UNSW fundamental science research includes pure mathematics, theoretical physics, and fundamental chemistry.  It is the cornerstone from which all science emerges - a collection of principles that reach across and underpin different domains of research to provide the basis for more applied or technological sciences.

Our research strengths

UNSW Science excels in numerous areas of the fundamental sciences. Our research into pure mathematics (for example algebra, number theory and combinatorics) translates into advances in computer science, cryptography and, of course, quantum mechanics. Our astrophysics projects seek to understand the formation of exoplanets and – grander still – galaxies, including the mechanisms that govern their inexorable growth and transformation. At their roots, these astrophysics projects require machine learning and the statistical methods that fall within the realm of fundamental science. 

In physics and chemistry, our academics are teasing apart the very fabric of reality with their research into dark matter, quantum mechanics and relativity, areas which promise answers to some of humanity’s greatest questions. Our School of Chemistry is engaged in an array of fundamental chemistry, including organic and inorganic, and physical and analytical chemistry. Advances in these fundamentals will lead to the development of new drugs, new energy sources, and chemical catalysts and sensors for countless novel and valuable applications. 

Research impacts

Through the fundamental sciences, UNSW researchers have shed light on the past – studying the evolutionary origins of bacterial movement – as well as shaping the future, with discoveries of how our cellular membranes can accept vaccines, including those with a basis of mRNA. 

And fuelled by maths, we’ve launched satellites into space to study the coverage and density of Antarctic sea ice, witnessing the encroachment of climate change from the lens of climate science and vantage point of space. Working backwards, UNSW mathematicians have uncovered the world’s earliest use of geometry, an entire millennium before the birth of Pythagoras. 


For students interested in the Fundamental Sciences, the options for research are manifold, from undergrad opportunities through to postgrad and beyond. 

  • For students with exceptionally high ATARs, research opportunities are available from the very beginning of your degree with the Talented Students Program. The Talented Students Program gives invitations to certain students, matching them with PhD students or Postdocs based on mutual interests, resulting in an advance taste of research life. This program is available from your first year and is by invitation only. 

  • If, after finishing your undergraduate degree, you are interested in pursuing research, you have two main options: Masters by Research and Honours. By undertaking a Masters by Research at UNSW, you will be working in an environment that includes some of the world’s best thinkers and resources who will provide you with the skills and projects necessary to begin your own original research. The work you do here can also help you apply for a PhD. 

    Degree options include: 

  • By choosing a PhD in fundamental sciences, you are choosing to embark on research of your own, contributing unique insights and knowledge to the world and advancing science at its most fundamental scale. As well as providing original insights, a PhD in fundamental sciences will demand a written thesis, conferring in you the writing skills needed for a flourishing research career. 

    PhD options include:

    Perhaps the most crucial step in any PhD is the selection of both study area and supervisor, the academic who will help and guide you to fulfill the potential of your research and thesis.