Undergraduate Program

Undergraduates in Astronomy, Winter 2012


The Astronomy Department at the University of Washington offers a full curriculum of courses in various fields, including planetary astronomy, stellar structure and evolution, interstellar matter, galactic structure, extragalactic astronomy, observational and theoretical cosmology, and a summer observing course using a 30-inch telescope with modern instrumentation.

The Bachelor of Science degree emphasizes the necessary background in physics and mathematics, plus 18 credits of upper level astronomy. It is designed for students who plan to attend graduate school or work at astronomical facilities. The small size and informal atmosphere of the department encourages close working relationships between faculty and students. The above picture shows some of our current and past astronomy majors. The undergrad students have created an Undergraduate Astronomy Institute, which is active in outreach activities, operating the Campus Observatory, organizing an on-campus astronomy club, doing photometry and spectroscopy using instrumentation on their 12 inch telescope (provided by Student Technology Fees), and putting together a radio telescope facility on campus.

Further information about professional careers in astronomy can be obtained by writing to the:

American Astronomical Society
2000 Florida Ave. NW, Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20009

Undergraduate Learning Goals
  • Understand the principle findings, common application, and current problems within Astronomy as a scientific discipline.
  • Be versed in the computational methods and software resources utilized by professional Astronomers.
  • Have experience operating modern Astronomical instrumentation and analyzing a range of experimental data;=.
  • Be able to assess, communicate and reflect their understanding of Astronomy and the results of Astrophysical experiments in both oral and written formats.
  • Learn in a diverse environment with a variety of individuals, thoughts and ideas.
General Department Resources

The Astronomy Department, in partnership with five other universities, operates a 3.5-meter telescope equipped with sophisticated instrumentation at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, and is a founding partner in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey , a unique project to create the first digital atlas of a substantial fraction of the sky. The Department also operates a 30-inch (0.76-meter) telescope at the Manastash Ridge Observatory in Eastern Washington equipped with a good CCD camera. Here is a picture of our undergrad majors at the MRO telescope.

On-campus research facilities include CCD's on rooftop small telescopes, a clean room, electron microscopes and desktops for on-campus operation of the 3.5-meter telescope. Data reduction, analysis, and theoretical research are performed on an extensive computer network within the Department. Easy access to supercomputers elsewhere is routinely provided. The Department moved to a new building in 1994.

Undergraduate Degree Requirements

Admissions Requirements (Effective Autumn 2013): PHYS 121, 122, 123 (or full transfer equivalent) with a 2.0 cumulative GPA for the three courses.

The two major career paths in astronomy are professional research (generally requiring a Ph.D.) and scientific and technical support positions at observatories or in private industry. Our program prepares graduates for entrance into a graduate program or an immediate astronomy-related career. The undergraduate program also emphasizes the development of communication skills and the use of computers for data analysis in addition to formal training in astronomy and physics.

In addition to the Proficiency (Basic Skills) and Areas of Knowledge (General Education) requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences, the following curriculum (91 credits) is required for those students who wish to graduate with a major in Astronomy.

122Electromagnetism and Oscillatory Motion5
224Thermal Physics3
225Quantum I3
226Particles & Symmetries3
227Elementary Mathematical Physics I4
228Elementary Mathematical Physics II4
334Electric Circuits Laboratory4
124/134Calculus with Analytic Geometry5
125/135Calculus for Math Science5
126/136Calculus for Math Science5

Plus 6 credits chosen from:
307Differential Equations3
308Matrix Algebra3
309Linear Analysis3
324Advanced Calculus I3
326Advanced Calculus II3
AMATH 352Linear Algebra3
AMATH 353Fourier Analysis3
300Astronomy Computing2
321The Solar System3
322The Contents of Our Galaxy3
323Extragalactic Astronomy & Cosmology3

Plus 9 graded credits chosen from (at least 3 must be in 480 or 499):
421Stellar Observations & Theory3
423High Energy Astrophysics3
480Introduction to Astronomical Data Analysis5
481Introduction to Astronomical Observation5
482Scientific Writing2
497Topics in Current Astronomy (max 9)1-3
499Undergraduate Research or 500-level Astronomy courses (with permission)max.15
Related Courses -- 6 credits chosen from:Credits
324Quantum Mechanics4
325Quantum Mechanics4
328Statistical Physics3
331Optics Laboratory3
335Electric Circuits Laboratory3
421Atomic & Molecular Physics3
422Nuclear & Elementary Particle Physics3
423Solid State Physics3
424Mathematical Physics3
431Modern Physics Lab3
432Modern Physics Lab3
433Modern Physics Lab3
434Application of Computers to Physical Measurement 3

As a capstone sequence of hands-on research and dissemination of results, the following is highly recommended: ASTR480, followed by either ASTR481 or ASTR499 or an REU project, and ending with ASTR482.

The minimum grade point to fulfill the above requirements is 2.00 in every course. Note that some of the advanced physics courses required have prerequisites which are not included in the minimum requirements for an astronomy degree. In addition to the formal degree requirements, it is strongly recommended that every student gain a knowledge of computer programming (Astr 300: Introduction to Programming for Astronomical Applications - 2 cr- is highly recommended to be taken prior to astronomy 400 level courses and UNIX knowledge is required for Astr 480). Some engineering courses may be allowed to substitute for some of the physics above (as approved by advisor).

To graduate with Department Honors in Astronomy, a mean 3.7 GPA in astronomy courses is required as well as at least 6 credits of 499 research. See advisor if you want to be considered.

Astronomy graduate admissions are always highly competitive, and often those students with the strongest backgrounds in physics, math, and research experience have the best chances of admission, other considerations being equal. Hence a strong preparation in physics is extremely important for students who plan to enter a graduate program. Most of our students major in physics as well as astronomy, especially since the additional requirements are modest.

It is highly beneficial for gaining admission to graduate school to have completed several credits of independent research (Astronomy 499) with a faculty member.

A full descriptive list of Undergraduate Courses in Astronomy

For additional information/questions, contact the Undergraduate Advisor Christine Edgar or Undergraduate Faculty Advisor Paula Szkody.

Useful Links for Majors

The University of Washington reaffirms its policy of equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability, or status as a disabled veteran or Vietnam era veteran. This policy applies to all programs and facilities, including, but not limited to, admissions, education programs, employment, and patient and hospital services. Any discriminatory action can be a cause for disciplinary action. Discrimination is prohibited by Presidental Executive Order 11246 as amended, Washington State Gubernatiorial Executive Orders 89-01 and 93-07, Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Washington State Law Against Discrimination RCW 49-60, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, State of Washington Gender Equity in Higher Education Act of 1989, Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Americans with Disabilities Action of 1990, Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 as amended, other federal and state statues, regulations, and University policy. Coordination of the compliance efforts of the University of Washington with respect to all of these laws and regulations is under the direction of the Assistant Provost for Equal Opportunity, Dr. Helen Remick, Equal Opportunity Office, Box 354560, 4045 Brooklyn Ave. NE, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-6261, telephone (206) 685-3263/V or 543-6452/TTY.

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