M.S. in Astronomy

Astronomy and related fields are at the forefront of science and technology; answering fundamental questions and driving innovation.  The study of astronomy contributes to technology, economy and society by constantly pushing for instruments, processes and software that are beyond our current capabilities.

Plan of Study

Completion of the M.S. in astronomy requires 30 credits of graduate work beyond the bachelor’s degree, including a minimum of 21 credits in course work. At least 15 credits must be at the 6000 level or above. The cumulative GPA for all courses applied towards a master’s degree must be 3.0 or higher.


Course work should meet the needs of the individual student, but must include:

  • One course from: PHYS 6410 (Electrodynamics), PHYS 6510 (Quantum Mechanics),   PHYS 6520 (Quantum Mechanics II), PHYS 6590 (Statistical Mechanics).
  • Eight credits from: ASTR 4120 (Observational Astronomy), ASTR 4220 (Astrophysics),   ASTR 4240 (Gravitation and Cosmology), ASTR/BIOL/ERTH 4510 (Origins of Life: A Cosmic   Perspective), ASTR 6940 (Readings in Astronomy and Astrophysics), ASTR 6960 (Special Topics in Astronomy and Astrophysics).
  • A 6- to 9-credit formally presented thesis, or a multiple-semester project in astronomy or astrophysics (ASTR 6970 - Professional Project).

Program Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this program will be able to:

  • demonstrate mastery of graduate-level courses covering a relevant selection of core fields of Physics, including Quantum Mechanics, Electrodynamics, or Statistical Physics.
  • demonstrate mastery of modern topics in astronomy or astrophysics through coursework.
  • demonstrate knowledge and research skills in astronomy or astrophysics through completion of a project or thesis.
  • clearly communicate their ideas and results to general and specialized audiences, both orally and in writing.


Ever since its inception, Rensselaer has been a leader in science and technology education. Today, the institute provides students with one of the most modern environments for learning.

Astronomy and Astrophysics

Students’ thesis research in astronomy and astrophysics enjoys access to world-class ground-based telescopes located at observing sites in the southern hemisphere and China. Our faculty cooperates with the international Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope (LAMOST), the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and the very popular MilkyWay@Home project.

For students’ education in observational astronomy and for public outreach, the department maintains the Hirsch Observatory. It houses a fully automated Boller and Chivens 16" Cassegrain Telescope, a Quantum Scientific Imaging (QSI) imaging camera with filter wheel, and a Santa Barbara Instrument Group (SBIG) spectrograph. Many smaller telescopes are also available to students.



Condensed Matter and Optics

State-of-the art equipment for graduate students’ experimental research in optics and condensed matter physics is provided in the physics department. The equipment includes optical, electronic, and cryogenic instruments, surface science techniques and materials growth equipment. Examples are Atomic Force Microscopy, Auger Electron Spectroscopy, Ellipsometry, High-Resolution Low Energy Electron Diffraction, Reflection High-Energy Electron Diffraction, X-Ray Crystallography, and Super-Resolution Microscopy. Also available for research are terahertz radiation sources and ultrafast laser systems. Students engage in absorption, light scattering, and photoluminescence spectroscopy using systems operating from the terahertz frequency band to the ultraviolet part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Students interested in nanofabrication will find excellent facilities in Rensselaer’s Micro and Nano-Fabrication Clean Room (MNCR). This is a state-of-the-art, 5,700-square-foot, Class 100 multi-user facility which supports research and education in nanotechnology, biotechnology, microelectronics, solid state lighting, energy, and other fields. The MNCR offers infrastructure for end-to-end device fabrication, characterization, metrology and testing by the graduate student user on substrates ranging from a few millimeters in size to full wafers 200 mm in diameter for high-speed electronics, power devices, integrated circuits, microsystems, and other applications. Fabrication of structures as small as 20 nm is possible in the MNCR, and structures as small as 1.5 nm can be achieved. In addition, the facility has several dedicated staff members to provide process solutions, training, and teaching.

The Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Research on our campus offers extensive and high-quality facilities for students’ experimental research in biological physics at the molecular, cellular and tissue level.

Students conducting research in theoretical condensed matter physics use Rensselaer’s own supercomputer. The Blue Gene/Q is one of the world’s most powerful university-based supercomputers. Theoretical methods implemented by our students on this machine and other computers are density functional theory calculations, Monte-Carlo Simulations as well as classical and quantum mechanical molecular dynamics simulation.

In addition, the Department’s research activities are affiliated with numerous research centers on campus: The Center for Computational Innovations, the Center for Future Energy Systems, the Center for Materials, Devices and Integrated Systems, the Network Science and Technology Center, the Institute for Data Exploration and Applications, the Rensselaer Nanotechnology Center, the Scientific Computation Research Center, the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center, and the Data Science Research Center.



Particle and Fields

Rensselaer research in particle astrophysics is involved in one of the leading experiments that could detect neutrinoless double beta decay, the nEXO experiment at SNOLAB in Canada.

Students pursuing thesis research in theoretical particle physics apply lattice field theories and implement the calculations on the Blue Gene/Q supercomputer.


Documents & Resources

Academic Opportunities

On-campus organization catering to both undergraduate and graduate students with an interest in physics.

Our faculty and students' scholarly achievements are reflected by the awards they have received from a variety of organizations.

A Union-funded organization that allows students to pursue their interest in astronomy.