For information about Web accessibility, please contact the Webmaster at

Haverford College
Departments of Physics and Astronomy
header imageheader imageheader imageheader imageheader imageheader imageheader imageheader image

Academic Programs

Prof. Walter Smith and students in discussion

Physics Program

The physics curriculum introduces students to concepts and methods that are fundamental throughout the sciences. It provides opportunities for first-hand experimental and theoretical investigations, together with the study of those basic principles that have led to profound scientific, philosophical, and technological developments. While many of our majors go on to graduate study, we have structured our programs to be sufficiently flexible that they also accommodate students wishing to study abroad, or to combine physics with other fields of study, including medicine and interdisciplinary programs in astrophysics, biophysics, chemical physics, computing, and engineering. These different options can be accommodated by selecting either the traditional or interdisciplinary major, which have somewhat different requirements. The interdisciplinary major has the noteworthy feature that it can be started in the sophomore year, but it is not designed for students interested in graduate study in physics.

Astronomy Program

The astronomy curriculum centers on studying the phenomena of the extraterrestrial Universe and on understanding them in terms of the fundamental principles of physics. We offer a variety of courses that introduce students to the most recent developments in astrophysics. Students have the opportunity to perform observations with the Strawbridge Observatory's optical, solar, and radio telescopes and to participate in astronomical research in collaboration with a faculty advisor. Haverford's membership in the 0.9m telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory also offers students the chance to travel to southern Arizona to obtain optical astronomical observations. Students frequently present their work at conferences, visit colleagues at other institutions, and/or visit a telescope facility such as Keck or the VLA. The upper level courses contain substantial project-based investigation and/or are substantially research-driven.

The astronomy program offers two majors: astronomy and astrophysics. Both majors provide substantial training in quantitative reasoning and independent thinking through work in and out of the classroom. The astronomy major is appropriate for students that desire an in-depth education in astronomy that can be applied to a wide-range of career trajectories, but who do not necessarily intend to pursue graduate study in astronomy. The astrophysics major is appropriate for students who wish to pursue the study of astronomy with additional attention to the physical principles that underlie astrophysical phenomena. The depth of the physics training required for a degree in astrophysics will prepare students who wish to pursue a career in astronomy or astrophysics, or to enter graduate study in astronomy or astrophysics. The department also offers a minor in astronomy. Students may major in astronomy or astrophysics, but not both. Astrophysics majors may not double major in either physics or astronomy, nor can they minor in either physics or astronomy. Astronomy majors may pursue a double major or a minor in physics.

Minors & Concentrations

Haverford physics, astronomy and astrophysics majors may choose to minor in chemistry, mathematics, computer science, or many other departments, including those outside the sciences.  At Haverford, concentrations are focused programs of study affiliated with particular majors.  The available concentrations are Biophysics, Education, and Computer Science (for physics majors), and Scientific Computing (for physics or astronomy majors).  Students can also petition to pursue independent programs in fields covered at Haverford, but for which formal degree programs do not exist, such as materials science.  Majors interested in engineering can take courses at local colleges and universities offering programs in engineering and can apply for Haverford's 3/2 program with CalTech.

More Information

Learning Goals