Department of Astronomy & Physics

Astronomy (ASTR) and Astrophysics

Note: This segment lists undergraduate courses in astronomy and programs in astrophysics only. Course and program descriptions for physics may be found in the Physics (PHYS) segment of Section 4 in this Calendar while graduate course descriptions and programs in astronomy may be found in the Graduate Academic Calendar.

History
Astronomy is an ancient science, with some of its first practitioners among the Minoans, Aztecs, Egyptians, and early Chinese. Throughout its long history, the discipline has gone through many revolutions having benefited from some of the greatest minds who ever lived: Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein. In the late 1800's, George Hale proclaimed astrophysics-the joining of traditional astronomical techniques with the mathematical rigour of physics-as "the new astronomy for the twentieth century" and, within a generation, few astronomers could complete their training without a full background in physics. Today, astronomers design highly engineered observatories and detectors, are cognizant of chemistry and biochemistry as more and more complex molecules such as amino acids are detected in the cosmos, and must be competent mathematicians, physicists, and computer scientists to understand and interpret what is being observed. Of all pure scientists, astrophysicists are among the best qualified to pursue a wide variety of careers in both science and education.

Formal introductory courses in Astronomy were introduced to the Saint Mary's curriculum by Father Michael J. Burke- Gaffney S.J. in 1957. Fifteen years later, Burke-Gaffney convinced the University to build a small observatory on the roof of the 23-story Loyola residence to be used for both class activities and public tours. In recognition of Burke- Gaffney's seminal role in establishing Saint Mary's as the regional centre for astronomy, the observatory was named in his honour.

Between 1971 and 1974, three astronomers joined the Department of Physics who, in 1974, formed a separate department and began offering an M.Sc. in Astronomy. This was the University's first Master's program in science as well as the first Astronomy program in the region. In 1989 and in cooperation with the Department of Physics, the Department of Astronomy began offering undergraduate programs in astrophysics to complement the M.Sc. in Astronomy and the B.Sc. in physics.

In 1993, the independent Departments of Physics and Astronomy were combined into a single department with eight faculty members and three staff. Given the University's status as the only institution in Atlantic Canada to offer full programs in Astronomy at either the undergraduate or graduate levels, the new department was called the Department of Astronomy and Physics. Building upon this strength, Saint Mary's made the strategic decision to allocate two of its six Canada Research Chairs to Astronomy and the Department used this opportunity to found the Institute for Computational Astrophysics (ICA) in 2001.

In 2002, approval was granted to the University to offer a Ph.D. program in Astronomy, making it the first science Ph.D. program offered in Nova Scotia outside Dalhousie. With its emphasis on research as well as teaching, its status of offering the only full complement of university astronomy degrees east of Toronto, and its small, intimate, urban setting in one of the most charming cities on the continent, Saint Mary's University is truly a unique place to study astronomy and astrophysics at any level.


Degree Programs in Astrophysics

Because all modern-day astronomers are also physicists, no undergraduate degree in astronomy alone is offered.
Instead, the Department offers three programs in astrophysic; a major, an honours and a minor. The astrophysics major program is designed for those who want a solid foundation in modern physics and astronomy, but who are not necessarily planning to continue their education beyond the B.Sc. The astrophysics honours program is designed for those who intend to continue on to graduate school, and involves the preparation of an honours thesis (PHYS 4790) under the supervision of a faculty advisor in their fourth year. As listed below, these two programs are identical through the second year meaning students need not commit to the honours program until the third year of study. Note also, as listed, these programs conform to the requirements of the Science faculty as outlined in Section 3.

Note: The astrophysics programs demand a minimum grade of C in all physics and astronomy courses required for the degree. The program of study must be approved by the chairperson or the undergraduate coordinator. For undergraduate courses and programs in physics, please refer to the Physics (PHYS) segment listed in Section 4 of this Calendar.


Astrophysics Major/Honours

Major in Astrophysics – Requirements:

The requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Science with Major in Astrophysics are the same as those listed for Bachelor of Science - Major in Section Three of this Academic Calendar. A total of fifty-seven (57) credit hours are required in the major subject: thirty-nine (39) credit hours in PHYS; and eighteen (18) credit hours in ASTR, specifically ASTR 1100 plus fifteen (15) credit hours in ASTR at the 2000-level or above (or equivalent). The specific courses are listed in the suggested program outlined below.


Honours in Astrophysics – Requirements:

The requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Science with Honours in Astrophysics are the same as those listed for Bachelor of Science – Honours and Double Honours in Section Three of this Academic Calendar. A total of seventy-five (75) credit hours are required in the honours subject: fifty-four (54) credit hours in PHYS; and twenty- one (21) credit hours in ASTR, specifically ASTR 1100 plus eighteen (18) credit hours in ASTR at the 2000-level or above (or equivalent). The specific courses are listed in the suggested program outlined below.

Year 1

  1. three (3) credit hours in science electives [CSCI 1226 recommended] and ASTR 1100
  2. PHYS 1100 and 1101
  3. ENGL 1205 and PHYS 1500
  4. MATH 1210 and 1211
  5. six (6) credit hours in science electives [CHEM 1210/1211 recommended]

Year 2

  1. ASTR 2100 and 2400
  2. PHYS 2300 and 2301
  3. MATH 2311 [three (3) credit hours in science electives] and PHYS 2400
  4. MATH 2301 and 2303 [six (6) credit hours in science electives]
  5. three (3) credit hours in Humanities electives; and three (3) credit hours in Arts or ECON electives

Year 3 (Major)

  1. either ASTR 3400 or 3500; and three (3) credit hours in Arts or ECON electives
  2. PHYS 3200 and 3201
  3. PHYS 3300 and three (3) credit hours in electives
  4. PHYS 3500; and either PHYS 3350 or 3400
  5. six (6) credit hours in Arts or ECON electives

Year 3 (Honours)

  1. either ASTR 3400 or 3500; and either ASTR 4200 or 4600
  2. PHYS 3200 and 3201
  3. PHYS 3300 and 3210
  4. PHYS 3500; and either PHYS 3350 or 3400
  5. PHYS 3600 and three (3) credit hours in Arts or ECON electives

Year 4 (Major)

  1. either ASTR 3400 or 3500; and either ASTR 4200 or 4600
  2. PHYS 4500; and either PHYS 3350 or 3400
  3. eighteen (18) credit hours in electives

Year 4 (Honours)

  1. either ASTR 3400 or 3500; and either ASTR 4200 or 4600
  2. three (3) credit hours in ASTR at the 5000 level and three (3) credit hours in arts/ECON electives
  3. PHYS 4500; and either PHYS 3350 or 3400
  4. three (3) additional credit hours in PHYS at the 4000 level and three (3) credit hours in Arts or ECON electives
  5. PHYS 4790

Minor in Astrophysics

The requirements for a Minor in Astrophysics are the same as those listed for Bachelor of Science – Major and Minor in Section three of this Academic Calendar. A total of thirty (30) credit hours in the minor subject are required. The astronomy and physics course requirements for the astrophysics minor are:

  1. ASTR 1100 Introduction to Astrophysics
  2. PHYS 1100 University Physics I
  3. PHYS 1101 University Physics II
  4. PHYS 1500 Introduction to Modern Physics
  5. ASTR 2100 Foundations of Astrophysics
  6. ASTR 2400 Physics of Stars
  7. PHYS 2300 Vibrations, Waves and Optics
  8. Three (3) credit hours in ASTR at the 3000 level
  9. Six (6) credit hours in PHYS at the 2000 or 3000 level.