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Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics

This is an archived copy of the 2012-13 catalog. To access the most recent version of the catalog, please visit


  • Angela Olinto


  • John Carlstrom
  • Kyle Cudworth
  • Joshua A. Frieman
  • Doyal A. Harper, Jr.
  • Stephen Kent
  • Edward Kibblewhite
  • Alexei Khokhlov
  • Edward W. Kolb
  • Arieh Königl
  • Andrey Kravtsov
  • Richard G. Kron
  • Donald Q. Lamb, Jr.
  • Stephan Meyer
  • Angela Olinto
  • Robert Rosner
  • Noel M. Swerdlow
  • Simon P. Swordy, Physics
  • James W. Truran, Jr.
  • Michael Turner
  • Donald G. York

Associate Professors

  • Fausto Cattaneo
  • Scott Dodelson
  • Nickolay Y. Gnedin
  • Dan Hooper
  • Wayne Hu

Assistant Professors

  • Jacob Bean
  • Hsiao-Wen Chen
  • Daniel Fabrycky
  • Michael Gladders

Emeritus Faculty

  • James W. Cronin
  • Roger Hildebrand
  • Richard H. Miller
  • Takeshi Oka, Chemistry
  • Patrick E. Palmer
  • Eugene Parker
  • Peter O. Vandervoort

The Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics awards the Ph.D. degree, and carries on programs of research and graduate instruction on the quadrangles of the University; at Adler Planetarium, Chicago; at Apache Point Observatory, Sunspot, New Mexico; and at the Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, Wisconsin.


Students seeking admission to the department for graduate study should have the training in physics and mathematics that is represented by the conventional bachelor’s degree. Candidates for admission should request an admissions packet from the director of admissions. Applicants must submit recent scores on the Graduate Record Examination Aptitude and Advanced Physics tests.

Program of Study

The program leading to the Ph.D. degree in Astronomy & Astrophysics has four parts: a program of six required and elective courses, a research project, the candidacy examination, and research leading to a dissertation. The program and the requirements for graduate degrees are summarized below. A more detailed description of the program and the degree requirements can be obtained from the Director of Admissions, 5607 S. Drexel (TAAC), Chicago, IL 60637. This additional information is also available on line at Students may apply online at

During the first and second academic years, students normally take the course sequence:

ASTR 30100Stars100
ASTR 30300Intersellar Matter100
ASTR 30400Galaxies100
ASTR 31000Cosmology100
ASTR 31100High Energy Astrophysics100
ASTR 30600Detection of Radiation100
ASTR 30700Prep: Summer Research Project100

The normal program of courses in the first two-years of graduate student in Astronomy and Astrophysics consist of 6 required courses.  The courses are scheduled as follows: Year 1, Autumn quarter - Stars; Winter quarter - Interstellar Matter; Spring quarter - Galaxies.  Year 2, Autumn quarter - Cosmology; Winter quarter - High Energy Astrophysics; Spring quarter - Detection of Radiation.  First and second year students, will conduct a summer research project and participate in research activities, or courses of their choice, in all quarters.  Weekly activities include Faculty Research Seminars, Graduate Student Research Seminars, and Department Colloquia.

Students will report on their cumulative research activity and participate in a candidacy examination at the end of Year 2.  Admission to candidacy depends on faculty approval of the students’ performance in course work and the above mentioned activities. A student is officially admitted to research on the basis of a satisfactory performance on the Candidacy Examination.  Upon which, the student should arrange with a faculty member to have that faculty member serve as sponsor for the students research.

The student must write a dissertation.  The dissertation shall consist of a paper, or papers, submitted for publication in a recognized scientific journal, and the student may be the sole author, or a member of multiple authors by a group who will be determined by a faculty committee.  A dissertation shall be accepted as satisfying the requirements of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics only if it has been approved by the Dissertation Committee and has been submitted for publication in a recognized scientific journal. 

*Please note that the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics is transitioning to a new graduate program and all transitions will be set by the Autumn 2013 quarter. 

The Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Students who enter the department intending to proceed toward the degree of Doctor of Philosophy are normally required to complete the 3xx level program of lecture courses described above.  With the approval of the student’s dissertation committee, modifications of this requirement may be made. Students are expected to maintain a grade point average of at least 3.0 in their course work.

At the end of the second year, after completing the basic 3xx level program courses, students who wish to begin research for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy must pass both the written and oral portions of the candidacy examination, which includes the subject matter of the basic 3xx level astronomy courses.  The candidacy examination will be given towards the end of the Summer quarter of the student's second year.  A student whose performance on this examination does not merit continuation in the program may retake the examination once.  Ordinarily, students who do not proceed toward the Ph.D. are given the opportunity to complete the master’s degree.  Graduate students who are permitted to proceed toward the degree of Doctor of Philosophy may elect to receive an incidental Master of Science degree after having passed the candidacy exam.

The requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy include the divisional requirements. In particular, a student who is permitted to begin research for the dissertation based on a satisfactory performance on the candidacy examination must still formally establish candidacy for the degree according to divisional requirements. A degree candidate must fulfill a two quarter teaching requirement, which is explained in detail in the departmental graduate program document.  A candidate for the degree must submit a dissertation acceptable to the department and pass a final oral examination on the dissertation.  The Ph.D. degree is awarded only after the dissertation or a paper based on the dissertation is submitted for publication in a recognized scientific journal.  Demonstration of proficiency in a foreign language is not required.

Facilities for Research

A student may perform the research for the doctoral dissertation on the quadrangles of the University or Yerkes Observatory.  A student working at either location has access to the complete facilities of the department.

Moreover, there exists in the other departments and in the institutes of the Division of the Physical Sciences a variety of research programs which bear on modern astrophysics.  Contact with persons working in these programs is possible and is encouraged.  In fact, students research programs may be carried out under the direction of faculty members in these departments and institutes.

Computing resources for the department include a multiprocessor SUN SPARC server, networked printers, and a multitude of workstations and PCs, with Ethernet and LocalTalk (AppleTalk) connections in every room.  This equipment is linked via ethernet with the computation facilities of the Division of the Physical Sciences, which include SUN and SGI servers, and a high speed line links them to the super computer facilities of the National Center for Supercomputer Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana and of the Argonne National Laboratory (operated by the University of Chicago).  These resources form a powerful facility for computational astrophysics.

The principal instruments at the Yerkes Observatory are the 40 inch refracting telescope and the 41 inch and 24 inch reflecting telescopes, all of which are used for both instrument testing and research.  The department’s adaptive optics group has actively used the 41 inch reflector in recent years, and the astrometric program uses the refractor extensively.  The Yerkes Observatory also houses an excellent library as well as engineering facilities and shops that are heavily used in developing instrumentation for the department’s wide ranging activities.

The University of Chicago is a member of the Astrophysical Research Consortium, a consortium of several universities that has built and operates a 3.5 meter new technology telescope on Sacramento Peak in Sunspot, New Mexico.  This remotely operated facility was designed to permit rapid changes in instrumentation and in observing mode.

The University is also a key partner in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS).  The SDSS is a project for which a 2.5 meter new technology telescope is mapping the Northern Galactic sky cap with five band photometry and obtaining redshifts of approximately one million galaxies and one hundred thousand QSOs.

By arrangement, facilities of the Argonne National Laboratory may be used by students in the department.  These include unique facilities for experimental nuclear astrophysics, and a computation center equipped with vector and parallel processing computers.

Students also may take advantage of the resources of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, including the computational facilities, through its Institute for Cosmology and Particle Physics, funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or through the program in Experimental Astrophysics.

In recent years, some students have also used national facilities such as the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the National Optical Astronomy Observatories, and the NASA Ames Research Center.

Astronomy and Astrophysics Courses

ASTR 30100. Stars. 100 Units.

For course description contact Astronomy and Astrophysics.

ASTR 30300. Intersellar Matter. 100 Units.

For course description contact Astronomy and Astrophysics.

ASTR 30400. Galaxies. 100 Units.

For course description contact Astronomy and Astrophysics.

ASTR 30600. Detection of Radiation. 100 Units.

For course description contact Astronomy and Astrophysics.

ASTR 30900. Research Project Sem: Astr. 100 Units.

For course description contact Astronomy and Astrophysics.

ASTR 31000. Cosmology. 100 Units.

ASTR 31100. High Energy Astrophysics. 100 Units.

ASTR 31300. Extragalactic Studies. 100 Units.

ASTR 31500. Dynamics of Fluids. 100 Units.

ASTR 31600. Dynamics Particles. 100 Units.

ASTR 32000. Relativistic Astrophysics. 100 Units.

ASTR 32100. Cosmology. 100 Units.

ASTR 33000. Computational Physics and Astrophysics. 100 Units.

ASTR 34000. Statistical Methods in Astrophysics. 100 Units.

ASTR 37100. Precandidacy Research: Astron. Var Units.

For course description contact Astonomy and Astrophysics.

ASTR 38000. History of Astronomy. 100 Units.

ASTR 45900. What Makes a Planet Habitable? 100 Units.

This course explores the factors that determine how habitable planets form and evolve. We will discuss a range of topics, from the formation of planets around stars and the delivery of water, to the formation of atmospheres, climate dynamics, and the conditions that allow for the development of life and the evolution of complex life. Students will be responsible for reading and discussing papers in peer- reviewed journals each meeting and for periodically preparing presentations and leading the discussion.

Instructor(s): D. Abbot, F. Ciesla     Terms Offered: Winter
Equivalent Course(s): GEOS 32060

ASTR 49400. Post-Candidacy Research. Var Units.

ASTR 49900. Graduate Research Seminar. 100 Units.