Undergraduate Program

The Department of Astrophysical Sciences offers an outstanding program for Astrophysics majors, with the flexibility to accommodate students with a broad range of interests. Many of our majors continue in graduate school in Astrophysics at top programs around the country and the world. For students with career goals in other areas such as science education, science policy, space exploration, as well as law, medicine, finance, and teaching, we offer a flexible choice of courses and research projects. The department covers all major fields in Astrophysics—from planets, to black holes, stars, galaxies, quasars, dark matter, dark energy, and the evolution of the Universe from the Big Bang to today. The relatively small size of the department provides an informal, flexible, and friendly setting for students. The department is known for providing strong and supportive mentorship to all students, for cutting-edge independent research done by students for their Independent Research Work, as well as for its warm and amiable atmosphere. Full accessibility to all faculty members and to the excellent departmental facilities, including our on-campus and remote telescopes and sophisticated computer system, is provided.

Our Undergraduate Program consists of two main components: Required upper-level courses in Astrophysics, Physics, and other science or math courses (a minimum of eight upper-level courses in total); and Independent Research work (two Junior Papers and one Senior Thesis). The curricular learning goals for our Majors are to provide our students with cutting-edge educational and research experience in the broad field of Astrophysics, and equip them with skills such as quantitative reasoning, problem solving, data analysis, statistical analysis, observational methods, theoretical modeling, computational methods and algorithms, and the training to carry out independent research in various fields of Astrophysics.  This is of course in addition to learning the broad field of Astrophysics itself, from planets, to stars, galaxies, and the Universe as a whole.  Our Astrophysics Program has been ranked one of the top in the country.

Our department reviews and adjusts our program on a regular basis based on discussions at faculty meetings and through various reviews including our annual Advisory Committee meeting, our own long-range planning meetings, and other reviews.  We -- especially the Director of Undergraduate Studies -- also discuss and review our program with our Majors on a regular basis, at least annually.  

Program of Study

Every student majoring in Astrophysical Sciences will acquire the necessary training in Astrophysics by taking at least three Astrophysics courses at the 300 or 400 level, which include Stars and Star Formation, Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology, Research Methods in Astrophysics, and General Relativity.  In addition to these courses, departmental students are required to take courses in the Department of Physics that provide basic training in Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Electromagnetic Theory, and other relevant topics.  Prerequisite courses for the Major include Freshmen and Sophomore Physics (PHY103-104 or 105-106, and 207), Math (Calculus, Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra). and introductory Astrophysics (AST 204: Topics in Modern Astronomy).

Independent Work

Junior Year. In addition to the course work taken during junior year, each student carries out two junior independent research projects, one each semester. Each project is on a research topic of current interest, carried out under close supervision of a faculty adviser who is doing research in this area. The student completes each term's independent work by submitting a written paper. The research projects can involve data analysis using astronomical data from our telescopes, including data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey—a unique three-dimensional map of the universe—and the Hyper Suprime-Cam Survey with the Subaru telescope, as well as data from other national and international facilities such as the Hubble Space Telescope. Similarly, theoretical and computational projects in Astrophysics are available. The topics, to be selected jointly by the student and their adviser, can range from areas such as cosmology and the early universe, to galaxy formation, to large-scale structure of the universe, quasars, black holes, stars, extra-solar planets, high-energy astrophysics, and plasma astrophysics. Interdisciplinary projects, including astronomy and education, science policy, planetary science, astrobiology, space science exploration, and more are possible.

Senior Year. In senior year, in addition to course work, students carry out an extensive research project with a faculty adviser for their senior thesis. The thesis is completed by submitting a final written paper summarizing the work. There is a wide range of observational and theoretical topics available, including interdisciplinary projects as discussed above. The senior thesis work is frequently published as part of a scientific paper in an Astrophysical journal. After the thesis has been completed and read by the adviser and an additional faculty member, the student presents an oral summary of the work, followed by an oral defense of the thesis.

More detailed description of the Junior Projects, Senior Theses, and their goals and assessment are provided in a separate document.

Senior Departmental Examination

The thesis work and the oral defense, combined with a brief oral examination on general topics in Astrophysics, constitute the senior departmental examination.

Preparation for Graduate Study

The undergraduate program provides an excellent preparation for graduate study in Astrophysics, with concentrators frequently accepted at top graduate schools in the country.

Director of Undergraduate Studies

Neta A. Bahcall, Eugene Higgins Professor of Astronomy

Neta Bahcall with Undergradute Students circa 2016
Neta with Graduating Seniors

Office Location:
137 Peyton Hall
Campus Phone: 609-258-6065
Voice Mailbox: 86065
Campus Fax: 609-258-8226
E-mail: Neta Bahcall