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Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics

Chair

  • Angela V. Olinto

Professors

  • John E. Carlstrom
  • Fausto Cattaneo
  • Scott Dodelson
  • Wendy Freedman
  • Joshua A. Frieman
  • Nickolay Y. Gnedin
  • Doyal A. Harper, Jr.
  • Craig J. Hogan
  • Wayne Hu
  • Stephen M. Kent
  • Alexei M. Khokhlov
  • Edward W. Kolb
  • Arieh Königl
  • Andrey V. Kravtsov
  • Richard G. Kron
  • Stephan S. Meyer
  • Angela V. Olinto
  • Paolo Privitera
  • Robert Rosner
  • Michael S. Turner

Associate Professors

  • Hsiao-Wen Chen
  • Michael D. Gladders
  • Daniel Holz
  • Dan Hooper

Assistant Professors

  • Jacob L. Bean
  • Bradford A. Benson
  • Damiano Caprioli
  • Clarence L. Chang
  • Daniel Fabrycky
  • Leslie Rogers
  • Erik Shirokoff

Emeritus Faculty

  • James W. Cronin
  • Kyle M. Cudworth
  • Roger H. Hildebrand
  • Lewis M. Hobbs
  • Edward J. Kibblewhite
  • Donald Q. Lamb, Jr.
  • Richard H. Miller
  • Takeshi Oka
  • Patrick E. Palmer
  • Eugene N. Parker
  • Noel M. Swerdlow
  • James W. Truran, Jr.
  • Peter O. Vandervoort
  • Donald G. York


Faculty in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics work on a wide range of topics at the frontiers of astrophysics: from understanding the beginning of the Universe to the search for habitable extrasolar planets; from the formation and evolution of the earliest galaxies to modeling the most energetic events in the modern Universe; from exploring our own solar system to the largest structures of the Universe. The department participates in major facilities that support the programs of our research groups. Many of these projects take advantage of connections with the neighboring national laboratories, Argonne and Fermilab, for both intellectual and technical resources. Research groups have access to leading telescopes worldwide, including the 6.5-m Magellan Telescopes at Las Campanas, Chile; the Dark Energy Survey at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile; and the South Pole Telescope, with its ongoing development of powerful new imagers for measuring the Cosmic Microwave Background. Departmental researchers also make use of a number of space telescopes (Hubble, Kepler, Chandra, Fermi, and others) and are actively developing new space missions and observational programs for EUSO, JWST, TESS, and SOFIA. Chicago is an active participant in gravitational waves research as a member of LIGO, leading the development of the Holometer at Fermilab, and studying extreme cosmic particles at the Auger Observatory. We are a founding member of the world's largest optical telescope, the 25-meter Giant Magellan Telescope, which is now under construction in the Chilean Andes with first light expected early in the next decade. 
 

Admission

Students seeking admission for graduate study leading to Ph.D. degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics typically enter with an undergraduate degree in Physics or another Physical Science. The following materials should be submitted using the Online Application system.

  • 3 letters of recommendation
  • A personal statement
  • GRE and Physics GREs
  • TOEFL for International Students
  • Application fee (Application Fee Waiver)


The Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

During the first and second academic years, students complete six Core courses in addition to electives. The Core courses are ASTR 30100, ASTR 30300, ASTR 30400, ASTR 31100, and ASTR 30600. Additionally, students are expected to complete pre-candidacy research projects that will be presented as part of their candidacy exams.

Year 1: Students take one Core course, ASTR 49900, and 1-2 electives per quarter. Students who actively begin research with a faculty member will enroll in ASTR 37100 as one of their electives. It is expected that students will be ready to enroll in ASTR 37100 no later than the summer following their first-year. First-year students also serve as teaching assistants in the undergraduate Physical Sciences courses for at least two quarters. 

Year 2: Students take one Core course, ASTR 49900, and 1-2 electives per quarter, one of which is expected to be ASTR 37100. 
 

ASTR 30100Stars100
ASTR 30300Interstellar Matter100
ASTR 30400Galaxies100
ASTR 31000Cosmology I100
ASTR 31100High Energy Astrophysics100
ASTR 30600Detection of Radiation100
ASTR 49900Graduate Research Seminar100
ASTR 37100Precandidacy Research: AstronVar
ASTR 49400Post-Candidacy ResearchVar


A selected list of course descriptions can be seen here.


Placing out of Core Graduate Courses

Entering graduate students are required to take six Core courses. An entering student may place out of one or more of these courses by demonstrating that s/he has taken a similar level course at a previous institution and by passing the Core course exam. In place of the waived Core course, the student enrolls in a graduate-level elective course.
 

Candidacy

Second-year students take the first part of the candidacy exam in the Autumn Quarter, and the second part in the Spring Quarter. Advancement to candidacy is made when a student has successfully passed the candidacy exams. After candidacy is established, students enroll in ASTR 49400 and may also take electives of advanced coursework. Students who advance to candidacy must arrange a first meeting of their committee as soon as it is appointed. Thereafter, at minimum, the candidate should meet with the committee once per year. 
 

Departmental Talks and Events

First-year students are required to attend a regular program of Faculty Research Seminars (FRS) to acquaint themselves with the broad range of faculty research in the department. Attendance at the weekly Astronomy Colloquia is required of all graduate students. There are also numerous informal talks and events presenting current topics and emerging research that bring together students, faculty, scientists and post-docs as an intellectual community. Students may present their own work in- progress at some of these events. 
 

Advising/Mentoring

The Assistant Chair for Academic Affairs is the de facto advisor to incoming graduate students; however, students are encouraged to seek out potential research supervisors or mentors as early as possible in their program. It is in the student’s interest to become widely acquainted with the faculty before the point of choosing a Thesis Advisor and potential committee members. This can be accomplished through formal and informal mechanisms, such as meeting with faculty outside of class and engaging with them at departmental talks and events. Once a student and faculty member agree to the Thesis Advisor relationship, they may recommend committee members to the Assistant Chair for Academic Affairs for appointment to the Thesis Committee. The committee is to be established no later than the Spring Quarter of the third year. 
 

Dissertation Requirements

The Ph.D. thesis consists of a paper that must be submitted to a research journal of high quality and must be judged by the full Thesis Committee to be suitable for publication in such a journal. In the case of a single-author paper, the thesis is the manuscript submitted for publication, plus any supplementary appendices augmenting the presentation that might not be appropriate in a published paper. In the case of a multiple-author paper or papers (which also must fulfill the requirement of submission for publication), the thesis must be an extended version, written solely by the student and describing in detail his or her contributions to the published work. In both cases, the student’s Thesis Committee should approve the planned work at least three quarters before the Final Examination. Both types of theses (single-author paper or extended single-author version of the multiple-author paper) must be submitted in the required University-standard format. Information on formatting requirements and deadlines are available from The University of Chicago Dissertation Office.
 

Final Examination

The Final Examination, or oral defense, marks the candidate’s professional entry into scholarship. The thesis forms the basis of the examination. It is a public event at which the candidate will present his or her research to the Thesis Committee, engage in dialogue and debate with the committee, and receive constructive criticism from the committee. A draft copy of the thesis must be submitted to the full Thesis Committee for review two weeks before the Final Examination. After the thesis is approved, the Thesis Advisor will notify the student that it may be submitted to the Dissertation Office. During the first week of the quarter in which a student anticipates the Final Examination, s/he obtains permission to apply for graduation from the administrator in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
 

Contacts

For general information about application procedures, please contact the Student Affairs Administrator, Laticia Rebeles, at 773-702-9808. Additional information is available on the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics website.

Astronomy and Astrophysics Courses

ASTR 30100. Stars. 100 Units.

Introduction to stars (physical and observational), hydrodynamics of self-gravitating fluids, statistical mechanics and equations of state, energy transport, astrophysical nuclear reactions, stellar models, advanced topics.

Terms Offered: Autumn
Prerequisite(s): Open to advanced undergraduates by consent of instructor.

ASTR 30300. Interstellar Matter. 100 Units.

Interstellar medium, collision-less systems, distribution of stars in the solar neighborhood, stellar kinematics/dynamics, observations of galactic large-scale structure, theory of galactic structure and evolution.

Terms Offered: Winter
Prerequisite(s): Open to advanced undergraduates by consent of instructor.

ASTR 30400. Galaxies. 100 Units.

The observed universe, the universe at high redshift, early universe microwave background radiation, relativistic homogeneous isotropic cosmologies, evolution of structure in the universe, primordial nucleosynthesis.

Terms Offered: Spring
Prerequisite(s): Open to advanced undergraduates by consent of instructor.

ASTR 30600. Detection of Radiation. 100 Units.

Radiation as a random process, optical coherence, and signal analysis in spatial and temporal domains, along with the detection and measurement of radiation with astronomical instruments.

Terms Offered: Spring
Prerequisite(s): Open to advanced undergraduates by consent of instructor.

ASTR 31000. Cosmology I. 100 Units.

This course presents an introduction to the principles of cosmology. The first part introduces homogeneous, relativistic cosmologies and covers the Robertson-Walker metric, dynamics in the presence of matter, radiation, and dark energy, the universe as a function of time and redshifts, and techniques for calculating observable quantities. The next part covers the growth and evolution of structure in the universe including the formation of clusters and voids, correlation functions, and the mass spectrum. The next part covers the physics of the early universe, including inflation, primordial nucleosynthesis, and recombination. The final part covers current topics in cosmology, including analysis of the cosmic microwave background and tests for detecting and measuring dark matter and dark energy.

Terms Offered: Autumn
Prerequisite(s): Open to advanced undergraduates by consent of instructor.

ASTR 31100. High Energy Astrophysics. 100 Units.

This course covers a wide range of phenomena associated with the astrophysics of high energy photons, cosmic rays and neutrinos, including the processes of ionization, bremsstrahlung, synchrotron, pion production, Compton and inverse Compton scattering, as well as cosmic ray acceleration. Specific sources of high energy emission will also be discussed, including active galaxies, pulsars, gamma-ray bursts and supernova remnants.

Terms Offered: Winter
Prerequisite(s): Open to advanced undergraduates by consent of instructor.

ASTR 31300. Extragalactic Studies. 100 Units.

When, where, and how stars formed in galaxies is central to understanding many other aspects of large stellar systems: baryons streaming into dark-matter haloes, large-scale outflows, patterns in chemical abundances, and how all these processes have changed with time. This class will look at what is known empirically about star formation in nearby galaxies across a wide range of conditions, identifying those that are most significant for building up the mass in stars and most significant energetically for the local interstellar medium. The range of conditions includes strong dynamical interactions on large scales, and high-density regions and regions exposed to intense radiation on small scales. Our approach will study prototype galaxies from relevant classes (e.g. starburst, ultra-luminous infrared emitters, ultraviolet-luminous, etc.), exploring what is known about the recent history of star formation in these systems from multi-wavelength data.

Terms Offered: TBD
Prerequisite(s): Open to advanced undergraduates by consent of instructor.

ASTR 31500. Dynamics of Fluids. 100 Units.

Principles of hydrodynamics and hydromagnetics. Equilibrium and stability of fluid systems in astrophysics. Waves. Shocks. Turbulence.

Terms Offered: TBD. Not offered in 2016-2017.
Prerequisite(s): Open to advanced undergraduates by consent of instructor.

ASTR 31600. Dynamics Particles. 100 Units.

Dynamics of collision-less plasmas and stellar systems. Stochastic processes and kinetic equations. Dynamics of galaxies and star clusters. Astrophysical plasmas.

Terms Offered: TBD
Prerequisite(s): Open to advanced undergraduates by consent of instructor.

ASTR 32000. Relativistic Astrophysics. 100 Units.

Special and General relativity and the experimental tests, with applications to astrophysical problems such as super-massive stars, black holes, relativistic star clusters, and gravitational radiation.

Terms Offered: TBD
Prerequisite(s): Open to advanced undergraduates by consent of instructor.

ASTR 32100. Cosmology II. 100 Units.

Study of physical cosmology with emphasis on the standard big-bang model and its observational and experimental tests.

Terms Offered: Spring. This course is offered in response to student demand.
Prerequisite(s): Open to advanced undergraduates who have taken Cosmology I by consent of instructor.

ASTR 33000. Computational Physics and Astrophysics. 100 Units.

Basic computational methods useful for astrophysics, supplemented by specific examples drawn primarily from astrophysics. Starting with basics (e.g., precision, errors and error analysis) and basic computational methods (differentiation, integration/quadrature, Monte Carlo, numerical linear algebra), and then discussing solution of problems posed in terms of ordinary and partial differential equations.

Prerequisite(s): Open to advanced undergraduates by consent of instructor.

ASTR 34000. Statistical Methods in Astrophysics. 100 Units.

An exploration of the variety of statistical methods used in modern astrophysics. We discuss the frequentist (hypothesis tests, confidence intervals) and Bayesian (explicit priors, model-choosing, parameter estimation) approaches. Other topics include: Markov Chain Monte Carlo and other computational statistics; multi-dimensional likelihood space; Fischer information matrices; time series analysis. Assignments draw from examples in the astronomical literature.

Terms Offered: TBD
Prerequisite(s): Open to advanced undergraduates by consent of instructor.

ASTR 35800. Current Topics in Astrophysics. 100 Units.

Gravitational microlensing is a brightening phenomenon that occurs when a foreground mass passes between a stellar source and an observer. It has been used to discern the nature of dark matter, examine stellar atmospheres in the inner parts of the Galaxy, and discover Earth-mass and gas-giant planets. Ongoing surveys are discovering over a thousand events per year, and the scientific community is preparing for a flagship NASA mission called WFIRST. Students will derive the properties of the signals and study the scientific implications of the results.

Instructor(s): D. Fabrycky     Terms Offered: Spring
Prerequisite(s): ASTR 24100 and 24200, or consent of instructor.
Note(s): Recommended for third- and fourth-year students majoring in Physics or the Geophysical Sciences, or students who have completed two quarters of Calculus.
Equivalent Course(s): ASTR 28200

ASTR 37100. Precandidacy Research: Astron. Var Units.

Students arrange with a faculty research supervisor to conduct a short-term independent research project lasting one or more quarters.  Research completed in ASTR 37100 is presented as part of the student's candidacy exams.

Terms Offered: Summer,Autumn,Winter,Spring

ASTR 38000. History of the Telescope. 100 Units.

The history of the idea of telescopes, and of telescopes as working devices, is covered. Following a short discussion of the ideas of "seeing at a distance" in the pre-telescopic world, Galileo's astronomical discoveries are noted. The evolution of the telescope through the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries are then described. The key developments in telescope systems in each century are highlighted. These include optics, platforms and clocks, structures, rockets, computers, instruments, detectors and observatory sites. The roles of amateur astronomers, wealthy patrons, wealthy entrepreneurs and governments in bringing about these developments are emphasized, and the impact on society of the discoveries made with telescopes is outlined. Serendipitous discovery, personal stories of the main actors on the stage and the feedback between the development of modern civilization and the tools of astronomy are features of the story.

Terms Offered: TBD
Prerequisite(s): Open to advanced undergraduates by consent of instructor.

ASTR 40600. Gravitational Lensing. Units.

Theory of bending of light by gravitational potentials followed by astrophysical and cosmological applications including; microlensing, planetary searches, strong lensing, and weak lensing.

ASTR 41800. Introduction to Intergalatic Medium Studies. 100 Units.

As an introduction to intergalactic medium studies, the course will begin with a historical overview of absorption-line studies and proceed with in-depth discussion of on-going research topics. These include the reionization epoch, chemical enrichment of the universe, and association between luminous matter traced by galaxies and gaseous clouds probed by absorption-line observations.

Instructor(s): Hsiao-Wen Chen     Terms Offered: TBD. This course is offered in response to student demand.

ASTR 43200. High Energy Cosmic Particles. 100 Units.

This graduate level course will focus on high energy particle astrophysics from basic facts to recent discoveries in the study of cosmic rays, gamma-rays, and neutrinos. The course will introduce the main concepts of proposed mechanisms for generating these particles, the past and current detections techniques and observatories, and recent observations. Some particle physics and cosmology will be covered including models of dark matter particles and the effect of cosmic backgrounds on high energy cosmic particles.

ASTR 45000. Extreme Optics. 100 Units.

Frontiers in optics will be a review of the state of the art in optics as it paplies to astronomy. Topics to be covered will include:
,Single dish optics : adaptive optics, building large telescopes and coronography
,Interferometers using multiple telescopes
,Lasers for guide stars and wavelength control
,LIGO and LISA

Terms Offered: TBD. This course is offered in response to student demand.

ASTR 45400. Image Processing (Analysis) 100 Units.

Many key results in current research rely on the inner workings of codes that operate on pixels. Examples are measuring the weak lensing shear field, measuring precise light curves for supernovae in the presence of contaminating light from a host galaxy, high-precision relative photometry (e.g. to detect transits), reliable morphological star/galaxy classification to faint flux limits, reliable color measurements (e.g. for photometric redshifts), crowded-field photometry, and detection of diffuse light to very low surface brightness levels. This course will explore some of the ideas that have been developed to address these and other problems of interest, illustrated by CCD detectors. The format of the class will be first to consider what goes into the pixels (e.g. ingredients of the point-spread function), followed by the techniques for unwinding the instrumental effects, concluding with what extracted parameters are optimal for some particular application (what comes out of the pixels).

Instructor(s): Staff     Terms Offered: TBD

ASTR 45800. Exoplanets. 100 Units.

The study of exoplanets, planets associated with stars other than the Sun, has become one of the most exciting and rapidly evolving areas of modern astronomy. This new course will address general questions concerning the detection and characterization of exoplanets and of what we have already learned about the origin and properties of exoplanetary systems and of how they compare with those of the Solar System. This discussion will be placed in the context of models of planet formation in protoplanetary disks, their structure and composition, and their dynamical interactions with the natal disk, the parent star, and other planets. The course will make use of seminal papers on these topics and will encourage active participation by the students.

Instructor(s): J. Bean; D. Fabrycky     Terms Offered: TBD

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 accretion and loss of atmospheres and oceans, to the long-term carbon cycle, climate dynamics, and the conditions that sustain liquid water on a planet's surface over timescales relevant to the origin and evolution of 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): E. Kite     Terms Offered: Winter
Equivalent Course(s): GEOS 22060,GEOS 32060

ASTR 49400. Post-Candidacy Research. Var Units.

Independent research undertaken towards completion of the dissertation.

Terms Offered: Summer,Autumn,Winter,Spring
Prerequisite(s): Completion of all candidacy requirements.

ASTR 49900. Graduate Research Seminar. 100 Units.

For a course description, please contact the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department.

Terms Offered: Autumn,Winter,Spring