Explore the Universe from College Park

Have you wondered how galaxies formed in the early Universe? What happens to material as it spirals into a black hole? Are you interested in using astronomy to explore the fundamental physics of the Universe? Or, closer to home, how did our Solar System form and how are planets forming around other stars? A Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Maryland at College Park can launch you on a successful pursuit of answers to these questions.

About the Department

The University of Maryland at College Park is a dynamic research university with highly ranked programs in astronomy, physics, computer science and aerospace engineering, among many others. It is a university of more than 35,000 students, in a classic campus setting of tall trees and Georgian brick buildings, just 10 miles from the bustle of Washington, D.C.

The Department of Astronomy is large, with 16 professorial faculty, 37 graduate students, and approximately 70 research scientists. We are also one of the country's foremost astronomy departments, and we provide our student with unique research opportunities. Our students work hard, but the payoff -- in the form of new discoveries and the launching of their careers -- is very real and exciting. As a Maryland graduate student you will have the opportunity to conduct research using some of the world's most sophisticated observational satellites and ground-based observatories, or to use powerful supercomputers to attack theoretical problems. Observational and theoretical research are partnered to produce surprising insights into the formation of planets and stars, to advance the study of our own and other galaxies, and to produce ground-breaking work in areas as diverse as high-energy astrophysics and space weather.

Read on to learn more about the Department of Astronomy and its many research opportunities:

Major Resources

What are some of the exciting facilities and collaborations available to graduate students at the University of Maryland?

  • Discovery Channel Telescope - The Department has guaranteed access to this 4.3-meter telescope through a partnership with Lowell Observatory.
  • Zwicky Transient Facility - We are joining with Caltech and other partners in this time-domain survey for studying rare and exotic transient phenomena, with first light at Palomar Observatory in 2017.
  • Deep Impact/EPOXI - This two-part space mission is providing major advances in our knowledge of how our solar system formed and evolved. The visits to Comets 9P/Tempel and Hartley 2 have opened up our understanding of cometary composition and structure.
  • Center for Theory and Computation - The CTC, a strong group of theoretical astrophysicists within the department, built and maintains a Beowulf cluster to perform computational analyses and simulations across a range of research areas. We also have access to three larger university clusters, including the world-class 'DeepThought2' and 'MARCC/Bluecrab', which have been invaluable to our students in completing computationally-intensive thesis projects. Finally, the department has a new visualization laboratory for state-of-the-art simulations and displays of large datasets.
  • Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science & Technology - CRESST is the most visible of our many interactions with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, located only 5 miles away. UMD researchers work together with Goddard scientists on many topics, ranging from the study of neutron stars, black holes, and extremely hot gas throughout the universe to the study of planets in our Solar System. This partnership offers an exciting array of opportunities for graduate students to work with Goddard scientists and facilities on their Ph.D. theses.
  • Joint Space-Science Institute (JSI) - In 2010, U. Maryland and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center signed an agreement launching the Joint Space-Science Institute (JSI), a partnership between the Departments of Astronomy and Physics and NASA/Goddard. Areas of investigation include black hole physics, high-energy astrophysics, and cosmology.
  • Joint PhD program with Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (PUC) - PUC, one of the top two institutions for astronomy in Chile, signed an agreement with UMD in 2010 that enables astronomy graduate students at both institutions to participate in a joint Ph.D. program starting in their third year. These students split their time between both locations and conduct their thesis research under the supervision of UMD and PUC co-advisors. UMD students gain improved access to Chilean observatories, which include many of the best telescopes in the world. For more details, contact Prof. Alberto Bolatto.

Research Areas

What kind of research would you like to do?

Research in the Astronomy Department covers the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to gamma-rays, and it addresses a range of scales from our solar system to the frontiers of cosmology. A broad assortment of national observatories, satellites, and supercomputers are used on a guest investigator basis. Negotiations are also underway with the University of Arizona and Lowell Observatory for a partnership in one or more major optical telescopes. Department research can be categorized under the following headings, though members of the department are typically involved with more than one area.

  • Planetary Astronomy - Comets, asteroids, moons, rings, orbital dynamics, the origin of the solar system and other planetary systems, extrasolar planets, space weather/ionospheric physics, and space exploration (Deming, Hamilton, Kempton, Papadopoulos, Richardson, Sunshine).
  • High Energy Astrophysics - Active galaxies, galaxy clusters, black holes, neutron stars, gravitational radiation, and time-domain astrophysics (Veilleux, Miller, Mushotzky, Gezari).
  • Galactic Astronomy - The interstellar medium, star and planetary formation, planetary nebulae, and radiative transfer (Mundy, Vogel, Harrington, Bolatto).
  • Extragalactic Astronomy - Galaxy formation and evolution, galaxy clusters, starbursting galaxies, spiral galaxies, and the Small Magellanic Cloud (Mushotzky, Veilleux, Vogel, Harris, Bolatto).
  • Cosmology - The reionization epoch, the development of structure, gravitational lensing, and cosmological parameters (Ricotti, Bolatto, Miller).
  • Radio instrumentation (Harris) and astrobiology (Mundy).

Students begin research very quickly, usually within their first year. The curriculum includes a research project due at the end of the second year, giving students a chance to work with a professor and explore a particular topic, while allowing them to pursue a completely different Ph.D. dissertation project if they wish.

Research projects at Goddard Space Flight Center are usually satellite-based investigations in fields including high-energy astrophysics, cosmology, formation and evolution of stars and galaxies, extrasolar planets, and solar system astrophysics. Instrumentation projects are also available.

More information about individual centers and fields.

Astronomy Classes

What would you like to learn about?

Our course offerings reflect the range of subfields of astronomy, as well as the astrophysics required to understand them. They include the following topics, offered every other year unless otherwise noted:

  • Radiative Processes (offered every year)
  • Stellar Structure and Evolution
  • Astronomical Instrumentation and Techniques
  • Computational Astrophysics
  • Galaxies
  • The Interstellar Medium and Gas Dynamics
  • High Energy Astrophysics
  • Cosmology
  • Planetary Astronomy

The department also offers an "Introduction to Research" course every fall, in which we give new graduate students an introduction to common astronomical software and to the research being done by individual professors.

Department Support

What sort of funding is available?

As a matter of policy, the Department of Astronomy provides full funding (with tuition waivers) for up to six years while students maintain adequate progress toward degree. This support includes full tuition as well as a generous stipend. Typically, students have teaching assistantships during their first 1-2 years in the program and research assistantships thereafter. Graduate students may alternatively pursue university or federal fellowships for funding. For more details, see our funding statistics.

We firmly believe that all graduate students accepted to our department are capable of completing the Ph.D. program. We are committed to encouraging our students and aiding them in achieving their goals.

Student Life

Is there life beyond classes/research?

Absolutely! Department life offers many well-attended social activities, such as daily espresso/tea/hot chocolate breaks in the afternoon, "Payday Pizza Fridays", intramural sports, and the annual astronomy picnic. Faculty and students mingle at all of these events, and the culture is very friendly and collegial. The department strongly supports equity and inclusion, with invited speakers, a standing committee, and the GRAD-MAP and AGN organizations which are led by grad students. A good source of information about everyday student life is the GradLife wiki, maintained by the graduate students. There, you can also find out about events such as the "Unjournal Club", which provides a regular opportunity for graduate students to present research and to field questions from fellow students without the pressure of a professor in the room.

The university is just 10 miles from the bustle of downtown Washington, D.C. (a convenient 20 minute Metro ride from College Park). The city has hundreds of restaurants, dozens of museums, and thousands of opportunities for shopping. The Kennedy Center hosts world-renowned ballet companies, theater productions, and symphonies. The National Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn, and Phillips galleries offer art in a variety of forms. Sports fans cheer for professional sports teams in baseball, football, basketball, hockey, and soccer. Visitors can also tour a variety of attractions around the city's scenic Inner Harbor. Annapolis, site of Maryland's capital, features maritime charm and provides a great place for Sunday strolls--as long as you don't have a test on Monday!

International students will find the College Park campus to be a place of great diversity. Students come from 115 countries around the world, and minorities make up a third of the student population. An eclectic mix of speakers, cultural activities, films, and concerts cater to different interests.

Explore further!

To learn more about the Department of Astronomy, we encourage you to peruse our webpages or to contact the Graduate Entrance Committee. We look forward to having you join us at the University of Maryland!

Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science & Technology II    Joint Space-Science Center    Two intriguing investigations -- One flight-proven spacecraft    UMd Astronomy-Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile Partnership    UMd Astronomy-Cote d'Azur Observatory Scientific Cooperation and Academic Exchange