B.A. Astronomy undergraduate degree program a reality!

The New Bachelor of Arts Degree in Astronomy

The Wayne State University Board of Governors unanimously approved the new Bachelor of Arts degree program in Astronomy, May 2010!  The official start of this new program was the Fall 2010 semester. Planetarium and Outreach Staff talked with Professor Paul Karchin, Chair of the B.A. Astronomy Committee, about this new and dynamic program.

Contact the Undergraduate Advisor of the B.A. Astronomy program, Professor David Cinabrocinabro@physics.wayne.edu  with your questions or to arrange a visit to the Department of Physics and Astronomy!

What sets the B.A. Astronomy program at WSU apart from other Astronomy degree programs?

Surprisingly, no other colleges and universities in Michigan offer a B.A. astronomy program, even though such programs are common nationwide. Thus, a B.A. Astronomy program at WSU will be unique in Michigan and could be a significant factor for some students to choose Wayne State for their undergraduate education.

Students graduating with a B.A. in astronomy have a wide range of career options including entry-level jobs as well as graduate education in law, business, education, social and physical sciences. In short, these students will have all the traditional options of liberal arts majors with the added advantage of a unique science background.

What other attributes does Wayne State have that makes this new program very attractive to undergraduates?

We have a well-established planetarium and roof-top observatory and a large number of faculty members who have taught introductory astronomy, solar astronomy, or who conduct research in astronomy or the closely related fields of nuclear and particle physics. The K-12 NASA/SEMAA (Science Engineering Mathematics Aerospace Academy) is a long established program at Wayne State and could provide excellent outreach and educational activities for B.A. astronomy students.

Can you tell us about the program and the core courses surrounding the BA Astronomy degree?

The B.A. Astronomy program is intended to provide students with foundational knowledge in astronomy and space science. Students will graduate with strong scientific preparation and communication skills.  Five courses (including one laboratory-based course), at the 4000 or 5000 level, form the core of the astronomy major curriculum. Four of these courses are new and will be developed and initially taught by current faculty members.

Undergraduate Advisor of the B.A. Astronomy program, Professor David Cinabro, has developed and is currently teaching, a new Astronomical Techniques course and laboratory to B.A. Astronomy students.  What are his students learning?

The course introduces students to the techniques of doing astrophysics. Professor Cinabro starts with an introduction to the detectors used in astronomy for optical and infrared photons, radio and microwaves, X-ray and gamma-rays, and neutrinos. And his students review techniques used in imaging, photometry, spectroscopy, astrometry, polarimetry, and for analyzing public data available on the web.

In the laboratory course students focus on optical astrometry. Students learn to measure the quantum efficiency of a CCD based astronomical digital camera; measure the through-put as a function of wavelength of a set of standard astronomical filters; measure the HR diagram of a star cluster using the calibrated camera and filters with the telescopes mounted on the roof of the physics building; and calibrate the response of a spectrometer and use the spectrometer to measure the spectra and observe spectral features of a bright star.

 What type of student will be attracted to this new program?

Astronomy will attract a broad spectrum of students who may otherwise have majored in many other subjects.  The mix of subjects offered by our program encompasses planetary geology, the solar system, space exploration, telescopes, stars, galaxies and cosmology, and is perfect for the B.A. program.  And our program is not as mathematics intensive as a traditional degree in physics. We believe that these aspects of our astronomy program will make it quite attractive to students.

Is there a demand or a need in society for a program such as the B.A. Astronomy program?

There is a great demand for scientifically educated college graduates in government, education, law, and industry, and these graduates must be familiar with the pre-eminent scientific activities of our time, many of which are in the field of astronomy.  The quest to understand the nature of dark matter and dark energy are likely to have immense consequences for the technological world of the future. The state of astronomy in 2010 is something like the state of physics in 1910: great mysteries have been uncovered, and the explanations are just starting to emerge.

This is a propitious time for change. The discovery of the “dark side” of the universe has fired up public interest in astronomy. Simply put, most of the energy and matter in the universe cannot be explained by the known laws of physics.  This has created a large student demand for astronomy education.

What are your hopes for the future of the B.A. Astronomy program?

I share with many colleagues in our department the hope that the B.A. program is the start of an expanding academic and research program in astronomy in our department. Future possibilities include a graduate program and new faculty appointments with research concentrations in astronomy.

Professor Karchin, do you have any other comments?

One hope has definitely been realized -  we are now truly the Department of Physics and Astronomy.


For more information, download the  Bachelor of Arts Degree in Astronomy Brochure


Back to listing