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Part III Options: Interdisciplinary courses

IDP1: Atmospheric Chemistry and Global Change

This course is hosted by and based in the Department of Chemistry

Prof. John Pyle, Prof. Markus Kalberer, Dr Schmidt and others

This course looks at global change from the perspective of atmospheric composition and its linkage to the climate system. Issues covered include the fundamental photochemical and dynamical processes which control atmospheric composition and structure, and how they would differ in a modified climate. The course is designed to complement the material covered in Course I2 The Earth System and Climate Change, although either course can be taken independently. The course will be lectured and examined in a way that assumes no prior knowledge for those taking the course. Examination questions will be based on both core and specialist lectures.

Core lectures (12)

Atmospheric composition and structure. Stratospheric and tropospheric chemical processes.

Climate change.

Major stratospheric catalytic cycles of NOx, HOx, ClOx and BrOx. Atmospheric aerosol and heterogeneous chemistry. Ozone depletion in the Antarctic, Arctic and middle latitudes. Future O3 trends.

Tropospheric ozone and tropospheric oxidation processes, including the importance of the OH radical. The ozone balance - the role of NOx and hydrocarbons.

Past climates – how this influenced the composition of past atmospheres and what they can tell us about future changes.

Greenhouse gases. Radiative balance. Climate change and the links between atmospheric chemistry and climate.

Specialist lectures

The impact of volcanic eruptions on the atmosphere and climate. (Dr Marie Edmonds, EarthSciences)

Ice cores and global change (Prof. Eric Wolff, Earth Sciences)

The Role of aerosols in climate (Dr Michael Herzog, Geography)

The carbon cycle (Dr Andrew Friend, Geography)

Recommended books

R. P. Wayne, Chemistry of Atmospheres, Third Edition (2000), OUP. [QC879.6.W39]
G. P. Brasseur, J. J. Orlando and G. S. Tyndall, Atmospheric Chemistry and Global Change, (1999),
OUP. [QC879.6.A86]
T. E. Graedel and P. J. Crutzen, Atmospheric Change - An Earth System Perspective, (1993) W. H.
Freeman and Co (New York). [QC981.8.G73]
B. J. Finlayson-Pitts and J. N. Pitts, Jr Chemistry of the upper and lower atmosphere, Academic Press.
D. J. Jacob, Introduction to Atmospheric Chemistry, (2004) Princeton University Press. [QC879.6.J33]

The following two items contains useful introductory material:
J. T. Houghton, Global warming, the complete briefing, (2004), CUP. [QC981.8.G56.H68] International Panel on Climate Change.

IDP2: Evolution of Earth’s climate: what controls and regulates surface CO2 over geological time?

This course is hosted by and based in the Department of Earth Sciences

Dr Alexandra Turchyn

This course will explore the various processes that have led to changes in Earth’s climate over the last 300 million years. Over long time scales, the amount of carbon at Earth’s surface varies as a function of the exchange of carbon between the surface and the mantle.  Feedbacks exist that allow the planet to remain habitable, within a narrow temperature range, over geological time.  That said, there are greenhouse and ice house episodes and understanding how Earth’s has survived and tranisitioned between these is key for understanding how Earth will respond under increased pCO2 over the coming centuries through anthropogenic global warming.  The course will take a holistic view, understanding how climate changes over geological time and what the various processes at Earth’s surface are important in this context. It is beneficial if students have had the 1A Earth Sciences Course through the NST, but it is not compulsory, and can be enjoyed by physicists, chemists, and material scientists regardless.

Lectures (14)

The course will address the following questions:

  • How have Carbon Dioxide concentrations varied over geological time?
  • How does the carbon cycle over short and long time scales differ? What are the fundamental controls on the fluxes of carbon among various reservoirs on Earth?
  • What feedbacks exist within Earth’s surface environment to survive perturbations to the climate system?
  • When have we had greenhouse and icehouse conditions at Earth’s surface?
  • What models exist for understanding the transition from greenhouse to icehouse conditions?
  • Short term perturbations to Earth’s climate system, with a lecture each on the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal maximum, the K/T boundary, Cretaceous Ocean anoxic events, and the Permo-Triassic boundary. How does the planet return to normal after a jolt to the system? When is life affected by this?
  • Comparative planetology, why things are different on Mars and Venus?

Specialist lectures

Chemical weathering fluxes and global CO2 (Two lectures, lectures 2 and 3, Dr. Ed Tipper)

Recommended book to read before the course:

How to Build a Habitable Planet, by Wally Broecker and Charles Langmuir


IDP3: Renewable energy: concepts, materials, and device physics

This course is given by the Department of Physics

Felix Deschler, Siân Dutton, Akshay Rao

This interdisciplinary course looks at the physical concepts and challenges concerning energy generation, storage and use. The course aims to develop knowledge of the basic physical principles governing renewable energy materials and devices. It will develop skills in using simple quantitative estimates for a wide range of renewable energy problems to give a fact-based approach the energy questions. Only IA-level physics is a prerequisite; those who have experience of solid-state physics will find some parts of the course more straightforward, but the material will be taught and examined such that no prior knowledge in this area is required.

Energy requirements and energy use

  • Energy cost of transport of people and freight.
  • Exergy and exergy efficiency.
  • Lighting
  • Computing

Alternatives to fossil fuels

  • Intro to the science of climate change
  • Availability of renewable energy
  • nuclear, wind, geothermal, solar, wave, tide – scale required
  • Energy density: Petrol, coal, biofuel, hydro, nuclear

Energy Transmission

  • AC vs DC electricity
  • Pipelines
  • Heat engines, heat pumps, ACs

Semiconductor Crash Course

  • Semiconductor electronic structure
  • Tight-binding band structure.
  • Optical properties (direct and indirect gaps, excitons)
  • Interaction with light. Excitons. Electrons and holes.
  • Doping.

Solar Energy – 1 - How nature powers the biosphere

  • Structure and optoelectronic operation.
  • Charge separation and recombination.
  • Efficiency.
  • Solar Fuels including hydrogen

Solar Energy – 2 – Manufactured solutions

  • Solar concentration
  • Solar thermal
  • The p-n junction.
  • PV devices operation

Solar Energy – 3 – Next generation technologies

  • Electrical properties; silicon, III-V semiconductors, 2D semiconductors and heterostructures.
  • Si, Perovskites, III-Vs
  • Tandems, MEG etc.

Electrochemistry Crash Course

  • Galvanic cells and electrodes
  • Half and full cell reactions
  • Charge transport
  • Potentials and thermodynamics – relationship to structure

Energy Storage - 1

  • Requirements and specifications
  • Metrics – energy density, power density, rate capacity
  • Fly wheels, pumped, electrochemical, chemical and comparison with fossil fuels and back of the envelope calculations

Energy Storage – 2

  • Electrochemical energy storage
  • Batteries – lead acid, Li-ion and beyond
  • Supercapacitors

Energy Storage - 3

  • Fuel cells. principles of operation, materials challenges
  • Hydrogen storage, materials challenges
  • Hydrogen vs. electric vehicles.

Recommended books

Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air, Mackay D J C (UIT Cambridge 2009)
The Physics of Solar Cells, Nelson J (Imperial 2003)
Molecular Mechanisms of Photosynthesis, Blankenship R E (Blackwell 2002)
Modern Batteries, Colin Vincent and Bruno Scrosati, Arnold, 2nd Edition (1997)


A total of 3 supervisions will be offered, in groups of up to 10.