus students have worked on projects ranging from snowflake morphology to detecting gravitational waves!

Prof. Mark Warner FRS
(Fellow – Physics)markwarner

Dr. Judy Hirst
(Fellow – Chemistry)judyhirst-crop

Prof. Paul Hewett
(Fellow – Astrophysics) paulhewett-crop

Dr. Ben Pilgrim
 (Fellow – Chemistry)SONY DSC

Dr. Michael Sutherland
(Physics, Admissions Tutor)michaelsutherland-crop
Prof. Pietro Cicuta (Fellow – Biological Physics)cicuta

Dr. Marina Frasca-Spada
(Fellow-Philosophy of Science)frascaspada

Dr. Sarah Bohndiek
(Fellow – Biological Physics)sarah
 Prof. Paul Davies
(Fellow – Chemistry)pauldavies

Dr. Sebastian Pike
(Fellow – Chemistry)



At Corpus we let candidates specify whether they would rather be interviewed for Chemistry or Physics, so applicants can choose their strongest subject. Both interviews will contain some amount of mathematics, and will take the form of discussion and solution of simple but open-ended problems taken from the school syllabus in Maths and Chemistry/Physics.

On the basis of the interview conditional offers will be made to successful candidates: usually A*A*A. STEP conditions are rarely used at Corpus for Natural Sciences. One or more of these grades will usually be achieved in Maths A Level. Candidates wishing to learn more about science in Corpus are invited to attend an Open Day at the College and meet potential Directors of Studies.


David Thompson – (1st year)

Natural Sciences is a brilliant course due to the flexibility of the modules you can choose in first year. When I was applying for university I was unsure whether to pursue Chemistry, Physics or Mathematics at higher education level. Natural Sciences has meant I can study all of them and add in Material Science, which I now thoroughly enjoy as well!

Not only is the course at Cambridge fantastic, studying at Corpus makes it even better. Due to the college’s relatively small size, there is a real sense of community and there is always a friend from college to sit next to during lectures. As Corpus is one of the most central colleges, it is perfect for getting to and from any of the science labs or lecture theatres. I have often appreciated being able to get to my room during lunch, something that may not be feasible for students at other colleges. Again due to Corpus’s size, you get to know most people in each of the years very quickly so there is the opportunity to ask for help informally amongst colleagues.


Benji Thoma – (1st year)

I chose to do Natural Sciences at Cambridge rather than a straight science anywhere else due to the breadth of knowledge and the flexibility that the course offers, whilst still maintaining a depth of information unparalleled at most other Universities. The course has allowed me to study both Physics and Biology of Cells, an unusual combination, but one that leads to a greater appreciation of the state of the current scientific world.

Whilst I am fairly certain that I want to specialize mainly into Chemistry in later years, studying Natural Sciences allowed me to explore my options and not pigeonhole myself into studying one subject straight away at University.

Reading Physical Natural Sciences at Corpus Christi is excellent, as it is such a short walk to lectures and practical sessions due to the college’s central location. However, this is not the only reason to study at Corpus. Before beginning my first term here I was slightly concerned about the small size of the college, but this has turned out to be one of Corpus’ greatest assets. A sense of community is established from day one, and it is incredibly easy to get to know people across all year groups, no matter whether they study your subject or not.


Maria-Andreea Filip (2nd Year)

The main appeal of Natural Sciences is probably the breadth and flexibility the course has, especially in the first year. It is a great opportunity to follow multiple interests and to explore entirely new subjects, leading to a more complete perspective of the topics covered, which is helpful whatever area you choose to pursue further.

The Natural Sciences lecture theatres and labs are quite scattered, which makes Corpus a great choice of college just based on its central location. But even without taking this into account, as one of the smallest colleges in Cambridge, Corpus has a very supportive and friendly community, making it a lovely place to live and a stimulating study environment.


Alex MatthewsAlex Matthews – (2nd Year)

For a Natural Scientist, few colleges are as perfectly located as Corpus, it being a two minute walk from the 1st year maths lecture site and thus permitting those of us who like living on the edge to wake up a few minutes before the hour. Furthermore, it is a five minute cycle, at the most gentle of paces, from the locations of all other science lectures.

Location, location, location may be the three most important features to look for when considering a college, however size is also very important: Corpus is a small college and unarguably and overwhelmingly it’s the college in Cambridge in which you will most quickly get to know everyone in every year and enjoy an easy path to forming friendships. Another real plus for being at Corpus is the formidable, enthusiastic and brilliant PhD student supervisors and truly inspiring but approachable Fellows, all experts in their fields, that the College and you have at your disposal.

Corpus has frankly the nicest and cosiest 24 hour library in Cambridge- whenever you chose to burn the late night oil there is always company to be had there (even if the bar is shut).

In short, it’s the perfect place to feel at home, amongst friends, and work hard, with the best help at hand, to transform you into a great Natural Scientist.


Ryan HadlowRyan Hadlow – (3rd year)

Natural Sciences can be a challenging Tripos with more contact hours than most, a steady workload and a hugely varied theoretical base. While this may sound daunting, the course is extremely rewarding and the variety makes it incredibly interesting.

In the first year, I loved having control over the subjects I took. It meant that I was able to study what I was most excited about. It also gave me further insight into each area and the confidence to choose Chemistry as my main focus going forward.

Choosing Corpus was probably the best decision I could have made. I picked Corpus for its small size and historical look. The courts are beautiful and certainly capture the look of Cambridge. Everyone I’ve met, students and staff alike, have been friendly and willing to help and this really takes some of the stress out of the academic work.


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