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Undergraduate course listings (100-400 level); Graduate courses (500 and above)


AST 203
The Universe
This course, whose subject matter covers the entire universe, targets the frontiers of modern astrophysics. Topics include the planets of our solar system; the search for extrasolar planets and extraterrestrial life and intelligence; the birth, life, and death of stars; black holes; the zoo of galaxies and their evolution; the Big Bang and the expanding universe; and dark matter, dark energy, and the large-scale structure of the universe. This course is designed for the non-science major and has no prerequisites past high school algebra and geometry. High school physics would be useful, but is not required.  Offered every spring.
AST 204
Topics in Modern Astronomy
The solar system and planets around other stars; the structure and evolution of stars; supernovae, neutron stars, and black holes; gravitational waves; the interstellar matter; the formation and structure of galaxies; cosmology, dark matter, dark energy, and the history of the entire universe. Compared to AST 203, this course employs more mathematics and physics. Intended for quantitatively-oriented students.  Offered every spring.
AST 205
Planets in the Universe
This is an introductory course in astronomy focusing on planets in our Solar System, and around other stars (exoplanets). First we review the formation, evolution and properties of the Solar system. Following an introduction to stars, we then discuss the exciting new field of exoplanets; discovery methods, earth-like planets, and extraterrestrial life. Core values of the course are quantitative analysis and hands-on experience, including telescopic observations. This SEN course is designed for the non-science major and has no prerequisites past high school algebra and geometry.  Offered every fall.
AST 206 / PHY 206
Black Holes
Black holes are amazing: so much mass is contained in such a small region of space that nothing, not even light, can escape. In this class, we will learn to understand what black holes are, and (equally importantly) what they are not (sorry, science fiction!). We will grapple with the seeming simplicity of black holes and their weirdness. We will also study how black holes are discovered and how they give rise to some of the most astonishing phenomena in the Universe. We will cover concepts at the forefront of modern astronomy and physics and highlight the power of quantitative thinking (algebra only) and the scientific method.  Offered every spring.
AST 250
Space Physics Laboratory I (Non-credit)
The Space Physics Laboratory course sequence provides undergraduates at all levels the opportunity to participate in a laboratory developing NASA space flight instrumentation. The courses teach space physics laboratory skills, including ultrahigh vacuum, space instrument cleanroom, mechanical, electrical, and other laboratory skills, which then allow students to propose and carry out a significant group research project in the Laboratory. The sequence comprises two semesters with AST 250 as a prerequisite for AST 251, a credit bearing (P/F) course.  Offered every fall.
AST 251
Space Physics Laboratory II
The Space Physics Laboratory course provides undergraduates at all levels the opportunity to participate in a laboratory developing NASA space flight instrumentation. The courses teach space physics laboratory skills, including ultrahigh vacuum, space instrument cleanroom, mechanical, electrical, and other laboratory skills, which then allow students to propose and carry out a significant group research project in the Laboratory. The class sequence comprises two semesters with AST 250 as a prerequisite for AST 251, a credit bearing (P/F) course.  Offered every spring.
AST 255 / CHM 255 / GEO 255
Life in the Universe
This course introduces students to a new field, Astrobiology, where scientists trained in biology, chemistry, astrophysics and geology combine their skills to investigate life's origins and to seek extraterrestrial life. Topics include: the origin of life on earth,the prospects of life on Mars, Europa, Titan, Enceladues and extra-solar planets, as well as the cosmological setting for life and the prospects for SETI. 255 is the core course for the planets and life certificate.  Offered every other fall, odd years.
AST 301 / PHY 321
General Relativity
An introduction to general relativity and its astrophysical applications, including black holes, cosmological expansion, and gravitational waves.  Offered every other fall, odd years.
AST 303
Deciphering the Universe: Research Methods in Astrophysics
How do we observe and model the universe? We discuss the wide range of observational tools available to the modern astronomer: from space-based gamma ray telescopes, to globe-spanning radio interferometry, to optical telescopes and particle detectors. We review basic statistics and introduce students to techniques used in analysis and interpretation of modern data sets containing millions of galaxies, quasars and stars, as well as the numerical methods used by theoretical astrophysicists to model these data. The course is problem-set-based and aims to provide students with tools needed for independent research in astrophysics.  Offered every other fall, even years.
AST 309 / MAE 309 / PHY 309 / ENE 309
The Science of Fission and Fusion Energy
Power from the nucleus offers a low-carbon source of electricity. Fission power is well developed, but carries risks associated with safety, waste, and nuclear weapons proliferation. Fusion energy research, which presents less such risk, is making important scientific progress and progress towards commercialization. We will study the scientific underpinnings of both of these energy sources, strengthening your physical insight and exercising your mathematical and computational skills. We will also ask ourselves the thorny ethical questions scientists should confront as they contribute to the development of new technologies.  Offered every spring.
GEO 320 / AST 320 / PHY 320
Introduction to Earth and Planetary Physics
What makes Earth habitable? How have we unraveled the mysteries of planetary interiors? Using a physics-centered approach, we'll explore a range of captivating subjects in earth and planetary science, including the origin of solar systems, tectonic plates, mantle convection, earthquakes, and volcanoes. You will learn methods to study the inner structures and dynamics of planets, not just Earth, but also celestial neighbors like Mars, Venus, Mercury, the Moon, and even exoplanets.  Offered every spring.
AST 401 / PHY 401
A general review of extragalactic astronomy and cosmology. Topics include the properties and nature of galaxies, clusters of galaxies, superclusters, the large-scale structure of the universe, evidence for the existence of Dark Matter and Dark Energy, the expanding Universe, the early Universe, Microwave Background radiation, Einstein Equations, Inflation, and the formation and evolution of structure.  Offered every other spring, even years.
AST 403 / PHY 402
Stars and Star Formation
Stars form from interstellar gas, and eventually return material to the interstellar medium (ISM). Nuclear fusion powers stars, and is also the main energy source in the ISM. This course discusses the structure and evolution of the ISM and of stars. Topics include: physical properties and methods for studying ionized, atomic, and molecular gas in the ISM; dynamics of magnetized gas flows and turbulence; gravitational collapse and star formation; the structure of stellar interiors; production of energy by nucleosynthesis; stellar evolution and end states; the effects of stars on the interstellar environment.  Offered every other spring, odd years.
SML 505 / AST 505
Modern Statistics
The course provides an introduction to modern statistics and data analysis. It addresses the question, "What should I do if these are my data and this is what I want to know"? The course adopts a model based, largely Bayesian, approach. It introduces the computational means and software packages to explore data and infer underlying parameters from them. An emphasis will be put on streamlining model specification and evaluation by leveraging probabilistic programming frameworks. The topics are exemplified by real-world applications drawn from across the sciences.
APC 524 / MAE 506 / AST 506
Software Engineering for Scientific Computing
The goal of this course is to teach basic tools and principles of writing good code, in the context of scientific computing. Specific topics include an overview of relevant compiled and interpreted languages, build tools and source managers, design patterns, design of interfaces, debugging and testing, profiling and improving performance, portability, and an introduction to parallel computing in both shared memory and distributed memory environments. The focus is on writing code that is easy to maintain and share with others. Students will develop these skills through a series of programming assignments and a group project.
AST 513
Dynamics of Stellar and Planetary Systems
Review of hamiltonian mechanics and potential theory. Planetary systems: current surveys and statistics; keplerian elements; restricted 3-body problem; disturbing functions; secular approximations; resonance; tidal effects. Stellar systems: collisionless equilibira and stability; spiral density waves; dynamical frictions and dynamical relaxation; structure of the Galaxy; current surveys; the Galactic Center.
AST 514
Structure of the Stars
Theoretical and numerical analysis of the structure of stars and their evolution. Topics include a survey of the physical process important for stellar interiors (equation of state, nuclear reactions, transport phenomena); and the integrated properties of stars and their evolution.
AST 517
Diffuse Matter in Space
The astrophysics of the interstellar medium: theory and observations of the gas, dust, plasma, energetic particles, magnetic field, and electromagnetic radiation in interstellar space. Emphasis is on theory, including elements of: fluid dynamics; excitation of atoms, molecules, and ions; radiative processes; radiative transfer; and physical properties of dust grains. The theory is applied to phenomena including: interstellar clouds (both diffuse atomic clouds and dense molecular clouds); H II regions; shock waves; supernova remnants; cosmic rays; interstellar dust; star formation; and global equilibrium models for the ISM.
AST 520
High Energy Astrophysics
Selected astrophysical applications of electrodynamics, special and general relativity, nuclear and particle physics. Topics may include synchrotron radiation, comptonization, orbits and accretion in black-hole metrics, radio sources, cosmic rays, and neutrino astrophysics.
AST 521
Introduction to Plasma Astrophysics
Introductory course to plasma physics, as it applies to space and astrophysical systems. Fundamental concepts are developed with mathematical rigor, and application to the physics of a wide variety of astrophysical systems are made. Topics include magnetohydrodynamics, kinetic theory, waves, instabilities, and turbulence. Applications to the physics of the solar wind and corona, the intracluster medium of galaxy clusters, the interstellar medium of galaxies, and a wide variety of accretion flows are given.
AST 522
Extragalactic Astronomy
This course is an overview of cosmology and extragalactic astronomy at the graduate level, with an emphasis on the connection between theoretical ideas and observational data. The Big Bang model and the standard cosmological model are emphasized, as well as the properties and evolution of galaxies, quasars, and the intergalactic medium.
APC 523 / AST 523 / MAE 507 / CSE 523
Numerical Algorithms for Scientific Computing
A broad introduction to numerical algorithms used in scientific computing. The course begins with a review of the basic principles of numerical analysis, including sources of error, stability, and convergence. The theory and implementation of techniques for linear and nonlinear systems of equations and ordinary and partial differential equations are covered in detail. Examples of the application of these methods to problems in engineering and the sciences permeate the course material. Issues related to the implementation of efficient algorithms on modern high-performance computing systems are discussed.
AST 541
Seminar in Theoretical Astrophysics
Designed to stimulate students in the pursuit of research. Participants in this seminar discuss critically papers given by seminar members. Ordinarily, several staff members also participate. Often topics are drawn from published data that present unsolved puzzles of interpretation.
AST 542
Seminar in Observational Astrophysics: Current Research Topics in Astrophysics
Students will present talks and discussion on select topics in Astrophysics and Cosmology.
AST 551 / MAE 525
General Plasma Physics I
An introductory course to plasma physics, with sample applications in fusion, space and astrophysics, semiconductor etching, microwave generation, plasma propulsion, high power laser propagation in plasma; characterization of the plasma state, Debye shielding, plasma and cyclotron frequencies, collision rates and mean-free paths, atomic processes, adiabatic invariance, orbit theory, magnetic confinement of single-charged particles, two-fluid description, magnetohydrodynamic waves and instabilities, heat flow, diffusion, kinetic description, and Landau damping. The course may be taken by undergraduates with permission of the instructor.
AST 552
General Plasma Physics II
This is an introductory graduate course in plasma physics, focusing on magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) and its extension to weakly collisional or collisionless plasmas. Topics to be covered include: the equations of MHD and extended MHD, the structure of magnetic fields, static and rotating MHD equilibria and their stability, magnetic reconnection, MHD turbulence, and the dynamo effect. Applications are drawn from fusion, heliophysical, and astrophysical plasmas.
AST 553
Plasma Waves and Instabilities
Hydrodynamic and kinetic models of nonmagnetized and magnetized plasma dispersion; basic plasma waves and their applications; basic instabilities; mechanisms of collisionless dissipation; geometrical-optics approximation; conservation laws and transport equations for the wave action, energy, and momentum; mode conversion; quasilinear theory.
AST 554
Irreversible Processes in Plasmas
Introduction to theory of fluctuations and transport in plasma. Origins of irreversibility. Random walks, Brownian motion, and diffusion; Langevin and Fokker-Planck theory. Fluctuation-dissipation theorem; test-particle superposition principle. Statistical closure problem. Derivation of kinetic equations from BBGKY hierarchy and Klimontovich formalism; properties of plasma collision operators. Classical transport coefficients in magnetized plasmas; Onsager symmetry. Introduction to plasma turbulence, including quasilinear theory. Applications to current problems in plasma research.
AST 555
Fusion Plasmas & Plasma Diagnostics
Introduction to experimental plasma physics, with emphasis on high-temperature plasmas for fusion. Requirements for fusion plasmas: confinement, beta, power and particle exhaust. Discussion of tokamak fusion and alternative magnetic and inertial confinement systems. Status of experimental understanding: what we know and how we know it. Key plasma diagnostic techniques: magnetic measurements, Langmuir probes, microwave techniques, spectroscopic techniques, electron cyclotron emission, Thomson scattering.
APC 503 / AST 557
Analytical Techniques in Differential Equations
Asymptotic methods, Dominant balance, ODEs: initial and Boundary value problems, Wronskian, Green's functions, Complex Variables: Cauchy's theorem, Taylor and Laurent expansions, Approximate Solution of Differential Equations, singularity type, Series expansions. Asymptotic Expansions. Stationary Phase, Saddle Points, Stokes phenomena. WKB Theory: Stokes constants, Airy function, Derivation of Heading's rules, bound states, barrier transmission. Asymptotic evaluation of integrals, Laplace's method, Stirling approximation, Integral representations, Gamma function, Riemann zeta function. Boundary Layer problems, Multiple Scale Analysis
AST 558
Seminar in Plasma Physics
Advances in experimental and theoretical studies or laboratory and naturally-occurring high-temperature plasmas, including stability and transport, nonlinear dynamics and turbulence, magnetic reconnection, selfheating of "burning" plasmas, and innovative concepts for advanced fusion systems. Advances in plasma applications, including laser-plasma interactions, nonneutral plasmas, high-intensity accelerators, plasma propulsion, plasma processing, and coherent electromagnetic wave generation.
AST 559 / APC 539
Turbulence and Nonlinear Processes in Fluids and Plasmas
A comprehensive introduction to the theory of nonlinear phenomena in fluids and plasmas, with emphasis on turbulence and transport. Experimental phenomenology; fundamental equations, including Navier-Stokes, Vlasov, and gyrokinetic; numerical simulation techniques, including pseudo-spectral and particle-in-cell methods; coherent structures; transition to turbulence; statistical closures, including the wave kinetic equation and direct-interaction approximation; PDF methods and intermittency; variational techniques. Applications from neutral fluids, fusion plasmas, and astrophysics.
AST 560
Computational Methods in Plasma Physics
Analysis of methods for the numerical solution of the partial differential equations of plasma physics, including those of elliptic, parabolic, hyperbolic, and eigenvalue type. Topics include finite difference, finite element, spectral, particle-in-cell, Monte Carlo, moving grid, and multiple-time-scale techniques, applied to the problems of plasma equilibrium, transport and stability. Basic parallel programming concepts are discussed.
AST 562
Laboratory in Plasma Physics
Develop skills, knowledge, and understanding of basic and advanced laboratory techniques used to measure the properties and behavior of plasmas. Representative experiments are: cold-cathode plasma formation and architecture; ambipolar diffusion in afterglow plasmas; Langmuir probe measurements of electron temperature and plasma density; period doubling and transitions to chaos in glow discharges; optical spectroscopy for species identification; microwave interferometry and cavity resonances for plasma density determination; and momentum generated by a plasma thruster.

MAE 522/ AST 564
 Applications of Quantum Mechanics to Spectroscopy and Lasers

An intermediate-level course in applications of quantum mechanics to modern spectroscopy. The course begins with an introduction to quantum mechanics as a "tool" for atomic and molecular spectroscopy, followed by a study of atomic and molecular spectra, radiative, and collisional transitions, with the final chapters dedicated to plasma and flame spectroscopic and laser diagnostics. Prerequisite: one semester of quantum mechanics.
MAE 528/ AST 566 - Physics of Plasma Propulsion Focus of this course is on fundamental processes in plasma thrusters for spacecraft propulsion with emphasis on recent research findings. Start with a review of the fundamentals of mass, momentum & energy transport in collisional plasmas, wall effects, & collective (wave) effects, & derive a generalized Ohm's law useful for discussing various plasma thruster concepts. Move to detailed discussions of the acceleration & dissipation mechanisms in Hall thrusters, magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters, pulsed plasma thrusters, & inductive plasma thrusters, & derive expressions for the propulsive efficiencies of each of these concepts.
AST 568
Introduction to Classical and Neoclassical Transport and Confinement
The first half of this course intends to provide students with a systematic development of the fundamentals of gyrokinetic (GK) theory, and the second half provides students with an introduction to transport and confinement in magnetically confined plasmas.