MSc in Physics with Shock Physics studentApplications are invited to this taught MSc course offering a broad multi-disciplinary coverage of the phenomenon of shock s and its numerous applications in physics, chemistry and engineering. The course is full-time for one calendar year (90 ECTS). 

Shock physics, which is the science that explores the response of materials to the high pressures generated by extreme shocks, is a ubiquitous phenomenon in many areas of physics, chemistry, biology and engineering including impact damage in transportation and buildings, the conditions in many celestial bodies such as black holes and supernovae and in treatment for blast injuries and kidney stones. There is interest in the knowledge of shocks and high pressure conditions in many areas of science and engineering and graduates of the MSc will have wide opportunities to develop research or industrial careers. 

Entry Requirements

The minimum qualification for admission is normally a First class Honours degree in Physics or a relevant scientific discipline from a UK academic institution or an equivalent overseas qualification. Applicants with a second class degree and significant industrial experience may also be considered.

The applicant must also meet the College’s English language requirements which for students outside the English speaking world are: IELTS 6.5 (plus writing and speaking 6.0); TEOFL Internet 100 (plus writing and speaking 24).

Course Overview

These courses provide very able graduates and practitioners with the theoretical knowledge of topics such as fluid mechanics and computational fluid dynamics, allied to a significant amount of subject specific practical work and a broad education in physics.

Students undertake a three month project in the Institute of Shock Physics.

Duration of Course of Study

One full calender year (full-time).

MSc in Physics with Shock Physics Student Handbook 2014/15

Physics with Shock Physics Programme Specification 2014/15

SOLE Student Survey

Curriculum - an exciting programme tailored for you!

Taught Elements

Students on the MSc study six lecture courses. Three of the courses are compulsory: Hydrodynamics and Shock, Background to Shock Physics and Shock Physics in Context. These courses cover the underlying science and mathematics, with computational and experimental exercises to reinforce the taught material. In addition you will follow Advanced Classical Physics, if you have not previously studied the subject. There are also courses on mathematical methods and research skills course on the practical knowledge of interfacing equipment with computers, culminating in a short project.

In the first term you will write a literature review on a topic concerned with shock physics; gather, read and critically analyse the literature in that area and produce a written summary and presentation of that topic.

The Institute of Shock Physics hosts seminars and research presentations from both the academic staff and leading researchers and students on the course will be expected to attend.

The College, via the Graduate School, offers a wide range of professional development courses which are open to MSc students; covering topics such as CV writing and interview techniques as well as academic skills such as report writing.

Research Project

You will carry out your project within the Institute of Shock Physics or its partners. The ISP is a multidisciplinary research centre with world class facilities and engages in research in many areas of physics and engineering. The ISP has links with many research groups and companies in the US and elsewhere. The small number of students on the course will encourage interaction with your supervisor and other research staff and students.

Your research project lasts from June to September, assessed by a 20,000 word dissertation and a journal-style paper.

Employability prospectus / links with industry

The MSc has proved to be ideal preparation for a PhD programme, with many students progressing to further research with leading universities in the UK and abroad.

In addition, the ISP has close links with many major scientific and engineering companies and graduates of the course gain theoretical and practical skills that are in great demand with these companies and with employers in many other areas of business.

How to Apply

 Applications are submitted online. Click here to be taken to the postgraduate applications page.

NB - Students can normally transfer to the MSc in Physics or MSc in Physics with Extended Research in the first six months of the course.

MSc in Shock Physics Syllabus:

Autumn Term Syllabus

Students will take four core courses from the list below, along with the required personal transferable skills sessions that can be chosen from the GSEPS (Graduate School of Engineering and Physical Sciences) course list, see further information:

Introduction to Shock Physics

8 lectures

A short introduction which will be taught in the first week and introduce basic terminology, give a broad overview of the areas to be addressed, indicate where to find information and give the major themes.  This will also allow students the ability to make informed decisions on the courses elements which require them to make decisions as to what to study (i.e. literature review, experimental project).  This course is not examined.

Fundamentals of Shock Physics

25 lectures

This section of the course will include elements of physics, chemistry, materials science, engineering and mathematics.  The elements chosen will be those most relevant to Shock Physics.  Mathematical skills include the ability to move frames of reference (Lagrangian versus Eulerian), chemical knowledge will be centred on reaction dynamics, thermodynamics, materials science such as those factors which affect strength (e.g. dislocations, material processing, shear bands), engineering on the description of stress field in structures and materials and solid state physics.  Learning outcome - familiarity with the broad area of disciplines which feed into shock physics, the relevant areas which will be developed as the course progresses.

Shock Waves in Context

25 lectures plus 20 hours laboratory time

The course will include reference to shock waves in gas, liquid and solids.  The concepts of Rankine-Hugoniot, strain-rate effects and ignition and growth of reaction in energetic materials.  Materials will be treated according to generic types e.g. metals, polymers, ceramics, geological, granular, liquids, explosives, gases, plasmas and high energy density materials.  The methods of high rate experimentation and diagnostics will be brought to the fore.  The use of predictive modelling, for 2 and 3-D scenarios, will be emphasised as will the importance of controlled experimental conditions and the linkage between small-scale studies, large-scale validation and improved models with a physical basis.  Techniques to determine and understand high-rate properties, such as drop-weight, plate impact, iso-static compression, Hopkinson Bars, gauges, velocity interferometry, flash x-ray, moire, speckle, image correlation etc. will be addressed.  The course will also include a significant period in the laboratory, learning how to use these techniques and analyse the data.  Learning outcome - a strong knowledge of the field of shock physics, its basis, the main areas of research, the behaviour of materials at high rates of strain.

Hydrodynamics and Shocks

26 lectures

This course forms part of the level 4 Physics Course options, see full syllabus.

Spring Term Syllabus

Term 2 Spring Term Syllabus

Students will take the following courses and will also prepare a report based on a literature review and production of an initial plan for the proposed research project in the third term:

Current Trends in Shock Studies

25 Lectures

This is a course which will deal with current research areas and address state of the art research and facilities.  Unlike the previous modules, this one will have a number of inputs from a variety of disciplines outside those already mentioned e.g. biochemistry, physiology, astro-physics, geo-physics.  It should be remembered that quarrying, mining and petrochemical industry are the world's largest users of explosives (by a factor of 20:1 compared to all other fields), this links many aspects of shock physics - inert, reactive and granular materials, multi-dimensional modelling and fracture mechanics.  The balance of the course content is informed by a straightforward analysis of conference proceedings and journal publications.  Such an analysis reveals that shock-biophysics is a small but slowly growing area of interest, ballistics is a well established related field with a reasonable level of cross over while granular materials are the focus of much modelling effort given their strongly nonlinear behaviour.  At present the largest fields of interest are into metals (inelastic deformation and spall, microstructural effects), explosives (reaction, detonation, the coupling of detonation pressure to other materials e.g. rocks, as well as the mechanical properties).  High-speed X-ray, laser and pulsed power are the up-and-coming areas for providing the stimulus to materials as well as development of new gauge designs and data interpretation. 

Some of the lecture series will be given by overseas academics and researchers.  In particular staff from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (e.g. Dr D. Hicks) will be involved in the course and will deliver their materials via video- link / video-conference. 

Learning outcome - A good overview of the main active areas of the field and the challenges that remain.  The students should have a strong grasp of the manner in which to apply their knowledge to relevant applications and be able to critically analyse theories and data in this field.

Guest Lecture Series 2011

Elastoplasticity Dr Ron Winter
Hydrocodes and Computational Methods Prof Jerry Chittenden, Imperial College Plasma Physics Group
iSALE and Impact Cratering Dr Gareth Collins, Imperial College Department of Earth Sciences and Engineering
Constitutive Models Peter Gould, Qinetiq
Dynamic Behaviour of Biological Materials Dr Kate Brown, Imperial Blast Biomechanics and Biophysics Group
Project Planning Dr Claire Kennedy MBA
Adiabatic Shear Bands Prof Bradley Dodd
Flywheel and SHPB Prof Jean-Luc Lataillade, Institute of Mechanics and Engineering, France
Shock in Inertial Confinement Fusion Dr Damien Hicks, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA
Constructing a Complete EOS from 1 Bar to GBar Dr Damien Hicks, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA
Shocks at Multimegabar Pressures Prof Rip Collins, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA
Dynamic Friction Dr Stephen Walley, University of Cambridge
Dynamic Strength of Materials Dr Ron Armstrong, University of Maryland, USA
Dynamic Fracture and Spall Prof Gennady Kanel, Russian Academy of Sciences
Radiative Hydrodynamics Prof Steve Rose, Imperial College Plasma Physics Group

Relevant Optional Lecture Courses

In addition, one optional extra course can be selected from the following four:

  • Elasticity and microplasticity of materials
  • Plasma physics
  • Non-linear wave dynamics
  • Turbulence modelling 

Explosives Technology Course

12 hours of lectures and 6 hours practical

A week-long course covering the basics of explosive manufacture, behaviour and use.  Explosive loading is a well established method of producing shock waves.  Explosives are heavily used in a wide variety of civil applications (quarrying, mining, demolition), similarly explosions are a hazard in many chemical industries - small scale studies into such effects require the use of energetic materials.  Therefore a good basic knowledge of these materials is extremely useful.  This course will be off-site and will also act as a cohort-forming activity.  The outcome of this will be an appreciation of, factors such as hot-spot formation, deflagration, detonation, reaction propagation, the versatility but also the hazard and basic legal requirements for explosives usage.

Computing - Modelling and Validation

This is a set of exercises involving the use of computer based modelling and data analysis.  The students will complete set tasks that will address basic areas of materials description, shock transmission, the time-resolution of experimental techniques, the need for multi-instrumented experiments.  Students will be required to submit the results of their exercises, in addition each student wi ll have a task particular to them which will involve the analysis of real data from experiments conducted in the Shock Waves in Context module.  Additional data, for analysis, come from a number of sources, not least being that of the course tutors.

Self-Guided Literature Review

Students will be offered a list of topics (or may suggest their own topic).  The students will then gather, read and critically analyse the literature in that area and produce a 5,000 word summary of that topic.  A half-term meeting with course tutors will take place to ensure progress and also style and content is satisfactory.

Summer Term Syllabus

Students will undertake a 6-month research project, from mid-March to mid-September for the full-time course.  For the part-time course the project will last 18 months.

Project Pre-Planning

Using the resources within the ISP and allied institutions, students will suggest or choose one from a number of research topics.  They will then be required to conduct a brief literature survey to establish the validity of their topic and identify particular aspects they wish to explore.  They will then be required to produce a short (1,000 word) summary, a project plan including a statement of why this project has credibility and also a project costing.  All of these steps are important in any field of research.  Students will also be required to make a 15 minute presentation of their project to their peers and their tutors.


Having performed the pre-planning the students will then embark on their project.  Given the pre-planning study they will have a grasp of the need to move forward and also a good idea of the intellectual content of their project.  The final report of this project will be written in the form of a detailed report of ~20,000 words and a document in the form of a short journal article.  Students will be required to submit 2 monthly progress reports - to flag up progress, and delays or unexpected difficulties - so allowing "in-project" modification of aims.  This feedback system mimics that carried out on most research organisations and will ensure that students emerge with project reports which match the potential of their research.

Proposed Research Projects

Indicative project areas include the following:

Dynamic Compression:

  • Equation of state determination for a variety of materials including off-Hugoniot characterisation.
  • Determination and characterisation of spall and fracture mechanisms.
  • Characterisation of single and multiple shock ejecta from shocked metal surfaces.
  • Determination of compaction behaviour of porous materials.
  • Characterisation of shock driven phase changes and their kinetics.
  • Characterisation of phase diagrams in dynamic regimes.
  • Characterisation of material strength under shock loading.
  • Recovery experiments for shock induced metallurgy.
  • Isentropic compression experiments to Mbar pressures.
  • Investigation of fundamental mechanisms involved in shock to detonation transition.
  • Calibration of pressure sensitive materials subjected to shock loading.
  • Development of advanced diagnostics for shock wave studies.
  • Understanding the effect of microstructure on shock propagation.
  • Pre- and post-shock analysis of material microstructure with optical and electron microscopy and X-ray techniques.
  • Research on hydrodynamic instabilities.

Static High Pressure:

  • Accurate characterisation of static phase diagrams for a variety of materials.
  • Characterise pressure driven phase changes and their kinetics.
  • Development of techniques to measure temperature at high pressures.
  • Development of X-ray diffraction techniques under high pressure-temperature states.
  • Advanced diagnostic development for DAC (diamond anvil cell) studies.

Strength and Damage Testing:

  • Characterisation of the mechanical response of a variety of materials to compression and tensile loading at a range of strain rates.
  • Taylor impact test determination of dynamic strength parameters.
  • Determination of non-shock explosive ignition parameters.
  • Investigation of the effect of material microstructure, processing and ageing on the mechanical response of a variety of materials.
  • Characterisation of the effect of shock loading on the mechanical response of materials and structures at a range of strain rates.

There are a number of facilities at Imperial that will be used to undertake the above projects; these include:

  • MAGPIE and MACH pulsed power facilities in the Department of Physics.
  • Planned new high velocity gas gun facility in the Department of Aeronautics.
  • Computational facilities in the Department of Earth Science and Engineering. 

In addition to the use of facilities at Imperial, it is proposed that projects could also be undertaken at AWE's site as well as partner universities of the Institute of Shock Physics, currently UCL and Cranfield University.  It should be noted, however, that where a project is not taken at Imperial, each student will have a project supervisor from Imperial, as well as a local project supervisor, and there will be regular contact between supervisor and student, including progress reports every two months from the student.

The specific facilities and capabilities supplied by the partners include:

  • AWE: Access to high pressure gas gun equipment and the capability to conduct impact studies on a large range of materials, including metallic materials, ceramics and other materials.
  • Cranfield University: Access to a range of specialist gas gun facilities (both low and high velocity), for impact and stress testing on both inert and energetic materials.
  • UCL: Access to static high pressure equipment involving diamond anvil cells for high pressure studies.