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Natural Sciences Physical

What is the Natural Sciences Tripos?

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 Natural Scientists chose from Chemistry, Materials Science, Earth Sciences, 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. Some students, having tried a new subject like Earth Sciences in first year decide to explore that subject in greater depth, choosing for instance Earth Sciences A and B.

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.

Why Study Physical Natural Sciences at Corpus?

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. In 2017, one of our Honorary Fellows and former PhD student Richard Henderson won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on using the technique of cryo-electron microscopy to study biomolecules.

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 stretch and challenge our students. 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, and many have gone on to do PhD degrees inspired by their summer projects!

What do we look for?

Unlike most colleges, 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. All applicants have to register for the pre-interview Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA). 

Candidates for NSTP should have A Levels/IB Higher Levels in at least two science/mathematics subjects, although three is considered a distinct advantage. One of these A Levels (or equivalent) must be mathematics, and another must be one of physics,chemistry or further mathematics. See also the Part IA paper descriptions for specific subject requirements for the Year 1 options

On the basis of the interview conditional offers will be made to successful candidates: usually A*A*A, IB 41-42 with 776 in HL subjects, or the equivalent. STEP conditions are rarely used at Corpus for Natural Sciences. One or more of these A* grades will usually be achieved in Mathematics, and we sometimes ask for an A* in a particular science subject. 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.

Prof. Warner has prepared some detailed 'insider advice' for scientists on how to get in to Cambridge, or another competitive university, which you can download from the menu on the right.


Meet our Fellows

Watch the video below to learn more about the research of Dr. Jenny Zhang, one of the Directors of Study in Chemisty at Corpus.