Curriculum

Figuring out how to map an undergraduate career in astrophysics can be daunting. The astrophysics major at Berkeley is light by design to encourage students to find their own interests; at the same time, many classes are not strictly required but usually essential for success in the major. On this page, we aim to provide some information about classes pertinent to the major, various pieces of advice from undergraduates, and useful insight into planning out your 4-5 years as an astrophysics undergrad. Emphasis is placed on trajectories which lead to graduate school and (with any luck) a career in astrophysics.

Summary of Major Courses

Most intended Astronomy majors without programming background begin with the Astro 98 Python DeCal (a student-led, pass/no-pass course offered every spring), designed to introduce students to the tools needed for upper-division courses and research work in the department. The first graded courses students take are Astro 7A/B, which cover the fundamental techniques, intuitions, and physics required to understand and solve astrophysical problems. Typically, students take the Python DeCal in the spring semester of freshman year, followed by Astro 7A and 7B in the fall and spring of sophomore year respectively; another common path is taking the DeCal and 7B in spring of freshman year, followed by 7A in the fall of sophomore year (there is no preferred order and in fact, 7A is typically more difficult than 7B). Although none of these courses is mandatory, all of them (and especially Astro 7A/B) are strongly recommended.

To complete the astrophysics major, students are required to take two upper-division theory courses out of a possible three (AY 160: Stellar Physics, AY C161: Cosmology (crosslisted with Physics), and AY C162: Planetary Astrophysics (crosslisted with Earth and Planetary Sciences)). An upper-division lab class, one of AY 120: Optical Lab, AY 121: Radio Lab, or (beginning spring 2019) AY 128: Data Science and Statistics in Astronomy, is also required.

Besides major courses, students must also complete lower-division sequences in physics or mathematics. The lower-division math sequence consists of Math 1A/B (single-variable calculus), Math 53 (multivariable and vector calculus), and Math 54 (linear algebra, differential equations) or Physics 89 (mathematical methods of physics, required of physics double-majors). The two possible physics sequences are the 7 series, aimed at majors in chemistry and engineering, and the 5 series, aimed at physics majors. The 5 series is vastly more demanding in terms of the mathematical rigor and physical intuition required, which helps immensely with upper-division physics and astronomy. However, while the Physics Department strongly recommends the 5 series for those studying “physics, astrophysics, engineering physics, or related disciplines”, the Astronomy Department has no preference either way. Besides this lower-division sequence, Physics 112: Introduction to Statistical and Thermal Physics is also required of all astrophysics majors.

Astronomy Courses

  • Astronomy 98/198 - The Python Decal (STRONGLY RECOMMENDED)
  • Astronomy 7A/7B - Introduction to Astrophysics I/II (STRONGLY RECOMMENDED—TAKE THESE CLASSES)
  • Astronomy 120 - Optical and Infrared Astronomy Laboratory
  • Astronomy 121 - Radio Astronomy Laboratory
  • Astronomy 128 - Data Science and Statistics in Astronomy (begins Spring 2019)
  • Astronomy 160 - Stellar Physics
  • Astronomy C161 - Cosmology (Cross-listed with Physics C161)
  • Astronomy C162 - Planetary Astrophysics (Cross-listed with EPS C162)

Prerequisites for Astronomy Courses

Course Required Prerequisites Recommended Prerequisites
Astro 98 None -
Astro 7A Physics (5/7)A/B*, Math 1A/B1 -
Astro 7B Physics (5/7)A/B/C*, Math 1A/B1 -
Astro 120 Physics (5/7)A/B/C*, Math 1A/B1, Math 54* Astro 7A/B, Coding (any of Astro 98, Phys 77, CS61A, Data 8)
Astro 121 Physics (5/7)A/B/C*, Math 1A/B1, Math 54* Astro 7A/B, Astro 7A/B, Coding (Astro 98, Phys 77, CS61A, Data 8), Physics 110A/B*
Astro 160 Physics (5/7)A/B/C, Physics 112* Astro 7A, Physics 137A
Astro 161 Physics (5/7)A/B/C Astro 7B, Physics 137A/B, Physics 112
Astro 162 Physics (5/7)A/B/C Astro 7A, Physics 112*

* - Can be taken concurrently.

  1. Math 1A/B can be tested out of with AP Calc AB/BC credit respectively—see the Mathematics Department website for more information. The classes stress annoying calculations rather than conceptual depth, so if you have AP credit, use it.
  2. Math 53 is not listed as a prerequisite to any particular class, but it is still a required course for the major.
  3. The 5-series in Physics is the honors sequence (all Physics majors are recommended to take it), but is considerably more demanding than the 7-series. For the Astrophysics major, however, the 7-series fulfills all requirements equally.

Math and Physics Courses Required for Major

  • Math 1A - Calculus I (can be filled with Calc AB AP test scores)
  • Math (H)1B - Calculus II (can be filled with Calc BC AP test scores)
  • Math (H)53 - Multivariable Calculus
  • Math (H)54 - Linear Algebra and Differential Equations, OR
  • Physics 89 - Introduction to Mathematical Physics
  • Physics 5/7A - Mechanics and Wave Motion
  • Physics 5/7B - Thermodynamics, Electricity and Magnetism
  • Physics 5/7C - Electromagnetic Waves, Optics, Relativity, and Quantum Physics
  • Physics 112 - Statistical and Thermal Physics

Summary of Electives

Classes offered by other departments which can be taken as electives towards an Astro major. As a single major, you must take 30 units of these classes (most are 4 units each). As a double major with a STEM field, you need 24. These give you the opportunity to broaden your education and take some really interesting courses, or things you think are relevant to your plans for the future.

Programming

Programming skills are vital to practically all astronomical research today, be it theoretical or observational. Even for the undergaduate major, you will need to know how to program for the astronomy labs (120, 121, 128) as well as Stellar Physics as taught in Spring 2018. For this reason, the department recommends you take computing courses, including but not limited to the following:

  • Astro 98: Python DeCal - most directly relevant, a basic introduction to computing with Python
  • Physics 77: Introduction to Computational Physics - more advanced, goes into depth on various numerical methods
  • CS 61A: The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs - more theoretical material, of some interest but not always directly applicable to astrophysics research. Rather brutally curved, so take at your own risk.
  • Data Science 8 - covers Python modules such as numpy, scipy, and matplotlib used in data science/machine learning applications, relatively easier class. A good complement/successor to the DeCal.
  • Data Science C88/Physics C88 - not yet offered

The department highly recommends that everyone take at least one computing class during their undergraduate career. As data science becomes increasingly relevant in astronomy, and as firms in all industries want the skills of astrophysics majors to solve difficult computational/mathematical problems, many students may be interested in pursuing a double major in data science or computer science. The department anticipates that this path will become more and more popular over the next decade.

Physics Electives

Note: If you are a double major with physics, then the maximum number of classes above that can count as electives for Astro is 2 (you can cross-list two classes across the two majors). (Whereas any and all of the math classes below could count towards your 24 UD unit requirement).

Astro Electives

Technically, if you take graduate level courses in the astro department, they will count toward your elective credits. Be aware, almost all graduate courses require prior instructor approval before you can be admitted, and the professor will want to make sure you are ready to tackle graduate level work. Also pay attention to whether the class is 3 or 4 units. Some examples:

  • Astron 218 - Stellar Dynamics and Galactic Evolution (usually Mariska Kriek)
  • Astronomy C207 - Radiation Processes in Astronomy (Aaron Parsons)
  • Astronomy 203 - Astrophysical Techniques (James Graham; a lab/lecture instrumentation course)
  • Astronomy 202 - Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics (Chung-Pei Ma)

Math Electives

Note: If you are a double major with Math, then the maximum number of classes above that can count as electives for Astro is 2 (you can cross-list two classes across the two majors). (Whereas any and all of the physics classes above could count towards your 24 UD unit requirement).

Other Electives

  • CS195 - Social Implications of Computer Science (1 Unit- great if you are one unit short of the 24).

More Electives from other departments can be found on the last two pages of this packet

Sample Schedules and Student Perspectives

Figuring out what order to take all the classes in the major can be difficult. Follow the link here to see sample schedules submitted by those who are actually completing the major, along with advice about why the schedules worked, or didn't.

Furthermore, students in the major have lots of advice and feedback about courses, professors, etc. To read some of these, click the following link. Note: All views expressed herein are those of their respective writers.

Additional Astronomy Courses

Not sure if Astronomy is for you? Then try one of these survey courses! Most will still count as an L&S Physical Science breadth even if you decide Astronomy isn't for you.

Declaring your Major

The official name of the major is Astrophysics, but is offered by the Astronomy Department; however, the two words are synonymous on campus and often used interchangeably. Our local “person to talk to if you have logistical issues”, Rayna, has compiled a list of undergraduate resources on the official department website, the most useful being the PDF on the major requirements. Declaring the major requires completion of the lower-division physics (Physics (5/7)ABC) and math (1A, 1B, 53, 54/89) sequences, or enrollment in the final course of each sequence with good grades in the previous courses. As mentioned above, you do not technically need Astro 7A/B to declare, but those courses are strongly recommended to get a feel for what the major is like.

There is no need to formally declare the major right away, although there are a few perks of declaring (notably, card access to the building and 6th floor).

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