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Teaching Materials

On this page, I share lab and in-class discussion exercises that I’ve prepared for two of my classes:

Astronomy 206 Introduction to Astrophysics II - The second semester of our calculus-based intro to the major sequence. A year of college physics plus the first semester of Astrophysics are pre-requisites. Topics include: ISM, the Milky Way, galaxies, and cosmology. Students are already familiar with blackbody radiation, stars and star measurement, star formation, planets. Textbook: Ryden and Peterson, Foundations of Astrophysics.

Astronomy 342 Modern Galactic Astronomy - A course for junior and senior majors who have completed the introductory sequence. The coursework is largely project and programming-based, although the in-class discussions are not. Students are expected to be able to write basic IDL programs when the class begins. The materials for this class would also be appropriate for some graduate level classes. Textbook: Sparke and Gallagher: Galaxies in the Universe.

The Persistent Lack of Diversity in the Sciences - I also share this strawman syllabus for a course to be offered in Spring 2014 by my colleague, Jeff Tecosky-Feldman, and I. Comments and suggestions are welcomed.

All materials below are at your own risk. Beware of typos and confusing wording. When I teach these classes again, or develop similar materials for other classes, I will update/post new materials here. I would love to hear from you if you find any of these helpful. I can provide many of the materials linked here in Pages format if you ask.

Programming tutorials

  • IDL tutorial, Linux tutorial - I use variations of these Linux and IDL tutorials for both my beginning research students and for my Introduction to Astrophysics students, before they tackle their simulation lab. I based the Linux tutorial on one written by Michael Wood-Vasey some years ago. These tutorials are tailored to our needs, but your may find them helpful.
  • Big Data and SQL - This introduction to Big Data and SQL tutorial was used in my Astronomy 342 class.

In-class discussion questions

I give students in-class time to discuss and work problems related to the lecture portion of the class. Here are compilations of the discussion sheets and figures I distribute to students:

  • Spectroscopic properties of galaxies – This can be done in a computing classroom or as a takehome assignment. This activity is a truncated version of one of the SDSS online labs, and is appropriate for students in an introductory astronomy course aimed towards science majors.
  • Introduction to Astrophysics II, first half – This file includes discussion questions and activities on: ISM/dust, thermal equilibrium in HII regions, Galactic structure, Hipparcos parallaxes, Milky Way rotation curve, galaxy counts in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, galaxy spectroscopy, the Hubble Law, photometric properties of SDSS galaxies (ala Blanton et al. 2003), and the Tully Fisher relation.
  • Introduction to Astrophysics II, second half – This file includes discussion questions and activities on the Tully Fisher relation, galaxy and dark matter halo mass and luminosity functions, M/L as a function of galaxy mass, AGN, large scale structure, the CMB, the Friedmann Equation, and the accelerating universe.
  • Modern Galactic Astronomy – This file includes discussion questions and activities related to MW and CMD basics, single stellar populations, globular cluster CMDS – ages/distances/[Fe/H], luminosity functions and IMF, Milky Way mapping, chemical evolution, potential theory.


These three project sets constitute the entirety of homework assigned for the first 10 weeks of Astronomy 342. All of these assignments as written expect students to have proficiency with IDL programming, the second assignment requiring the greatest profiency. Students need ~3 weeks to complete each of these.

  • Astro 342 Project Set 1 – Using the SDSS to map the Milky Way, Querying the SDSS database with a SQL query, making basic spatial plots and CMDs, comparing the densities of stars along different lines of sights, using isochrones to understand the appearances of CMDs in g and r, integrating the Juric et al. density function.
  • Astro 342 Project Set 2 – Simulating the effect of Malmquist bias on magnitude limited studies, in particular photometric parallax based Milky Way mapping; Using SDSS cataloged M dwarfs to map the vertical structure of the disk, error propagation, observational biases.
  • Astro 342 Project Set 3 – Chemical evolution and the closed box model; Measuring the mass of the Milky Way; Measuring the mass of the Milky Way’s black hole (reproducing the Ghez et al. 1998 results); 2-body interaction timescales

N-body simulation lab

These two Astronomy 206 labs were assigned along with IDL and Linux tutorials. Students didn’t have prior computing experience The first lab required use of the TIPSY simulation visualization tool with a simulation run with PKDGRAV. Both labs rely on public sub-halo catalogs from the Millennium simulation. These labs are works in progress and intended to give students latitude to explore, but they may give you some ideas. Suggestions for improvement/correction are welcome.


I acknowledge support from NSF AST-0908446, NSF AST-0908193, and NSF AST-1151462 for the development and dissemination of these curricular materials.