Overview of Undergraduate Majors and Courses

Major in Astronomy:

Students majoring in astronomy begin by surveying the solar system and beyond (AS 202-203). As they advance their mathematical and physics understanding, they study Planetary Physics (AS 311) and Stellar and Galactic Astrophysics (AS 312) in more depth. As upperclassmen, astronomy majors select from a number of advanced astronomy classes (AS 413, AS 414 and/or AS 441). Astronomy majors often engage in directed research with a faculty advisor (CAS AS 491, 492). They also often complement their studies with computer science, math, physics and/or earth sciences classes.

Major in Astronomy and Physics:

Our modern understanding of the Universe is built on a foundation of mathematics and physics. The astronomy and physics major is a joint program of the astronomy and physics departments designed to prepare students for entering a graduate program in astronomy, physics, astrophysics or other physical sciences. In addition to the classes required of an astronomy major, astronomy and physics majors take a number of additional physics courses. This major is one of the more demanding and rigorous programs of study in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Major in Geophysics and Planetary Sciences:

The space age sparked an age of discovery within the solar system, transforming the planets from distant objects studied with telescopes into other earths to be explored with the tools of earth science. This new knowledge transformed earth science and our understanding of how the solar system was formed 4.6 billion years ago. Now over 300 more planets have been discovered orbiting other stars. The Geophysics and Planetary Sciences major, a joint program between the departments of astronomy and earth science, allows students to develop the skills needed to study the Earth and other planets using the tools of physics. Students obtain a broad foundation in the physical sciences by taking core courses in astronomy (AS 202, 311), earth science (ES 101, 360), chemistry (CH 101 or 131), physics (PY 211, 212, 355, 405, or 408) and calculus (MA 123, 124, 225). students can then specialize by taking at least four elective courses from a list of astronomy, earth science and physics courses.

Requirements for graduation and course descriptions:

In order to obtain a BA in one of the astronomy majors, students must satisfy both the degree requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and the particular course requirements for their chosen major. The Boston University Undergraduate Bulletin contains the detailed definitive information about graduation requirements. The CAS degree requirements include writing, foreign language, mathematics and general education requirements. The Astronomy Department section in the bulletin contains details of the major requirements.  They are summarized here.

Academic Advising in Astronomy

Obtaining appropriate academic advising is an important part of any academic program. Any student considering one of the astronomy majors is urged to discuss their goals and how these might be met with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Clemens. Once a student declares a major in one of the astronomy programs, he/she is assigned an academic advisor from among the astronomy faculty.  Academic advisors help students design an academic program that both meets their goals and fulfills the requirements of the chosen major and the general CAS degree requirements.  Students meet with their advisor at least once a semester to review their progress, discuss changes in their goals or plans, and to consider appropriate courses for the following semester. Some students choose to meet with their advisor more frequently.  Professor Clemens, as director of undergraduate studies, is available to meet with any student who wishes further advice on any matter, or who would rather not discuss some issue with their advisor. A student may request a change of academic advisor without giving a reason.

Undergraduate Research

Almost all undergraduate majors participate in research with a faculty advisor. Faculty research interests include observational and theoretical studies in galactic and extragalactic astrophysics, magnetospheric and ionospheric physics, solar and heliosphere physics, planetary atmospheres, comets, solar system plasma physics, star formation and galactic structure, variable stars, active galaxies and quasars, high-energy astrophysics, cosmology, and relativity.

The department has a partnership with the Lowell Observatory and shares the operation and use of the 72″ Perkins Telescope. The Perkins telescope has both visible light (PRISM) and infrared (MIMIR) detectors which were built at Boston University with undergraduate assistance. This telescope is used both for research and teaching.

Department members are also actively involved in research programs using space probes, airborne infrared telescopes, satellites, and sounding rockets.

More details on the research of astronomy faculty can be found at the sites of the research centers associated with the department:The Center for Space Physics, The Institute for Astrophysical Research, and the Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling.

We maintain a page containing links to sites describing undergraduate research programs and opportunities here.

Undergraduate Observing

Many students enjoy observational astronomy outside of the classroom setting. Boston University provides many opportunities for observing. On the roof of the College of Arts and Sciences building, the Judson Boardman Coit Observatory deploys a 6″ Schmidt telescope-camera, a 7″ refractor, four portable 8″ reflectors, a 12″ reflector, a 14″ Celestron telescope. Two floors below the observatory the department has a solar/siderostat spectroscopic telescope. Interested students will receive instruction in using these instruments and can obtain free access to these facilities.

The BU Astronomical Society (BUAS) sponsors a number of field trips each year to observatories in the area. A number of students have visited the Lowell Observatory near Flagstaff, Arizona to use the 72-inch Perkins Telescope for amateur observing. In addition, the department maintains a comprehensive astronomical research library that includes sky atlases and subscriptions to more than 50 scientific journals.

After Graduating:

A BA in astronomy, astronomy and physics, or planetary and space sciences prepares students for immediate employment or further study leading to research and teaching careers in astrophysics or space science or careers in science education, science management, scientific computing, or science writing. Our graduates have worked for institutions ranging from the Boston Museum of Science to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, on projects such as NASA’s Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s X-ray Multi-Mirror satellite. Many of our graduates have gone on to graduate school to pursue advanced degrees at institutions including UCLA, Caltech, MIT, the University of Virginia, and the University of Arizona. Visit our careers page to learn about opportunities for graduates or our alumni page and click on individual names to see the career paths of some of our graduates.