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Astronomy-Physics Major (BS)

Current Director of the Undergraduate Program (DUP) and Astronomy-Physics BS majors advisor in the Astronomy Department:  
Steven Majewski (srm4n@virginia.edu)
Current Director of the Undergraduate Program (DUP) in the Physics Department: 
Cass Sackett (cas8m@virginia.edu)

If you have any additional questions about the Astronomy-Physics degree program not answered below, please email either of the DUPs listed above or set up a time to meet. The Astronomy Department DUP is the principal contact in our department for the Astronomy-Physics BS.

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The Bachelor of Science degree in Astronomy-Physics is a program offered jointly by the Astronomy and Physics Departments. This major prepares the student for graduate study in astronomy, physics, computer science, and related fields. The curriculum is listed in the tabulation below. A senior thesis is required.

Prospective Astronomy-Physics Majors are strongly urged to consult with the Director of the Undergraduate Program in Astronomy during registration week of their first semester at the University. 

Required Courses for the Astronomy-Physics Major:

Arts & Sciences Area Requirements:

Astronomy courses:

  • ASTR 2110, 2120: Introduction to Astrophysics
  • ASTR 3130: Observational Astronomy
  • ASTR 4993: Tutorial (no longer required for students entering Fall 2021)
  • ASTR 4998: Senior Thesis
  • Two ASTR 3000-level, 4000-level, or 5000-level electives. ASTR 4810 is highly encouraged as an elective choice for students with an interest in graduate school
  • ASTR 1610 recommended but not required

Physics Courses: 

  • PHYS 1420 & PHYS 1429: Intro Physics 1 
  • PHYS 2410 & PHYS 2419: Intro Physics 2 (PHYS 1425, 2415 is equivalent to PHYS 1420/2410 and has more scheduling options)
  • PHYS 2620: Modern Physics
  • PHYS 2720: Problem Solving and Special Topics in Classical Physics
  • PHYS 3210: Classical Mechanics
  • PHYS 3310: Statistical Physics
  • PHYS 3340 (or PHYS 3559 or MATH 4210): Math for Physics
  • PHYS 3420: Electricity and Magnetism 1
  • PHYS 3430: Electricity and Magnetism 2
  • PHYS 3650: Quantum Physics 1
  • PHYS 1660 recommended but not required

Computing Course:

  • PHYS 2660 (In Fall 2022, PHYS 1559 is replacing PHYS 2660. In subsequent semesters, it will be PHYS 1655)

Mathematics Courses:

  • MATH 1310: Calculus 1
  • MATH 1320: Calculus 2
  • MATH 2310: Calculus 3
  • MATH 3250: Ordinary Differential Equations
  • MATH 4220: Partial Differential Equations and Applied Mathematics

A typical schedule for taking these courses for majors entering in Fall 2023 is shown below. This includes some of the College area requirements, but these are not required for the major.

 

Fall and spring classes for Astro-Physics majors each year.

 

Many students find that taking courses in the summer session can help them catch up if they are behind in the major or open up more options during the fall and spring semesters.   Currently the following are available in the summer session: 

  • PHYS 1425 (Intro Physics 1 for Engineers - equivalent to 1420) + PHYS 1429 (Intro Physics 1 Workshop)
  • PHYS 2415 (Intro Physics 2 for Engineers - equivalent to 2410)  + PHYS 2419 (Intro Physics 2 Workshop)
  • PHYS 2620 (Modern Physics)
  • MATH 1310 (Calculus I)   - also APMA 1090 in Engineering which is equivalent
  • MATH 1320 (Calculus II)   - also APMA 1110 in Engineering
  • MATH 2310 (Calculus III)   - also APMA 2120 in Engineering
  • APMA 2130 (Ordinary Differential Equations)   - equivalent to MATH 3250

Senior Thesis

Astronomy-Physics students are required to complete a senior thesis in their fourth year. For full details, see the Senior Thesis page.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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Who administers the Astronomy-Physics B.S. program and who advises students in it?

The Astronomy-Physics BS is a joint degree offered by the Astronomy and Physics Departments. Thus, both departments have a vested interest in tracking students taking on this challenging degree, and students who are in this program are required to meet every semester with advisors from both departments.

The Astronomy Department DUP listed above serves as the Astronomy-Physics BS majors advisor from that department. There are multiple majors advisors in the Physics Department.  After meeting with the Physics Department DUP to declare your major, you will be assigned one of the advisors in that department.

Your Physics Department advisor will be more adept at answering questions about the Physics course sequence and requirements, whereas your Astronomy Department advisor above will be more adept at answering the Astronomy course sequence and requirements.

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When should I get started on the B.S. degree?

If you have a sense that you may be interested in the B.S. degree, you are urged to get started on the sequence with the lower division courses as soon as possible, even if you wait to declare the major. Please view the requirements for the major to get a better sense of the course load and schedule.

Note that the lower division MATH and PHYS courses for both the Astronomy BA and Astronomy-Physics BS degrees have a strong, but not 100% overlap, which allows you to delay choosing between the two degrees until your second year.  However, starting in the fall semester of the second year, the courses expected to be taken for the two degrees start to diverge, and you should pay special attention to keep the B.S. option tractable if you are still undecided (e.g., ASTR 2110 and 2120 can be used for either the B.A. or B.S. degree, but ASTR 1210 and 1220 cannot be used for the B.S. degree).

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What if I’m interested in the B.S., but I’ve transferred into UVA or have decided to try the major later than usual?

In short, students who transfer or want to begin the program after their second year find that they simply cannot make enough time in their schedule to complete the required courses and/or make the pre-requisite sequence work, especially considering that many of the required courses are only offered once per academic year. As mentioned above, the heavy course requirements for the Astronomy-Physics BS program can make it a challenge to complete for students who decide to pursue the major at a later stage of college or after transferring to UVA. Students who get transfer or other credit for required lower division courses have a better chance of “catching up”.  Sometimes it is possible to take summer courses, either at UVA or another university, to fill the requirements, though students are strongly advised to make sure that UVA will transfer the credit before proceeding.

Students in this situation who are hoping to go to graduate school in astronomy or astrophysics should consider an “enhanced Astronomy BA” route. The fewer course requirements for the Astronomy BA allows students makes it possible take many of the physics and mathematics courses required by the Astronomy-Physics BS major, but without the pressure to fulfill all of the requirements. Nevertheless, students considering the “enhanced Astronomy BA” path should strive to take additional upper level MATH and PHYS courses and the more demanding versions of courses (e.g., for the 3000-level ASTR electives) whenever possible to best set themselves up for graduate studies. Make sure to make clear to the B.S. Astronomy-Physics majors advisor your intentions for graduate study, so that you can get the best advice regarding course selection.

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How do I apply to the Astronomy-Physics BS program?

If you are not yet ready to declare the major and just have questions, contact either the Astronomy or Physics Department DUP. 

Declaring a major for a joint degree program is more complicated than other majors, because paperwork filed with the College is coming from both departments.  Please follow the below steps to complete your major declaration.

Before starting, be sure to look at the degree requirements and the “typical schedule” for the courses listed on this website, to see if you can complete them. As a tool to help you check this, please fill out the google form. This form will also be an aid to the majors advisors to check that you are on track to complete the degree, so make sure you do this before proceeding to the next step.

  1. Email to the Astronomy Department DUP to set up an appointment to meet.
  2. After meeting with the Astronomy Department DUP, meet with the Physics Department DUP, who will also help you with the key step of filling out the declaration of major form.
  3. The Physics Department DUP will sign the form and send it back to the Astronomy Department DUP for signature.  You will also be given a Physics Department advisor at this point (the Astronomy Department DUP also serves as the Astronomy Department advisor for the B.S. degree).
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How should I choose the 3000+ level elective courses?

Students should be aware that most of the ASTR 3000-level courses are intended for non-science majors who are interested in astronomy and require relatively few mathematical prerequisites. Hence, these courses are typically meant to offer an introduction to specialized areas of study within astronomy, but often without requiring significant prior course preparation.  One exception is the ASTR 3130 course, which is the required laboratory course for both the B.A. and B.S. degrees. 

This means that the majority of the 3000-level courses are not ideal for graduate school preparation. If your primary goal is to pursue graduate study in astronomy, you may want to look more closely at the 4000 level course options (e.g., ASTR 4810 Astrophysics, ASTR 4993 Tutorial, ASTR 4140 Research Methods in Astrophysics) for courses that are more focused on graduate school preparation. Note that this means that many of these courses have more significant course prerequisites in math and physics. Strong students might also consider a graduate (i.e., 5000-level) course, but you are strongly advised to discuss this with the Astronomy-Physics BS advisor first. Courses at the 3000+ level are typically only offered one semester per academic year, and occasionally may not be offered at all in a year due to faculty leave or other circumstances making an instructor unavailable.

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What is the Distinguished Majors Program (DMP)?

Distinguished majors are recognized as students who have not only completed the B.S. degree requirements, but have gone beyond those requirements and done so at the highest levels of academic achievement.  Among the extra course requirements for the DMP students must complete the following:

  • A second semester of Senior Thesis
  • One extra upper level PHYS course (PHYS 3660 or a PHYS 5000+ level course).
  • The elective ASTR courses must be at the 4000+ level (not counting ASTR 4993 or 4998).  The PHYS 5000+ and ASTR 4000+ levels afford these students an opportunity to pursue specialties (e.g., in gravitation, optics, data-oriented studies, etc.). 
  • Maintain a GPA of 3.4 or better.  The final GPA will determine whether the student is conferred a degree with Distinction (GPA = 3.4-3.6), High Distinction (3.6-3.8), or Highest Distinction (3.8-4.0).
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What do I do if I'm having a SIS-related issue? I have an issue with transfer credit, SIS is not showing requirements completed, or I am hoping to substitute another course for one of the Astronomy major requirements. 

If you have an issue with a transfer credit, completed courses, or if you want to substitute a course for a program requirement, speak with your advisor ASAP. In some cases, it is possible to grant exceptions in SIS for issues that might arise. It is, however, important to be aware that the granting of such exceptions are subject to Astronomy Department and College of Arts and Sciences policies.

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How should I pursue undergraduate research and what opportunities are available?

There are numerous opportunities for undergraduate research.  Undergraduate research is most often performed for course credit (ASTR 4993 Tutorial; ASTR 4998 Senior Thesis) or paid summer research.  Many faculty and staff within the department supervise research, but there are also local opportunities to do research with astronomers and scientists at the nearby National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). 

Many undergraduate students also apply to external research opportunities and summer internships, such as Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) programs.  Application deadlines for many of these programs begin in January and acceptance into these programs can be highly competitive. Most programs require a letter from a research supervisor or related reference.  Hence, it is often useful to have local research experience before applying these external programs. If you are interested in such programs, you should ask your majors advisor about them – the earlier you start preparing, the better.

A list of local research project opportunities is maintained on this Google Sheet. Note that this is not a comprehensive list of available projects and there are many more faculty and staff who are willing to supervise research who are not listed here.

The National Science Foundation supports numerous REU programs and is a good place to start a search.  A list of current NSF-supported REU programs can be found here: https://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/list_result.jsp?unitid=5045

NASA also has a broad program of “internships” available.  The portal to these programs is here: https://intern.nasa.gov/#info-intern-0

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I have a question not covered here.  What do I do?

Promptly email the majors advisor if you have any additional questions or concerns. Don’t wait! The earlier issues or questions are addressed, the easier it is to modify plans and make adjustments.