Astrophysics

The secondary field in Astrophysics builds the foundation from which students may consider some of the deepest questions of the physical universe. What was the state and composition of the Universe at the moment of the Big Bang? What is the nature of the force that currently dominates the expansion of the Universe? How do space and time behave in the vicinity of a black hole? How do galaxies form, and how do stars and planets form within those galaxies? Are there habitable worlds other than our own?

The goal of the secondary field in Astrophysics is to provide students with an understanding of the physical universe beyond the Earth that emphasizes the interplay between the remote observation of astrophysical phenomena and the construction and testing of mathematical models to interpret those observations.  The heart of the secondary field consists of two courses, Astronomy 16 and 17, that together provide a survey of astrophysics that is firmly routed in single-variable calculus and freshman mechanics. These courses may be taken in either order, and each course includes the hands-on use of various astronomical observatories located on the Harvard campus.

In order to encourage students to pursue the secondary field while maintaining a rich schedule of other academic interests and extra-curricular activities, the requirements number only 4 half-courses including the prerequisite physics. The secondary field is intended to serve a broad audience: Since there are no requirements other than single-variable calculus, any student can undertake the secondary field in astrophysics, and it will benefit a wide range of careers including science education, public outreach, policy, or journalism. Many of the questions listed in the first paragraph lie at the interface of astronomy with physics, earth and planetary sciences, applied mathematics, computer science, and engineering sciences, and so concentrators in those departments may wish to consider the secondary field in astrophysics closely. The structure of the requirements below is the same as the foundation for the astrophysics concentration, so that students who develop a strong interest in the field and wish to concentrate in it may do so easily.

Requirements: 4 half-courses

  1. Physics 11a, or 15a, or 16, providing an introduction to mechanics.  This course serves as the co-requisite for Astronomy 16 and Astronomy 17. 

  2. Astronomy 16, providing an introduction to stellar and planetary astronomy.

  3. Astronomy 17, providing an introduction to galactic and extragalactic astronomy.

  4. One additional course in Astronomy, either Astronomy 98, or any course in Astronomy at the 100-level.

Other Information

Together Astronomy 16 and 17 provide a complete introductory survey of astrophysics using single-variable calculus and freshman mechanics.  These courses are not sequential and thus may be taken in either order.

Study abroad and summer courses taken at other institutions may be substituted for substantially equivalent Harvard courses with the permission of the director of undergraduate studies.

No course counted for secondary field credit may be taken Pass/Fail.

Advising Resources and Expectations

Students pursuing the secondary field in Astrophysics enjoy many of the benefits afforded concentrators in Astrophysics: they chose a faculty advisor, are encouraged to participate in all departmental events and activities, and have access to several on-campus observatories.  Students are also encouraged to consider research in astrophysics conducted either during the semester or the summer.  The Department of Astronomy (http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/ast) is located within the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA; http://www.cfa.harvard.edu), which is home to over 300 scientists and thus offers significant opportunities for undergraduate research.  Astronomers at the CfA make regular use of observatories located across the globe and thus there are numerous opportunities for research-related travel for undergraduates.

Students who are considering the secondary field in Astrophysics are encouraged to contact the director of undergraduate studies, David Charbonneau (dcharbonneau@cfa.harvard.edu, 617-496-6515).