What do you learn in our master's programme?
The Master of Science in Physics and Astronomy: Minor Research is composed of 30 ECTS compulsory courses, 30 ECTS master thesis, 10-12 ECTS external mobility courses and 48-50 ECTS minor Research Electives. Our Master is jointly organized with UGent.
Physics aims at understanding the world around us by observing it from the smallest scales to the scale of the universe itself. From those observations, models are built to allow us to understand, explain and eventually predict the behavior of nature. The Master in Physics and Astronomy provides a comprehensive education in physics covering the particle physics, general relativity, astrophysics and the study of complex systems.
This master will give you quantitative and analytic skills that are useful to solve many problems arising in many areas beyond physics.
The strengths of our Physics and Astronomy master's programme
- Our expertise in high energy physics is extensive: it encompasses theoretical high energy physics, from phenomenological modeling to string theory and holography, as well as experimental high energy physics with all the international collaboration mentioned above. Our program of courses therefore offers a broad variety of classes covering those topics. More info: https://hep.research.vub.be/.
- We have also expertise in modeling complex systems. We use multidisciplinary methods to address fundamental challenges in biological physics, condensed matter physics, electromagnetism, laser physics and photonics. More info: https://aphy.research.vub.be/ & https://data.research.vub.be/ .
- In our Master of Science in Physics and Astronomy teaching is done in small groups, with a strong component of personal interactions between teaching staff and students. Around 50% of our graduates currently move on to a PhD.
- We are active members in international large collaborations: the CMS collaboration at CERN, the IceCube experiment at the South Pole, the Einstein Telescope and LOFAR spread over Europe. Our courses are strongly embedded in those programs, allowing our students to develop collaborating and scientific skills.
- Close connections to renowned research groups, diverse departments and associated universities. Some examples are Radboud University, ENS Paris and Upenn.
Based on the strenghts of our departments, we propose two different orientations:
A. Particle physics from the Planck scale to the Universe
What are the most fundamental particles and forces in nature? What happens at the smallest scales, in the densest stars, or at the earliest moments of the Universe?
At the particle physics master program at the VUB, you will learn that answering those questions requires both the exploration of new avenues in theoretical physics and an incredible arsenal of experiments and observatories all around the world. From proton collisions at CERN to gamma-ray bursts in distant galaxies, from string theory to detector design, our program spans a vast range of topics that will prepare you for a career in one of the most exciting and challenging sciences.
We are active members in international large collaborations: the CMS collaboration at CERN https://home.cern/science/experiments/cms , the IceCube experiment at the South Pole https://icecube.wisc.edu/, the Einstein Telescope http://www.et-gw.eu/ and LOFAR spread over Europe https://www.astron.nl/telescopes/lofar/. Our expertise also encompasses theoretical high energy, from phenomenological modeling to string theory and holography. We therefore can offer a broad offer of courses covering all aspects of high enery physics.
B. Complex Systems
Complex systems are systems composed of many interacting parts, often also including feedback loops, where distinct properties arise from the nonlinear interactions. These system properties that cannot be predicted from the properties of the individual components and are emergent (e.g. pattern formation), spontaneous order from disorder, synchronisation (in time), adaptation, among others. Because such systems appear in nature (from gene transcription to the earth’s climate) and in engineering, as well as in society, they are studied in a wide variety of fields. The commonalities among them have become the topic of an independent area of research: complex systems research. The importance of this field has been recognized recently by awarding the Nobel Prize of Physics 2021 to S. Manabe and K. Hasselmann for the foundation of our knowledge of the Earth’s climate and to G. Parisi for his contributions to the theory of disordered materials and random processes. This orientation will provide students with a solid background in statistical physics, data science and programming and mathematical modeling. Depending on optional courses chosen, you can give a different flavor to your education from optics to biophysics passing by climate modeling.
Physics of living systems - themes: modeling gene regulatory networks in embryogenesis or for synthetic biology, building dynamical models of human associated microbial communities and motility properties of viruses.
Computing with physical systems – themes: metamaterials, nanophotonics, bio-inspired approaches to machine learning (reservoir computing), dynamics of semiconductor lasers, nonequilibrium pattern formation and soliton dynamics.
Student reviews of the course
- Jan Kunnen | Alumnus
"I had the opportunity to spend the summer between my two master years at the central IceCube-lab in Madison, Wisconsin. IceCube is a neutrino observatory located at the geographic South Pole. When neutrinos interact with the ice, they produce electrically charged secondary particles that in turn emit Cherenkov light, as a result of travelling through the ice faster than light travels through ice. The IceCube sensors collect this light, which is subsequently digitised and time stamped. This information is converted into light patterns that reveal the direction and energy of muons and neutrinos.
For my master thesis I was very actively involved in the dark matter research the Brussels IceCube group is doing. I searched for an excess of neutrinos from the direction of the sun, as that could point to a dark matter population in the sun. Unfortunately, no neutrino excess from the direction of the sun has been seen yet, so the search continues!"
- Saskia Demulder | PhD student
”Doing a PhD enables me to combine creativity - exploring new and existing concepts - and engaging challenging problems. For my research, I am exploring models in string theory that have the attractive property of being very symmetrical. Just like a round and even sphere has more symmetry to it than any random, often uneven, stone you pick up. For a theoretical physicist, this symmetry opens doors to the ability of computing and thus knowing everything about the world the model describes. Moreover, as a first-year PhD student, I’ll first have the great opportunity to expand my knowledge and skills during a Solvay doctoral school that takes place in different cities in Europe. I cannot wait to get started!”
Did you know that physicists are much sought after on the job market? Especially ones that study here! Our graduates are highly regarded in all sectors requiring problem-solving abilities and analytical, mathematical, and ICT skills. In Belgium - like most of Europe - physicists are among the 10 highest-paid professionals. Many doors are open to you - perhaps in scientific research. Why not admit to one of the universities or research institutes to assist in new scientific developments? In industry too, you'll be in great demand due to your broad education in modelling, statistics, and informatics. Choose banking, finance, or pharmaceuticals and your work is likely to focus mainly on risk analysis and modelling. Also in education, you will find many opportunities for work.
A better idea of the programme?
Would you like to know more about this VUB programme? Take part in our (online) study choice activities. Leaf through our brochure, chat with other students, put questions to our professors in an online info session, read our alumni testimonials or attend an open lecture or info day.