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2024/25 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

PHAS5120M General Relativity

15 creditsClass Size: 60

Module manager: Dr Stuart Lumsden

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2024/25

Pre-requisite qualifications

Level 2 Physics or equivalent – prior understanding of tensors is helpful but not essential; understanding of the basic principles of special relativity and differential calculus is essential. Prior study of differential geometry is not required.

Module replaces


This module is not approved as an Elective

Module summary

This module introduces students to General Relativity. You will learn how to utilise techniques appropriate to differential geometry for familiar problems from Special Relativity before moving onto the study of how these methods can be used to derive the optimal means of studying particle dynamics in a curved space-time, and how physical laws can be translated into the same framework. The course will conclude with a study of applications of General Relativity including Cosmology and Black Holes.


You should be able to understand the underlying mathematical principles and techniques appropriate to General Relativity, as well as be able to apply them to simple physical cases by the end of this module.

Learning outcomes
Students will be able to demonstrate knowledge, understanding and application of:

1. Problems in special relativity using the formalism of tensor analysis;
2. The basis for, the physical and mathematical principles of general relativity;
3. Equations governing spacetime geometry and the motion of particles in curved spacetimes;
4. Simple problems related to differential geometry and tensor calculus;
5. Geometrical structures of Schwarzschild and Robertson-Walker spacetimes and their physical interpretations;
6. The motions of light and massive particles in these cases.

Skills outcomes
- Ability to apply advanced mathematical methods and modelling techniques to physical problems.
- Ability to grasp a complex body of ideas.


Review of special relativity, Lorentz transformations and particle dynamics. Introduction of metrics and tensors, and the role of invariance.

Geometry of space and time – the road to general relativity and the field equations. Differential geometry and tensor calculus: parallel transport, covariant derivative, curvature, geodesics. Metric: definition of length and angle, role in tensor calculus, metric connection.

Applications of the techniques of general relativity to spherical bodies, including black holes. Schwarzschild, and other, solutions. Meaning of distances and times in curved space and the role of the observer. Applications to Cosmology: Friedmann-Robertson-Walker models and the standard hot big bang.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours123.00
Total Contact hours27.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)150.00

Private study

Working through unmarked problem sheets, reviewing and assessing workshop problems, reading background material provided and in text books.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Workshops, and follow-ups.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
In-course AssessmentRegular Coursework20.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)20.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Standard exam (closed essays, MCQs etc)2 hr 30 mins80.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)80.00

Students will have to complete an in-person exam at the end of the module. This will take place during the examinations period at the end of the semester and will be time bound. Resits will be in the standard exam format.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 25/03/2024 15:09:30


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