Nuffield Advanced Physics 1965

Organisers: Paul Black and Jon Ogborn (1960s and 1970s), John Harris (1980s), and Mary Whitehouse (1990s)

The organisers built a course that would reveal the structure of physics: the kinds of arguments physicist use, and the kinds of problems they tackle. They sacrificed a wide acquaintance with many ideas for a deeper understanding of a few ideas.

The team wanted young people to become more thoughtful. In physics the ability to think effectively depends on having some rather definite skills and knowledge, including some mathematical understanding. The course showed that physics is useful, and illustrated the kinds of impact which discoveries in physics have had on the way people live.

Justin Marston

Novel features

Originally the course featured a systems approach to electronics so students could do some engineering.

The electromagnetic waves unit ended with a brief look at relativity – for interest, and to show how new and fundamental questions can arise from seemingly innocent ideas. The waves and particles unit hinted at the scope of wave mechanics.

The ‘Change and chance' unit was based on a creative approach to statistical thermodynamics which used very little mathematics. The approach was taken over by Nuffield Advanced Chemistry under the slogan 'Molecules don't care', and later was also adopted by Salters Advanced Chemistry.


The team worked with the Oxford & Cambridge Board to come up with a subtle assessment scheme, well-matched to the aims of the course.


Nuffield Advanced Physics was challenging and only adopted by 16% of schools and colleges at its height. In the 1990s the Institute of Physics Advancing Physics project took over from Nuffield Advanced Physics.


There were many publications in the first edition, including small students’ book and teachers’ guide for each of ten units. The student books contained lots of questions. The second edition (1985) rationalised the publications, providing one student guide for each year of the course, with more help for students.