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College of Letters & Science


Requirements for the Major
Honors in the Major

2532 Sterling Hall, 475 North Charter Street, Madison, WI 53706; 608-262-3071; fax 608-263-6386; www.astro.wisc.edu

Professors Barger, Bershady, Gallagher, Heinz, Lazarian, Mathieu, Stanimirovic, Wilcots, Zweibel; Associate Professor Townsend; Assistant Professors D'Onghia, Tremonti

Undergraduate advisor in the major: Professor Snezana Stanimirovic, sstanimi@astro.wisc.edu, 4514 Sterling Hall; or contact department office for an advisor.

Faculty diversity liaison: Professor Eric Wilcots, ewilcots@astro.wisc.edu

Astronomy, the oldest of the sciences, for the last several decades has been one of the most exciting fields of modern scientific research. New discoveries concerning the solar system, stars, galaxies, and the origin of the universe continue to be made by both ground and space telescopes. To understand and pursue modern astronomy, one must have a solid background in physics and mathematics as well as in astronomy.

The astronomy–physics major, administered by the Department of Astronomy, provides undergraduates the opportunity to appreciate our current understanding of the astronomical universe, while developing the necessary physics and math background. Students who intend to continue astronomy in a graduate program are strongly encouraged to do a Senior Thesis (Astro 681/682 (honors) or Astro 691/692). The experiences of actual research and of writing a major paper develop both technical and writing skills.

Requirements for the Major

The major requires a minimum of 34 credits in the field of specialization, with at least 6 of these credits in astronomy and at least 28 credits in physics. Before declaring the major, students must complete the first two of the three intro sequence physics classes:  Physics 247, 248, and 249 (recommended sequence), or 207, 208, and 241, or Physics 201, 202, 205. We encourage students to declare their major as early as possible, and no later than the semester before graduation.  In addition, the specific course requirements for the major are (these also count toward the 15 credits of upper-level courses as required by the College of Letters & Science):


At least two of the following (but note that 310 is a prerequisite for 330, 335, and 500):

310 Stellar Astrophysics, 3 cr
320 The Interstellar Medium, 3 cr
330 Galaxies and Cosmology, 3 cr
335 Cosmology, 3 cr
340 Solar System Astronomy, 3 cr
500 Techniques of Modern Observational Astrophysics, 3 cr

Astronomy 103 and 104 are not required for majors.


247–248–249 A Modern Introduction to Physics (or 201–202–205; or 207–208–241) 14 cr
311 Mechanics, 3 cr
322 Electromagnetic Fields, 3 cr
415 Thermal Physics, 3 cr
448 Atomic and Quantum Physics, 3 cr
449 Atomic and Quantum Physics, 3 cr
531 Introduction to Quantum Mechanics (3) may be substituted for the 448–449 sequence.

A 300-level or higher laboratory course must be taken; Astronomy 510 (Radio Astronomy Lab) or Physics 308 (Intermediate Laboratory– Electromagnetic Fields and Optics) or 321 (Electric Circuits and Electronics) are recommended to satisfy this requirement.

Recommended Additional Courses

Math: Mathematics courses other than those required as prerequisites for physics courses are not required for the major, but the following courses are recommended: Math 319 (Ordinary Differential Equations), Math 321 and 322 (Applied Analysis). If a student plans to work toward the Ph.D degree the student should also take Math 320 (Linear Mathematics) or Math 340 (Matrix and Linear Algebra). Additional mathematics (or statistics) courses should be chosen after consultation with the undergraduate advisor.

Computing: Computers are fundamental to astronomical research. An introduction through Comp Sci 302 or short courses run by the computing center should be considered.

Chemistry: A college course in physical or organic chemistry is useful for astronomy students. Physical chemistry is particularly valuable for those interested in the interstellar medium, comets, and planets.

Statistics: A background in statistics is valuable, particularly for students interested in observational astronomy. Statistics 301, or Statistics 309/310 for a more solid foundation, are suggested.

Languages: French, German, Russian, and especially Spanish are the most useful foreign languages for astronomy students, but are not required.

For pre-major advising, or to declare the astronomy–physics major, students should contact Professor Townsend at townsend@astro.wisc.edu. Additional information and handouts on the major are available in the office of the undergraduate coordinator at 2554 Sterling Hall.

Honors in the Major

Students wishing to receive Honors in the Major must satisfy the following requirements:

  1. A minimum grade point average of 3.5 in all 300 or higher level courses is required for the major.
  2. Completion of four 300 or higher level astronomy courses with a minimum grade point average of 3.5 and an overall GPA of at least 3.3 in all courses taken at UW–Madison at the time of graduation.
  3. Completion of a Senior Honors Thesis (Astron 681/682) with a grade of AB or better. Students wishing to pursue Honors in the Major should contact the undergraduate advisor to seek guidance about planning the best possible Honors in the Major curriculum that reflects their special interests.