Department of Astrophysical Sciences
David N. Spergel
Nathaniel J. Fisch (Plasma Physics)
Michael A. Strauss (Astronomy)
Neta A. Bahcall
Director of Graduate Studies
Nathaniel J. Fisch (Plasma Physics)
Jenny E. Greene (Astronomy)
Neta A. Bahcall
Adam S. Burrows
Christopher F. Chyba, also Woodrow Wilson School
Bruce T. Draine
J. Richard Gott III
Eve C. Ostriker
David N. Spergel
James M. Stone, also Applied and Computational Mathematics
Michael A. Strauss
Edwin L. Turner
Gáspár A. Bakos
Jenny E. Greene
Matthew W. Kunz
Michael D. Lemonick
N. Jeremy Kasdin, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Lyman A. Page Jr., Physics
Suzanne T. Staggs, Physics
Paul J. Steinhardt, Physics
Robert J. Vanderbei, Operations Research and Financial Engineering
Nathaniel J. Fisch
Robert J. Goldston
Stewart C. Prager
Lecturer with Rank of Professor
Samuel A. Cohen
Gregory W. Hammett
John A. Krommes
Richard P. Majeski
Allan H. Reiman
William M. Tang
Ilya I. Dodin
Philip C. Efthimion
Edgar Y. Choueiri, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Szymon Suckewer, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
The Department of Astrophysical Sciences offers a comprehensive program for astrophysics majors with the flexibility to accommodate students with a broad range of interests. Many of our majors plan to continue in graduate school in astrophysics. 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. Strong and supportive mentorship are provided to all students. 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.
Mathematics 201, 202 or equivalent, and Physics 205 or 207; Astrophysical Sciences 204 is strongly recommended.
Students interested in early concentration in astrophysics should contact the departmental representative.
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. In addition to these courses, departmental students will take courses in the Department of Physics that provide basic training in mechanics, quantum mechanics, electromagnetic theory, and other relevant topics.
Junior Year. In addition to the course work carried out during the 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 will complete 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 from 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 his/her adviser, can range from areas such as cosmology and the early universe, to galaxy formation, large-scale structure of the universe, quasars, black holes, stars, and planetary astrophysics. Interdisciplinary projects, including astronomy and education, science policy, planetary science, astrobiology, space science exploration, and more are possible.
Senior Year. In the 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 the 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.
The thesis work and the oral defense, combined with a brief oral examination on general topics in astrophysics, compose the senior departmental examination.
The undergraduate program in the department provides an excellent preparation for graduate study in astrophysics, with concentrators frequently accepted at the top graduate schools in the country.
Additional Courses: See Course Offerings, especially for courses offered on a one-time-only basis.
AST 203 The Universe Spring QR
This specially designed course targets the frontier of modern astrophysics. Subjects include the planets of our solar system; the birth, life, and death of stars; the search for extrasolar planets and extraterrestrial life; the zoo of galaxies from dwarfs to giants, from starbursts to quasars; dark matter and the large-scale structure of the universe; Einstein's special and general theory of relativity, black holes, neutron stars, and big bang cosmology. 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. A. Spitkovsky, C. Chyba
AST 204 Topics in Modern Astronomy Spring STN
The birth and evolution of the stars; supernovae, neutron stars, and black holes; the formation, structure, and evolution of galaxies; cosmology, dark matter, dark energy, and the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang to today. Prerequisites: PHY 103 or 105 and MAT 103 or 104 or equivalent. Intended for students in the sciences. , E. Ostriker Staff
AST 205 Planets in the Universe Fall STN
This is an introductory course in astronomy focusing on planets in our Solar System, and around other stars (exoplanets). The course starts with reviewing the formation, evolution and characterization of the Solar system. Following an introduction to stars, the course will then discuss the exciting new field of exoplanets; discovery methods, basic properties, earth-like planets, and extraterrestrial life. Core values of the course are quantitative analysis and hands-on experience, including telescopic observations. This STN course is designed for the non-science major and has no prerequisites past high school algebra and geometry. G. Bakos
AST 207 A Guided Tour of the Solar System (see GEO 207)
AST 255A Life in the Universe (see GEO 255A)
AST 255B Life in the Universe (see GEO 255B)
AST 301 General Relativity (also PHY 321) Fall STN
This is an introductory course in general relativity for undergraduates. Topics include the early universe, black holes, cosmic strings, worm holes, and time travel. Two 90-minute lectures. Prerequisites: MAT 201, 202; PHY 207, 208. Designed for science and engineering majors. J. Goodman
AST 303 Modeling and Observing the Universe: Research Methods in Astrophysics Not offered this year
Introduces students to the techniques that astrophysicists use to model and observe the universe. The course will prepare students in research methods that will be used in their independent work in astrophysics. The techniques covered will be useful for students concentrating in any of the natural sciences. Topics include methods of observational astronomy, instruments and telescopes, statistical modeling of data, and numerical techniques. Two 90-minute lectures. Prerequisites: PHY 103-104, or PHY 105-106, and MAT 103-104, or permission of instructor. M. Strauss
AST 309 Science and Technology of Nuclear Energy: Fission and Fusion (also MAE 309/PHY 309/ENE 309) Spring
Concern about climate change and improved operation of nuclear fission power plants are creating the potential for a 'renaissance' of nuclear fission power. The recent international agreement to construct a major fusion energy experiment ITER to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion is increasing interest in the practical application of fusion power. This course introduces the history, science, technology, and economics of both fission and fusion, with special emphasis on both societal risks, such as nuclear weapons proliferation, and societal benefits, such as reduced CO2 emissions. Two 90-minute lectures. R. Goldston
AST 374 Planetary Systems: Their Diversity and Evolution (see GEO 374)
AST 401 Cosmology (also PHY 401) Spring
Topics include the properties and nature of galaxies, quasars, clusters, superclusters, the large-scale structure of the universe, dark matter, dark energy, the formation and evolution of galaxies and other structures, microwave background radiation, and the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang to today. Two 90-minute lectures. Prerequisites: MAT 201, 202; PHY 207, 208. Designed for science and engineering majors. N. Bahcall
AST 403 Stars and Star Formation (also PHY 402) Not offered this year
Stars form by the gravitational collapse of interstellar gas clouds, and as they evolve, stars return some of their gas to the interstellar medium; altering its physical state and chemical composition. This course discusses the properties and evolution of the gaseous and stellar components of a galaxy; the physics of the diffuse and dense interstellar medium, the theory and observations of star formation; stellar structure; energy production and nucleosynthesis; stellar evolution; and stellar end states. Two 90-minute lectures. Prerequisites: MAT 202; PHY 207, 208. B. Draine, A. Burrows