Astrophysics

University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

The Department of Astronomy offers a graduate program aimed at the PhD degree in astrophysics. Entering students need not have majored in astronomy, although some background in astronomy is desirable. A strong background in physics, however, is essential.

Research is a major part of the PhD program, and the department offers opportunities in a wide variety of fields, including theoretical and observational astrophysics; infrared, optical, and radio astronomy; galactic structure and dynamics of stellar systems; high-energy astrophysics and cosmology; and star and planet formation.

Visit Department Website

Admissions

Admission to the University

Minimum Requirements for Admission

The following minimum requirements apply to all graduate programs and will be verified by the Graduate Division:

  1. A bachelor’s degree or recognized equivalent from an accredited institution;
  2. A grade point average of B or better (3.0);
  3. If the applicant comes from a country or political entity (e.g., Quebec) where English is not the official language, adequate proficiency in English to do graduate work, as evidenced by a TOEFL score of at least 90 on the iBT test, 570 on the paper-and-pencil test, or an IELTS Band score of at least 7 (note that individual programs may set higher levels for any of these); and
  4. Sufficient undergraduate training to do graduate work in the given field.

Applicants Who Already Hold a Graduate Degree

The Graduate Council views academic degrees not as vocational training certificates, but as evidence of broad training in research methods, independent study, and articulation of learning. Therefore, applicants who already have academic graduate degrees should be able to pursue new subject matter at an advanced level without need to enroll in a related or similar graduate program.

Programs may consider students for an additional academic master’s or professional master’s degree only if the additional degree is in a distinctly different field.

Applicants admitted to a doctoral program that requires a master’s degree to be earned at Berkeley as a prerequisite (even though the applicant already has a master’s degree from another institution in the same or a closely allied field of study) will be permitted to undertake the second master’s degree, despite the overlap in field.

The Graduate Division will admit students for a second doctoral degree only if they meet the following guidelines:

  1. Applicants with doctoral degrees may be admitted for an additional doctoral degree only if that degree program is in a general area of knowledge distinctly different from the field in which they earned their original degree. For example, a physics PhD could be admitted to a doctoral degree program in music or history; however, a student with a doctoral degree in mathematics would not be permitted to add a PhD in statistics.
  2. Applicants who hold the PhD degree may be admitted to a professional doctorate or professional master’s degree program if there is no duplication of training involved.

Applicants may apply only to one single degree program or one concurrent degree program per admission cycle.

Required Documents for Applications

  1. Transcripts: Applicants may upload unofficial transcripts with your application for the departmental initial review. If the applicant is admitted, then official transcripts of all college-level work will be required. Official transcripts must be in sealed envelopes as issued by the school(s) attended. If you have attended Berkeley, upload your unofficial transcript with your application for the departmental initial review. If you are admitted, an official transcript with evidence of degree conferral will not be required.
  2. Letters of recommendation: Applicants may request online letters of recommendation through the online application system. Hard copies of recommendation letters must be sent directly to the program, not the Graduate Division.
  3. Evidence of English language proficiency: All applicants from countries or political entities in which the official language is not English are required to submit official evidence of English language proficiency. This applies to applicants from Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Latin America, the Middle East, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, most European countries, and Quebec (Canada). However, applicants who, at the time of application, have already completed at least one year of full-time academic course work with grades of B or better at a US university may submit an official transcript from the US university to fulfill this requirement. The following courses will not fulfill this requirement:
    • courses in English as a Second Language,
    • courses conducted in a language other than English,
    • courses that will be completed after the application is submitted, and
    • courses of a non-academic nature.

If applicants have previously been denied admission to Berkeley on the basis of their English language proficiency, they must submit new test scores that meet the current minimum from one of the standardized tests.

Where to Apply

Visit the Berkeley Graduate Division application page

Admission to the Program

In addition to the application, transcripts of undergraduate work, and letters of recommendation, applicants must submit scores of the General and Physics Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), and, if applicable, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

Detailed information concerning admission, financial aid, and degree requirements may be found on the department's website.

Doctoral Degree Requirements

Normative Time Requirements

Total Normative Time

The department has established six years as the normative time to degree. Normative time is the elapsed calendar time in years that under normal circumstances will be needed to complete all requirements for the PhD, assuming a student who enters without deficiencies, who is engaged in full-time uninterrupted study, and who is making desirable progress toward the degree.

Time to Advancement

Curriculum

Introduction to Current Research 1
Introduction to Current Research 1
A total of six graduate or equivalent courses, three of which must be from the Astronomy Department. It is strongly recommended that these be drawn from the following basic courses:
Radiation Processes in Astronomy
Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics
Astrophysical Techniques
Numerical Techniques in Astronomy
ASTRON 216
Course Not Available
Stellar Dynamics and Galactic Structure
Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology
Solar System Astrophysics
Stellar Structure and Evolution
High Energy Astrophysics
1

The Introduction to Current Research seminar is required of all students in their first year. This consists of weekly lectures by different faculty members and research staff, and introduces the student to current research being carried out in the department and nearby labs. (This course is not a preliminary exam topic.)

Preliminary Exams

The preliminary examination should be completed by the end of the second academic year of study and focuses on basic competency in three subfields selected by the student.

Students entering with a master’s degree or its equivalent may have the preliminary examination requirement waived subject to the discretion of the chair.

Qualifying Exams

The qualifying examination should be completed by the end of the fourth academic year of study and is composed of a review of a thesis topic and an examination of a student’s competency in his or her research subfield.

Thesis

The thesis is an original piece of research carried out by the candidate under the supervision of a thesis adviser and two other faculty members (one of whom must be from another discipline). For information regarding guidelines, please see the Graduate Division's website.

Required Professional Development

Teaching

All candidates for the PhD in Astrophysics must acquire two semesters of teaching experience during their graduate career, whether or not compensated. It is desirable that this requirement be satisfied early in the graduate career, but it may be delayed for those international students who have not acquired adequate command of English, or other reasons, at the discretion of the chair. The requirement may be waived for transfer students who have acquired similar teaching experience elsewhere.

Master's Degree

Students are normally not admitted for the master’s degree only, but may find it worthwhile to add to their record en route to the PhD. Once these requirements have been fulfilled, the student should see the student affairs officer to obtain an Application for Candidacy for the master’s degree.

In order to earn the master's, students are required to pass the preliminary exam and must complete 24 units of upper division and graduate courses, including 12 units of “non-research” (lecture) courses.

University Registration

Registration is required of all students making any use of University facilities, including access to faculty. A student is required to be registered, or pay the filing fee, whichever is applicable for the semester in which the degree is conferred. To be eligible for filing fee status the student must have been continuously registered since entering (allowing for one year of approved withdrawal), and registered in the term immediately preceding the one in which the Filing Fee is requested. You must register each semester before the end of the third week of classes.

Courses

Astrophysics

ASTRON 201 Radiation Processes in Astronomy 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2012, Fall 2011, Fall 2010
An introduction to the basic physics of astronomy and astrophysics at the graduate level. Principles of energy transfer by radiation. Elements of classical and quantum theory of photon emission; bremsstrahlung, cyclotron and synchrotron radiation. Compton scattering, atomic, molecular and nuclear electromagnetic transitions. Collisional excitation of atoms, molecules and nuclei.

Radiation Processes in Astronomy: Read More [+]

ASTRON C202 Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2017, Spring 2016, Fall 2015, Fall 2014
Principles of gas dynamics, self-gravitating fluids, magnetohydrodynamics and elementary kinetic theory. Aspects of convection, fluid oscillations, linear instabilities, spiral density waves, shock waves, turbulence, accretion disks, stellar winds, and jets.

Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics: Read More [+]

ASTRON 203 Astrophysical Techniques 3 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2017, Spring 2016, Spring 2013
Introduction to the flow of astronomical signals through telescope optics and into detectors; subsequent calibration, deconvolution of instrumental artifacts, and analysis. A broad wavelength approach is maintained with focus on shared fundamental concepts. Students "adopt a wavelength band" for assignments and presentations. Analysis and simulation of astronomical signals, noise, and errors.

Astrophysical Techniques: Read More [+]

ASTRON 204 Numerical Techniques in Astronomy 3 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2011, Spring 2010, Spring 2008
Methods of data analysis, model fitting, and data display, all oriented towards the detailed analysis of astronomical observation data and/or numerical results from simulations. Specific topics include probability density functions, error propagation, maximum likelihood, least squares, data and function fitting, Fourier transforms, wavelets, principal components analysis, color images. The software language used is the Interactive Data Language
(IDL).
Numerical Techniques in Astronomy: Read More [+]

ASTRON C207 Radiation Processes in Astronomy 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Fall 2016, Fall 2015
An introduction to the basic physics of astronomy and astrophysics at the graduate level. Principles of energy transfer by radiation. Elements of classical and quantum theory of photon emission; bremsstrahlung, cyclotron and synchrotron radiation. Compton scattering, atomic, molecular and nuclear electromagnetic transitions. Collisional excitation of atoms, molecules and nuclei.

Radiation Processes in Astronomy: Read More [+]

ASTRON 218 Stellar Dynamics and Galactic Structure 3 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2016, Spring 2014, Fall 2013
A basic course. Structure and kinematics of the galaxy; stellar population concepts; dynamics of stellar systems with and without encounters.

Stellar Dynamics and Galactic Structure: Read More [+]

ASTRON C228 Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology 3 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2016, Fall 2015, Fall 2014
A survey of physical cosmology - the study of the origin, evolution, and fate of the universe. Topics include the Friedmann-Robertson-Walker model, thermal history and big bang nucleosynthesis, evidence and nature of dark matter and dark energy, the formation and growth of galaxies and large scale structure, the anisotropy of the cosmic microwave radiation, inflation in the early universe, tests of cosmological models, and current research areas.
The course complements the material of Astronomy 218.
Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology: Read More [+]

ASTRON C249 Solar System Astrophysics 3 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2011, Fall 2008, Spring 2007, Fall 2004
The physical foundations of planetary sciences. Topics include planetary interiors and surfaces, planetary atmospheres and magnetospheres, and smaller bodies in our solar system. The physical processes at work are developed in some detail, and an evolutionary picture for our solar system, and each class of objects, is developed. Some discussion of other (potential) planetary systems is also included.

Solar System Astrophysics: Read More [+]

ASTRON 250 Special Topics in Astrophysics 3 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2016
Topics will vary from semester to semester. See department for announcements.

Special Topics in Astrophysics: Read More [+]

ASTRON 252 Stellar Structure and Evolution 3 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Fall 2015, Spring 2013
Equations of stellar structure, radiative transfer and convection, thermonuclear reactions and stellar energy generations; stellar models, degenerate configurations, evolutionary sequences, supernovae, neutron stars, black holes, nucleosynthesis.

Stellar Structure and Evolution: Read More [+]

ASTRON C254 High Energy Astrophysics 3 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2017, Spring 2014, Spring 2012
Basic physics of high energy radiation processes in an astrophysics environment. Cosmic ray production and propagation. Applications selected from pulsars, x-ray sources, supernovae, interstellar medium, extragalactic radio sources, quasars, and big-bang cosmologies.

High Energy Astrophysics: Read More [+]

ASTRON 255 Computational Methods in Theoretical Astrophysics 3 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2016, Spring 2012, Spring 2010
A broad in-depth survey of state-of-the-art numerical approaches to astrophysical self-gravitational gas dynamics with application to large scale simulation of coupled non-linear astrophysical flows. Finite-difference approaches for Lagrangian and Eulerian astrophysical hydrodynamics and coupled radiation-hydrodynamics. N-body gravitation techniques including direct N-body, P-M, P3M, and hierarchical Tree. Particle gas dynamics methods such
as smooth particle hydrodynamics (SPH), adaptive SPH and unification of SPH, and gravity tree hierarchies (TREE-SPH). Advanced techniques such as higher order Godunov finite difference methods with adaptive mesh refinement (AMR). Applications of these approaches in three broad areas: cosmology, high energy astrophysics, and star formation and the interstellar medium.
Computational Methods in Theoretical Astrophysics: Read More [+]

ASTRON C285 Theoretical Astrophysics Seminar 1 Unit

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2016
The study of theoretical astrophysics.

Theoretical Astrophysics Seminar: Read More [+]

ASTRON 290A Introduction to Current Research 1 Unit

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Fall 2016, Fall 2015
Survey of research currently being performed in the Department or the University.

Introduction to Current Research: Read More [+]

ASTRON 290B Introduction to Current Research 1 Unit

Terms offered: Spring 2017, Spring 2016, Spring 2015
Continuation of 290A. Study of a research topic with an individual staff member.

Introduction to Current Research: Read More [+]

ASTRON C290C Cosmology 2 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2016

Cosmology: Read More [+]

ASTRON 292 Seminar 1 - 2 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2016
In addition to the weekly colloquium, the Department offers seminars in advanced topics, several of which are announced at the beginning of each semester. A maximum of 5 units may be taken per semester with a limitation of 2 in any one section.

Seminar: Read More [+]

ASTRON C292 Planetary Science Seminar 1 Unit

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2016
The departments of Astronomy and Earth and Planetary Science offer a joint research seminar in advanced topics in planetary science, featuring speakers drawn from graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, faculty, and visiting scholars. Topics will span planetary interiors; surface morphology; atmospheres; dynamics; planet formation; and astrobiology. Speakers will vary from semester to semester. Meetings will be held once a week for 1 hour
each, and the schedule of speakers will be determined on the first day of class. To pass the class, participants will be required to give a 30-minute presentation, either on their own research or on recent results from the literature.
Planetary Science Seminar: Read More [+]

ASTRON 298 Directed Group Study 1 - 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Fall 2016, Spring 2016
Tutorial for groups of two or three students.

Directed Group Study: Read More [+]

ASTRON 299 Advanced Study and Research 2 - 12 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2016

Advanced Study and Research: Read More [+]

ASTRON 301 Undergraduate Astronomy Instruction 1 - 2 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2004, Fall 2003, Fall 2002
Open to a limited number of highly qualified undergraduate students interested in astronomy teaching at the college level. Students will participate in a seminar on educational methods and engage in tutorial or laboratory teaching under supervision of a faculty member.

Undergraduate Astronomy Instruction: Read More [+]

ASTRON 375 Instruction Techniques in General Astronomy 2 - 6 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2014, Spring 2014, Fall 2013
Discussion and practice of teaching techniques as applied to astronomy. Open to graduate students who are presently teaching assistants or associates. Two units for course plus one section; three units for two discussion sections.

Instruction Techniques in General Astronomy: Read More [+]

ASTRON 602 Individual Study for Doctoral Students 1 - 8 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2015, Fall 2014, Fall 2013
Individual study in consultation with the major field adviser, intended to provide an opportunity for qualified students to prepare themselves for the various examinations required of candidates for the Ph.D. (and other doctoral degrees). May not be used for unit or residence requirement for the doctoral degree.

Individual Study for Doctoral Students: Read More [+]

Faculty and Instructors

+ Indicates this faculty member is the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award.

Faculty

Steven Beckwith, Professor.

Joshua Bloom, Professor. Machine learning, gamma-ray bursts, supernovae, time-domain astronomy, data-driven discovery.
Research Profile

+ Eugene Chiang, Professor. Planetary science, theoretical astrophysics, dynamics, planet formation, circumstellar disks.
Research Profile

Imke De Pater, Professor. Radio, planetary science, infrared, observations.
Research Profile

+ Alexei V. Filippenko, Professor.

Reinhard Genzel, Professor. Physics, existence and formation of black holes in galactic nuclei, the nature of the power source, the evolution of (ultra)luminous infrared galaxies, gas dynamics, the fueling of active galactic nuclei, the properties evolution of starburst galaxies.
Research Profile

Alfred E. Glassgold, Adjunct Professor. Theoretical astrophysics and underlying physical processes, interstellar and circumstellar matter, star and planet fromation, protoplanetary disks.
Research Profile

James R. Graham, Professor. Adaptive optics, infrared instrumentation, large telescopes.
Research Profile

Raymond Jeanloz, Professor. Planetary geophysics, high-pressure physics, national and international security, science-based policy.
Research Profile

Paul Kalas, Adjunct Professor. Planets, astronomy, Telescopes, Science Ethics.
Research Profile

Daniel Kasen, Associate Professor.

Richard I. Klein, Adjunct Professor. Astronomy, star formation, interstellar medium, coupled radiation-gas dynamical flows, supernova shockwaves, hydrodynamic collisions, high-energy astrophysics, photon bubble oscillations, hydro dynamics.
Research Profile

Mariska Kriek, Associate Professor.

Chung-Pei Ma, Professor. Astrophysics, dark matter, cosmology, formation and evolution of galaxies, cosmic microwave background radiation.
Research Profile

Burkhard Militzer, Associate Professor. Saturn, structure and evolution of Jupiter, and extrasolar giant planets.
Research Profile

Peter Nugent, Adjunct Professor. Supernovae, wide-field optical surveys, time-domain astrophysics, radiation transport, cosmology, computational astrophysics.
Research Profile

Aaron Parsons, Assistant Professor.

Eliot Quataert, Professor. Compact objects, theoretical astrophysics, theoretical physics, black holes, accretion theory, plasma physics, high energy astrophysics, galaxies, stars.
Research Profile

Uros Seljak, Professor.

Daniel R. Weisz, Assistant Professor.

Martin White, Professor. Cosmology, formation of structure in the universe, dark energy, expansion of the universe, cosmic microwave background, quasars, redshift surveys.
Research Profile

Emeritus Faculty

Jonathan Arons, Professor Emeritus. Astrophysics, compact astrophysical objects, Neutron Stars, ionized plasmas, cosmic rays, magnetized accretion disks, black holes pulsars, magnetic fields, planets.
Research Profile

Gibor Basri, Professor Emeritus. Astronomy, low mass stars, brown dwarfs, star formation, T Tauri stars, stellar magnetic activity, starspots.
Research Profile

Leo Blitz, Professor Emeritus. Astronomy, formation of galaxies, evolution of galaxies, conversion of interstellar gases, milky way, dark matter, dwarf galaxies, interstellar medium, high velocity clouds, hydrogen atom.
Research Profile

C. Stuart Bowyer, Professor Emeritus.

Marc Davis, Professor Emeritus. Astronomy, physical cosmology, large scale velocity fields, structure formation in the universe, maps of galactic dust.
Research Profile

Carl E. Heiles, Professor Emeritus. Astronomy, interstellar medium, itsmorphology, supernovas, interstellar magnetic fields, Eridanus superbubble, interstellar gases.
Research Profile

Ivan R. King, Professor Emeritus.

Leonard V. Kuhi, Professor Emeritus.

Christopher F. Mckee, Professor Emeritus. Astrophysics, interstellar medium, formation of stars, astrophysical fluid dynamics, computational astrophysics, astrophysical blast waves, supernova remnants, interstellar shocks.
Research Profile

Frank H. Shu, Professor Emeritus.

Joseph Silk, Professor Emeritus.

Hyron Spinrad, Professor Emeritus. Galactic evolution, physical constitution of comets, evolution of radio galaxies, normal galaxies, reduction of two-dimensional CCD spectra, cometary constitution.
Research Profile

Harold F. Weaver, Professor Emeritus.

William J. (Jack) Welch, Professor Emeritus. Formation of stars, dark dust clouds, Michelson interferometer array, and Allen telescope array.
Research Profile

Contact Information

Department of Astronomy

501 Campbell Hall

Phone: 510-642-5275

Fax: 510-642-3411

Visit Department Website

Department Chair

Eugene Chiang

501 Campbell Hall

Phone: 510-642-5275

Fax: 510-642-3411

echiang@astro.berkeley.edu

Graduate Student Affairs Officer

Dexter Stewart

501E Campbell Hall

Phone: 510-642-8520

Fax: 510-642-3411

dexters@berkeley.edu

Back to Top