PHY1029 IT and Astrophysics Skills 2017-18
Dr F.Y. Ogrin and Dr C.M. Brunt
Delivery Weeks: T1:01-05,07-12, T2:06-11
Level: 4 (NQF)
Credits: 15 NICATS / 7.5 ECTS
Enrolment: 27 students (approx)


This module is practically based with comprehensive work sheets for each session and demonstrators available to answer any queries that may arise. Students are encouraged to work at their own speed depending on their previous experience. Students with no prior experience will need to spend more time than their more experienced counterparts outside the class sessions to complete the assignments contained in the work sheets.

Students first learn to produce high-quality typeset reports using LaTeX and a stylesheet. This is followed by an introduction to the GNU Octave numerical mathematics package. The Octave language is essentially the same as the MATLAB™ language which is widely used in commercial and research environments for numerical modelling. The final part introduces students to computer-aided manipulation and analysis of modern astrophysical data. They will gain an understanding of the basic properties of digital imaging and spectroscopy data and how such data are limited by various noise components added in the signal chain between the astrophysical source and the detection of photons or waves from it. The students will gain an appreciation of the computer tools and algorithms used to analyse astrophysical data through a series of short projects based on actual data, with the goal of producing meaningful scientific results and understanding the uncertainties associated with them. The module also illustrates the interesting differences of approach needed by 'observational physics' as opposed to 'experimental physics'.

Module Aims

Every physicist must be able to analyse data, evaluate theoretical models, and present their work in the form of a technical report. They must also be able to perform investigations, such as experiments, and solve the problems they encounter in a systematic and logical manner.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

A student who has passed this module should be able to:

Syllabus Plan

Part A: IT Skills

  1. Introduction
    1. Use of the Exeter Virtual Learning Environment.
    2. The Apple Macintosh
      1. Graphical User Interface
      2. using the Mac OS X system
    3. Network home directories and the file-server
      1. understanding the local file-server.
  2. LaTex
    1. Using LaTeX to create a simple document
      1. Text
      2. Equations
      3. Tables
      4. Figures
    2. Using a stylesheet to produce high-quality experiment reports
    3. Use of Octave with a template for plotting, linear regression analysis, statistical analysis, error bars
  3. Octave
    1. Introduction
      Range of applications, platform and implementation specific differences, relationship of Octave to MATLAB.
    2. Fundamentals
      User interface, definitions, data structure, commands and functions, matrix operations, 'help' system.
    3. Input/Output and analysis
      Creating files and loading data, working with data, basic plotting, saving workspace ('*.mat' files).
    4. Numerical integration
      Using numerical methods for calculation of integrals
    5. Fitting
      The least-squares criterion, fitting polynomial and exponential functions, 'polyfit' and 'polyval', fitting data with a linear function, extracting polynomial coefficients, plotting the fitting function, errors.
    6. Programming
      Scripts and functions, creating and executing '*.m' files, basic programming: using 'for' and 'while' loops, conditional statements 'if', 3-D graphics.

Part B: Astrophysics

  1. Indicative List of Projects
    1. Poisson noise
    2. Luminosity function of a young stellar cluster
    3. Proper motion of fast-moving stars
    4. Spectral classification of stars and brown dwarfs
    5. Classification of galaxy sizes and morphologies
    6. The rotation of the Sun

Learning and Teaching

Learning Activities and Teaching Methods

Description Study time KIS type
11×2-hour computer laboratory sessions (IT) 22 hours SLT
12×3-hour computer laboratory sessions (astrophysics) 36 hours SLT
11×2-hour IT Skills homework 22 hours GIS
Reading, private study and revision 70 hours GIS


Weight Form Size When ILOS assessed Feedback
15% Mid-Term IT Skills Test 1 90 mins Week T1:09 1, 5, 16, 17 Written and verbal
15% Mid-Term IT Skills Test 2 90 mins Week T1:12 1, 5, 16, 17 Written and verbal
20% 11 × IT Skills assignments 2 hours in class + 2 hours homework each Weekly T1:01-05,07-12 1,6,10,11 Written and verbal
50% Astrophysics Reports 6×500-word reports and notebooks Weekly T2:07-11 2-5,7-9,11,12 Written and verbal


The following list is offered as an indication of the type & level of information that students are expected to consult. Further guidance will be provided by the Module Instructor(s).

Core text:

Supplementary texts:


Further Information

Prior Knowledge Requirements

Pre-requisite Modules Introduction to Astrophysics (PHY1022)
Co-requisite Modules none


Re-assessment is not available except when required by referral or deferral.

Original form of assessment Form of re-assessment ILOs re-assessed Time scale for re-assessment

Notes: Re-assessment is not available for this module.

KIS Data Summary

Learning activities and teaching methods
SLT - scheduled learning & teaching activities 58 hrs
GIS - guided independent study 92 hrs
PLS - placement/study abroad 0 hrs
Total 150 hrs
Summative assessment
Coursework 70%
Written exams 0%
Practical exams 30%
Total 100%


IoP Accreditation Checklist
  • XX-02 IT Skills
Availability unrestricted
Distance learning NO
Keywords Physics; Astrophysics; LaTeX; Octave; Software.
Created 01-Oct-10
Revised 15-Aug-17