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Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics

Chair

  • John E. Carlstrom

Professors

  • John E. Carlstrom
  • Fausto Cattaneo
  • Hsiao-Wen Chen
  • Wendy L. Freedman
  • Joshua A. Frieman
  • Michael D. Gladders
  • Nickolay Y. Gnedin
  • Doyal A. Harper, Jr.
  • Craig J. Hogan
  • Dan Hooper
  • Wayne Hu
  • Daniel E. Holz
  • Stephen M. Kent
  • Alexei M. Khokhlov
  • Edward W. Kolb
  • Andrey V. Kravtsov
  • Richard G. Kron
  • Stephan S. Meyer
  • Angela V. Olinto
  • Paolo Privitera
  • Robert Rosner
  • Michael S. Turner

Research Professors

  • Thomas Crawford
  • Vikram Dwarkadas
  • Priscilla Frisch
  • Carlo Graziani
  • Richard Kessler
  • Brian Nord
  • Stephen Padin
  • Andreas Seifhart
  • Petros Tzeferacos

Associate Professors

  • Jacob L. Bean
  • Chihway Chang
  • Alex Drlica-Wagner
  • Daniel Fabrycky
  • Irina Zhuravleva

Assistant Professors

  • Bradford A. Benson
  • Damiano Caprioli
  • Clarence L. Chang
  • Leslie Rogers
  • Erik Shirokoff

Emeritus Faculty

  • Kyle M. Cudworth
  • Roger H. Hildebrand
  • Lewis M. Hobbs
  • Edward J. Kibblewhite
  • Arieh Königl
  • 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 telescopes (Hubble, Kepler, Chandra, Fermi, and others) and are actively developing new programs for EUSO, POEMMA, JWST, WFIRST, TESS, SOFIA and LSST. 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 the 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
  • TOEFL for International Students
  • Application fee (Application Fee Waiver)

A complete application includes the General and Subject GRE scores. While these tests are not required, submitting the applicable scores is very strongly recommended and may be viewed favorably by the admissions committee.

Program Requirements

The requirements for the Ph.D. degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics are satisfied through the following steps:

  • Completion of required core graduate courses
  • Full-time scholastic residence of at least 300 units of coursework per quarter, including summer
  • Completion of one to three pre-candidacy research projects
  • Successful completion of a two-part Candidacy Exam
  • Identification of a Thesis Advisor
  • Formation of a Thesis Committee
  • Thesis research and preparation
  • Final Examination

During the first and second academic years, students complete core graduate courses, in addition to electives. The core courses are ASTR 30100 Stars, ASTR 30300 Interstellar Matter, ASTR 30400 Galaxies, ASTR 31100 High Energy Astrophysics, and ASTR 30600 Detection of Radiation; and ASTR 49900 Graduate Research Seminar, which is taken every quarter in the first two years. In addition to core graduate courses, students are expected to complete pre-candidacy research projects that will be presented as part of their Candidacy Exams. This work is undertaken as part of the ASTR 37100 Precandidacy Research course. 

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. This can be accomplished through formal and informal mechanisms, such as talking with faculty outside of class, sitting in on open group meetings, and participating in departmental events. 

Departmental Talks and Events

There are numerous informal talks and lecture series that present current topics and emerging research on a weekly basis, such as the Faculty Research Seminars, ChalkTalks, and Astronomy Colloquia. These events bring together students, faculty, scientists and post-docs as a vibrant intellectual community. Students may present their own work in-progress at some of these events. 

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 and established a Thesis Committee. After candidacy is established, students enroll in ASTR 49400 Post-Candidacy Research and may also take electives of advanced coursework. 

Dissertation Requirements

The Ph.D. thesis may be a single-author or multiple-author paper that is submitted to a research journal of high quality and judged to be suitable for publication by the student's full Thesis Committee. Recent theses abstracts are published on the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics website. 

Final Examination

The Final Examination, or oral defense, marks the candidate’s professional entry into scholarship. A defense is a public presentation at which the candidate will present his or her Ph.D. thesis research to the Thesis Committee, engage in dialogue and debate, and receive constructive criticism.

Contacts

For general information about application procedures, please contact the Student Affairs Administrator, Laticia Rebeles, lrebeles@oddjob.uchicago, 773-702-9808. Additional information regarding the academic program 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.

Instructor(s): F. Cattaneo     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.

Instructor(s): H. Chen     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.

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

ASTR 30500. Radiation Processes in Astrophysics. 100 Units.

Most of what we know about the Universe comes from detection of electromagnetic radiation emitted by individual sources or by diffuse media. Once we understand the processes by which the radiation was created and the processes by which the radiation is scattered or modified as it passes through matter, we can address the physical nature of the sources. The physics of radiation processes includes electricity and magnetism; quantum mechanics and atomic and nuclear structure; statistical mechanics; and special relativity.

Instructor(s): Damiano Caprioli     Terms Offered: Autumn
Prerequisite(s): ASTR 13300 and PHYS 15400.
Equivalent Course(s): ASTR 25400

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.

Instructor(s): Brad Benson     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.

Instructor(s): Erik Shirokoff     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.

Instructor(s): Damiano Caprioli     Terms Offered: Winter
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: TBD. Not offered in 2017-18
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.

Instructor(s): Andrey Kravtsov     Terms Offered: Winter
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.

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

ASTR 37100. Precandidacy Research. 100 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.

Instructor(s): Rich Kron     Terms Offered: Autumn Spring Summer Winter

ASTR 44800. Cosmic Microwave Background. 100 Units.

The first half of the course will be lectures with the goal of establishing a common denominator, and the second half will be research. The course requires a final project to be presented in class. Prerequisites are graduate-level cosmology and general relativity.

Instructor(s): W. Hu     Terms Offered: TBD

ASTR 45400. Image Processing Analysis. 100 Units.

The courses focuses on how to extract information from astronomical raw images on a pixel basis, in situations involving low source light levels relative to background brightnesses. Specific cases considered include detection of AGN variability, high resolution imaging of galactic nuclei, star-galaxy separation, image shear measurements, supernova detection and characterization, planetary transit photometry and direct planet detection. Techniques for accomplishing such tasks include wavelet analysis, deconvolution, image subtraction, adaptive-optics photometry and interferometry.

Instructor(s): Staff     Terms Offered: TBD. Not offered in 2017-18

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. This course is part of the College Course Cluster program: Climate Change, Culture and Society.

Instructor(s): Edwin Kite     Terms Offered: Winter
Equivalent Course(s): GEOS 22060, GEOS 32060

ASTR 46100. Dynamics of Exoplanets. 100 Units.

Exoplanets are planets that orbit other stars. As most detection methods are indirect, planets' orbital dynamics is key to basic characterization, and it was historically important to confirm their existence. Their surprising orbital properties challenged planet formation and evolution theories, prompting further development of dynamical theories. This course covers orbital mechanics of N-body systems from the short-term, relevant to observations such as transit-timing variations, all the way to billion-year timescales, relevant to the dynamical winnowing of unstable systems. It covers highly eccentric and inclined orbits, scattering and resonant dynamics, planetary orbits in binary star systems, the additional physics of tidal dissipation and orbital migration due to a gas disk, and current research topics.

Instructor(s): D. Fabrycky     Terms Offered: Winter

ASTR 49400. Post-Candidacy Research. 100-300 Units.

Independent research undertaken towards completion of the dissertation.

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

ASTR 49900. Graduate Research Seminar. 100 Units.

The instructor chooses a topic for the seminar and assigns papers that develop the topic from the earliest times to the most recent results. Students each present papers during the course, as assigned, and lead a discussion. The purpose is to give students practice in analyzing the literature and presenting to their peers, as well to assure exposure to a breadth in the topics in astronomy and astrophysics.

Instructor(s): John Carlstrom, Jacob Bean, Fausto Cattaneo     Terms Offered: Autumn Spring Winter. Autumn Quarter instructor John Carlstrom; Winter Quarter instructor Jacob Bean; Spring Quarter instructor Fausto Cattaneo.

ASTR 70000. Advanced Study: Astronomy & Astrophysics. 300.00 Units.

Advanced Study: Astronomy & Astrophysics