Astrophysics Major

Our exploration of the phenomena of the extraterrestrial universe is conducted through the lens of physics. We are committed to providing each of our majors a solid foundation in the basic principles of both astronomy and physics, an understanding of their most recent developments, and the tools and inspiration to pursue learning in both.

Student research is a vital part of the major. Extraordinary teachers and mentors, our faculty also work at the cutting edge of modern astronomy and cosmology, creating exceptional research opportunities for majors. Some of those opportunities are based on campus, within the College’s well-equipped William J. Strawbridge Observatory; others take students across the country to observatories such as the one at Kitt Peak in Arizona.

Curriculum & Courses

We recommend our astrophysics major for students who seek more grounding in physics and aim to enter a career (or pursue graduate study) in astronomy or astrophysics.

Astrophysics majors must complete several introductory and upper-level physics classes; introductory and advanced courses in astronomy; a senior research paper; and Physics 399, a year-long seminar in which physics and astrophysics majors develop these papers. For the department’s astronomy major, see that Area of Study.

  • Major

    • PHYS H105 (or PHYS H115 or PHYS H101), PHYS H106 (or PHYS H102), PHYS H213, PHYS H214, PHYS H211 (usually taken concurrently with PHYS H213).
    • Two mathematics courses; MATH H121 and all 200-level or higher mathematics courses can be used to satisfy this requirement.
    • ASTR H205, ASTR H206, and any two 300-level astronomy courses. Majors can substitute 100-level Swarthmore astronomy seminars for 300-level astronomy courses.
    • PHYS H302, PHYS H303, and PHYS H309.
    • The Senior Seminar, PHYS H399, including a talk and senior thesis on research conducted by the student. This research can be undertaken in a 400-level research course with any member of the Physics and Astronomy Department or by doing extracurricular research at Haverford or elsewhere, e.g., an approved summer research internship at another institution. The thesis is to be written under the supervision of both the research advisor and a Haverford advisor if the research advisor is not a Haverford faculty member.

    Bryn Mawr equivalents may be substituted for the non-astronomy courses. ASTR H152/PHYS H152 is recommended but not required.

Research & Outreach

For astrophysics majors, student research culminates with Physics 399, our required two-semester senior seminar. In it, majors develop, draft, and present a scientific paper based on original research performed with a faculty member or based on existing research on a particular topic. Students also explore ethics and other conventions of the discipline, learn about career options and graduate programs, and interact with an array of visiting scientists as well as our vibrant alumni/ae community in this discussion-driven class.

After Graduation

We are invested in the long-term success of our students and are committed to developing the skills and perspectives—as well as the relationships—that will enable our majors to thrive as grad students at top programs and in a range of careers.

More than half of our majors pursue graduate study at the Ph.D. level in physics or astrophysics. Others go on to graduate programs in related areas such as mathematics, engineering, materials science, climate science, and computer science.

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