Astrophysical Sciences and Technology doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree

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Overview

There has never been a more exciting time to study the universe beyond the confines of the Earth. A new generation of advanced ground-based and space-borne telescopes and enormous increases in computing power are enabling a golden age of astrophysics. The doctoral program in astrophysical sciences and technology focuses on the underlying physics of phenomena beyond the Earth and on the development of the technologies, instruments, data analysis, and modeling techniques that will enable the next major strides in the field. The program's multidisciplinary emphasis sets it apart from conventional astrophysics graduate programs at traditional research universities.

 

The program offers tracks in Astrophysics (including Observational and Theoretical Astrophysics), Computational and Gravitational Astrophysics (including Numerical Relativity, Gravitational Wave Astronomy), and Astronomical Technology (including detector and instrumentation research and development). Students can pursue research interests in a wide range of topics, including design and development of novel detectors, multiwavelength studies of proto-stars, active galactic nuclei and galaxy clusters, gravitational wave data analysis, and theoretical and computational modeling of astrophysical systems including galaxies and compact objects such as binary black holes. Depending on research interests, students may participate in one of three research centers: the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation (Video), the Center for Detectors or the Laboratory for Multi-wavelength Astrophysics.

Plan of study

Students complete a minimum of 60 credit hours of study, consisting of at least 24 credit hours of course work and at least 24 credit hours of research. Students may choose to follow one of three tracks: astrophysics, astro-informatics and computational astrophysics (with the option of a concentration in general relativity), or astronomical instrumentation. All students must complete four core courses with grades of B or better, as well as two semesters of graduate seminar. Core course grades below B must be remediated by taking and passing a comprehensive exam on the core course subject matter prior to receiving the doctoral degree. The remaining course credits are made up from specialty track courses and electives. Students must pass a qualifying examination, which consists of completing and defending a master's-level research project, prior to embarking on the dissertation research project.

Electives

Electives include additional courses in astrophysics and a wide selection of courses offered in other RIT graduate programs (e.g., imaging science, computer science, engineering), including detector development, digital image processing, computational techniques, optics, and entrepreneurship, among others.

Ph.D. qualification requirements: Master's-level research project

During the first year of the program, most doctoral candidates begin a master's-level research project under the guidance of a faculty member. The project gains momentum during the second year, after the core courses have been completed. The master's-level research topic may be different from the eventual doctoral dissertation topic, and the supervising faculty member will not necessarily serve as the dissertation research adviser.

The doctoral qualification requirements consist of a combination of a publication-quality master's-level project report, which may be in the form of a thesis (if the student so chooses), and an oral presentation and defense of the master's-level project. This qualification process, which must be completed by the beginning of the third year of full-time study or its equivalent, is designed to ensure the student has the necessary background knowledge and intellectual skills to carry out doctoral-level research in the subject areas of astrophysical sciences and technology. A director-approved committee consisting of the student's master's-level project research adviser and two additional faculty members will assess the student's project report and defense. 

Dissertation research adviser

After passing the qualifying examination, students are guided by a dissertation research adviser who is approved by the program director. The choice of adviser is based on the student's research interests, faculty research interests, and available research funding.

Research committee

After passing the qualifying examination, a dissertation committee is appointed for the duration of the student's tenure in the program. The committee chair is appointed by the dean of graduate education and must be a faculty member in a program other than astrophysical sciences and technology. The committee chair acts as the institutional representative in the final dissertation examination. The committee comprises at least four members and in addition to the chair, must also include the student's dissertation research adviser and at least one other member of the program's faculty. The fourth member may be an RIT faculty member, a professional affiliated in industry, or a representative from another institution. The program director must approve committee members who are not RIT faculty.

Ph.D. proposal review (candidacy exam)

Within six months of the appointment of the dissertation committee, students must prepare a Ph.D. research project proposal and present it to the committee for review. The student provides a written research proposal and gives an oral presentation to the committee, who provides constructive feedback on the project plan. The review must take place at least six months prior to the dissertation defense.

Annual review

Each fall, students provide an annual report in the form of an oral presentation, which summarizes progress made during the preceding year. The program director also monitors student's progress toward meeting the requirements for either the qualifying examination (during the first two years), or the Ph.D. (after passing the qualifying examination). Students may be interviewed, as necessary, to explore any concerns that emerge during the review and to discuss remedial actions.

Final examination of the dissertation

Once the dissertation is written, distributed to the dissertation committee, and the committee agrees to administer the final examination, the doctoral candidate may schedule the final examination. The candidate must distribute a copy of the dissertation to the committee and make the dissertation available to interested faculty at least four weeks prior to the dissertation defense.

The final examination of the dissertation is open to the public and is primarily a defense of the dissertation research. The examination consists of an oral presentation by the student, followed by questions from the audience. The dissertation committee privately questions the candidate following the presentation. The dissertation committee caucuses immediately following the examination and thereafter notifies the candidate and the program director of the results.

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Curriculum

Astrophysical sciences and technology, Ph.D. degree, typical course sequence

Course Sem. Cr. Hrs.
First Year
ASTP-608
Fundamentals of Astrophysics I
This course will provide a basic introduction to modern astrophysics, including the topics of radiation fields and matter, star formation and evolution, and stellar structure. This course will provide the physical background needed to interpret both observations and theoretical models in stellar astrophysics and prepare students for more advanced topics and research in astrophysics.
3
ASTP-609
Fundamentals of Astrophysics II
3
Choose one of the following:
3
   ASTP-613
   Astrophysical Observational Techniques and Instrumentation
This course will survey multi-wavelength astronomical observing techniques and instrumentation. The design characteristics and function of telescopes, detectors, and instrumentation in use at the major ground based and space based observatories will be discussed as will common observing techniques such as imaging, photometry and spectroscopy. The principles of cosmic ray, neutrino, and gravitational wave astronomy will also be briefly reviewed.
 
  
   Specialty Track Course
 
Choose one of the following:
3
  ASTP-610
   Mathematical and Statistical Methods for the Astrophysical Sciences
This course is a stand-alone course on mathematical methods for astrophysics covering tensor algebra, group theory, complex analysis, differential equations, special functions, integral transforms, the calculus of variations, and chaos.
 
 
   Specialty Track Course
 
ASTP-601
Graduate Seminar I
This course is the first in a two-semester sequence intended to familiarize students with research activities, practices, and ethics in the university research environment and to introduce students to commonly used research tools. As part of the course, students are expected to attend research seminars sponsored by the Astrophysical Sciences and Technology Program and participate in a weekly journal club. The course also provides training in scientific writing and presentation skills. Credits earned in this course apply to research requirements.
1
ASTP-602
Graduate Seminar II
This course is the second in a two-semester sequence intended to familiarize students with research activities, practices, and ethics in the university research environment and to introduce students to commonly used research tools. As part of the course, students are expected to attend research seminars sponsored by the Astrophysical Sciences and Technology Program and participate in a weekly journal club. The course also provides training in scientific writing and presentation skills. Credits earned in this course apply to research requirements.
1
ASTP-790
Research and Thesis
Masters-level research by the candidate on an appropriate topic as arranged between the candidate and the research advisor.
4
Second Year
Choose one of the following:
3
  ASTP-613
   Astrophysical Observational Techniques and Instrumentation
This course will survey multi-wavelength astronomical observing techniques and instrumentation. The design characteristics and function of telescopes, detectors, and instrumentation in use at the major ground based and space based observatories will be discussed as will common observing techniques such as imaging, photometry and spectroscopy. The principles of cosmic ray, neutrino, and gravitational wave astronomy will also be briefly reviewed.
 
 
   Speciality Track Course
 
Choose one of the following:
3
ASTP-610
   Mathematical and Statistical Methods for the Astrophysical Sciences
This course is a stand-alone course on mathematical methods for astrophysics covering tensor algebra, group theory, complex analysis, differential equations, special functions, integral transforms, the calculus of variations, and chaos.
 
 
   Specialty Track Course
 
 
Speciality Track Courses
6
ASTP-890
Research and Thesis
Dissertation research by the candidate for an appropriate topic as arranged between the candidate and the research advisor.
8
Third Year
ASTP-890
Research and Thesis
Dissertation research by the candidate for an appropriate topic as arranged between the candidate and the research advisor.
8
Fourth Year
ASTP-890
Research and Thesis
Dissertation research by the candidate for an appropriate topic as arranged between the candidate and the research advisor.
8
Total Semester Credit Hours
60

Tracks

Astrophysics
Course Sem. Cr. Hrs.
ASTP-730
Stellar Structure and Atmospheres
An overview of the physical principles governing the internal structures and energy generation mechanisms of main sequence stars, with brief introductions to pre- and post-main sequence stellar evolution. Topics covered include: observational aspects of main sequence stars, giants, and white dwarfs; stellar timescales and equations of state; static stellar structure; stellar energy generation and transport; simple stellar atmospheres.
3
ASTP-740
Galactic Astrophysics
This course will cover stellar and galactic dynamics with special application to the Milky Way galaxy. Topics will include the theory of orbits; Jeans theorem and equilibrium of stellar systems; the virial theorem; the Jeans equations; gravitational instabilities; structure and kinematics of the Milky Way; properties of spiral and elliptical galaxies.
3
ASTP-750
Extragalactic Astrophysics
This course will cover objects in the universe beyond our own Milky Way galaxy, with an emphasis on the observational evidence. Topics will include properties of ordinary and active galaxies; galaxy clusters; the extragalactic distance scale; evidence for dark matter; cosmological models with and without lambda.
3
Astro-informatics and computational astrophysics
Course Sem. Cr. Hrs.
ASTP-611
Statistical Methods for Astrophysics
This course provides an introduction to the statistical techniques used in astrophysics and other observational sciences, including parameter estimation, hypothesis testing, and statistical signal processing. An introduction is given to both Bayesian and frequentist approaches.
3
ASTP-720
Computational Methods for Astrophysics
This course surveys the different ways that scientists use computers to address problems in astrophysics. The course will choose several common problems in astrophysics; for each one, it will provide an introduction to the problem, review the literature for recent examples, and illustrate the basic mathematical technique. In each of these segments, students will write their own code in an appropriate language.
3
Astro-informatics and computational astrophysics—general relativity concentration
Course Sem. Cr. Hrs.
Choose one of the following:
3
  ASTP-611
   Statistical Methods for Astrophysics
This course provides an introduction to the statistical techniques used in astrophysics and other observational sciences, including parameter estimation, hypothesis testing, and statistical signal processing. An introduction is given to both Bayesian and frequentist approaches.
 
   ASTP-720
   Computational Methods for Astrophysics
This course surveys the different ways that scientists use computers to address problems in astrophysics. The course will choose several common problems in astrophysics; for each one, it will provide an introduction to the problem, review the literature for recent examples, and illustrate the basic mathematical technique. In each of these segments, students will write their own code in an appropriate language.
 
ASTP-760
Introduction to Relativity and Gravitation
This course is the first in a two-course sequence that introduces Einstein's theory of General Relativity as a tool in modern astrophysics. The course will cover various aspects of both Special and General Relativity, with applications to situations in which strong gravitational fields play a critical role, such as black holes and gravitational radiation. Topics include differential geometry, curved spacetime, gravitational waves, and the Schwarzschild black hole.
3
ASTP-861
Advanced Relativity and Gravitation
This course is the second in a two-course sequence that introduces Einstein's theory of General Relativity as a tool in modern astrophysics. The course will cover various aspects of General Relativity, with applications to situations in which strong gravitational fields play a critical role, such as black holes and gravitational radiation. Topics include advanced differential geometry, generic black holes, energy production in black-hole physics, black-hole dynamics, introductory cosmology, and methods for solving the Einstein equations.
3
PHYS-611
Classical Electrodynamics I
This course is a systematic treatment of electro- and magneto-statics, charges, currents, fields and potentials, dielectrics and magnetic materials, Maxwell's equations and electromagnetic waves. Field theory is treated in terms of scalar and vector potentials. Wave solutions of Maxwell's equations, the behavior of electromagnetic waves at interfaces, guided electromagnetic waves, and simple radiating systems will be covered.
3
PHYS-612
Classical Electrodynamics II
This course is an advanced treatment of electrodynamics and radiation. Classical scattering theory including Mie scattering, Rayleigh scattering, and the Born approximation will be covered. Relativistic electrodynamics will be applied to charged particles in electromagnetic fields and magnetohydrodynamics.
3
Astronomical instrumentation
Course Sem. Cr. Hrs.
IMGS-628
Design and Fabrication of Solid State Camera
The purpose of this course is to provide the student with hands-on experience in building a CCD camera. The course provides the basics of CCD operation including an overview, CCD clocking, analog output circuitry, cooling, and evaluation criteria.
3
IMGS-639
Principles of Solid State Imaging Arrays
This course covers the basics of solid state physics, electrical engineering, linear systems and imaging needed to understand modern focal plane array design and use. The course emphasizes knowledge of the working of CMOS and infrared arrays.
3
IMGS-642
Testing of Focal Plane Arrays
3
Electives*
Course Sem. Cr. Hrs.
ASTP-610
Mathematical Methods for the Astrophysical Sciences
This course is a stand-alone course on mathematical methods for astrophysics covering tensor algebra, group theory, complex analysis, differential equations, special functions, integral transforms, the calculus of variations, and chaos.
3
ASTP-611
Statistical Methods for Astrophysics
This course provides an introduction to the statistical techniques used in astrophysics and other observational sciences, including parameter estimation, hypothesis testing, and statistical signal processing. An introduction is given to both Bayesian and frequentist approaches.
3
ASTP-720
Computational Methods for Astrophysics
This course surveys the different ways that scientists use computers to address problems in astrophysics. The course will choose several common problems in astrophysics; for each one, it will provide an introduction to the problem, review the literature for recent examples, and illustrate the basic mathematical technique. In each of these segments, students will write their own code in an appropriate language.
3
ASTP-730
Stellar Structure and Atmosphere
An overview of the physical principles governing the internal structures and energy generation mechanisms of main sequence stars, with brief introductions to pre- and post-main sequence stellar evolution. Topics covered include: observational aspects of main sequence stars, giants, and white dwarfs; stellar timescales and equations of state; static stellar structure; stellar energy generation and transport; simple stellar atmospheres.
3
ASTP-740
Galactic Astrophysics
This course will cover stellar and galactic dynamics with special application to the Milky Way galaxy. Topics will include the theory of orbits; Jeans theorem and equilibrium of stellar systems; the virial theorem; the Jeans equations; gravitational instabilities; structure and kinematics of the Milky Way; properties of spiral and elliptical galaxies.
3
ASTP-750
Extragalactic Astrophysics
This course will cover objects in the universe beyond our own Milky Way galaxy, with an emphasis on the observational evidence. Topics will include properties of ordinary and active galaxies; galaxy clusters; the extragalactic distance scale; evidence for dark matter; cosmological models with and without lambda.
3
ASTP-831
Stellar Evolution and Environments
A survey of contemporary topics in star formation and pre- and post-main sequence stellar evolution, with emphasis on the physical processes governing stellar accretion, mass loss, and the effects of binary companions on these processes.
3
ASTP-835
High Energy Astrophysics
This course will survey violent astrophysical phenomena including supernovae, compact stellar remnants, X-ray binaries, gamma ray bursts, and supermassive black holes in active galactic nuclei. It will examine physical processes associated with the emission of high-energy radiation, production of high-energy particles, accretion discs around compact objects, and production and propagation of astrophysical jets. It will review current models for the sources of high-energy phenomena.
3
ASTP-841
The Interstellar Medium
This course provides a detailed overview of the physical processes and properties of the interstellar medium in our Galaxy and other galaxies. The course explores the fundamental physical basis of the observed properties of low-density astrophysical gases observed throughout the universe. Topics may include HII regions, planetary nebulae, HI clouds, molecular clouds, photodissociation regions, supernova remnants, and multi-phase models of the interstellar medium.
3
ASTP-851
Cosmology
This course will cover the evolution of the universe from the big bang to the present, with an emphasis on the synergy between theory and observations. Topics will fall under three general headings: classical and relativistic cosmology, the early universe, and structure formation.
3
ASTP-760
Introduction to Relativity and Gravitation
This course is the first in a two-course sequence that introduces Einstein's theory of General Relativity as a tool in modern astrophysics. The course will cover various aspects of both Special and General Relativity, with applications to situations in which strong gravitational fields play a critical role, such as black holes and gravitational radiation. Topics include differential geometry, curved spacetime, gravitational waves, and the Schwarzschild black hole.
3
ASTP-861
Advanced Relativity and Gravitation
This course is the second in a two-course sequence that introduces Einstein's theory of General Relativity as a tool in modern astrophysics. The course will cover various aspects of General Relativity, with applications to situations in which strong gravitational fields play a critical role, such as black holes and gravitational radiation. Topics include advanced differential geometry, generic black holes, energy production in black-hole physics, black-hole dynamics, introductory cosmology, and methods for solving the Einstein equations.
3
IMGS-628
Design and Fabrication of Solid State Camera
The purpose of this course is to provide the student with hands-on experience in building a CCD camera. The course provides the basics of CCD operation including an overview, CCD clocking, analog output circuitry, cooling, and evaluation criteria.
3
IMGS-639
Principles of Solid State Imaging
This course covers the basics of solid state physics, electrical engineering, linear systems and imaging needed to understand modern focal plane array design and use. The course emphasizes knowledge of the working of CMOS and infrared arrays.
3
IMGS-742
Testing of Focal Plane Arrays
3
PHYS-611
Classical Electrodynamics I
This course is a systematic treatment of electro- and magneto-statics, charges, currents, fields and potentials, dielectrics and magnetic materials, Maxwell's equations and electromagnetic waves. Field theory is treated in terms of scalar and vector potentials. Wave solutions of Maxwell's equations, the behavior of electromagnetic waves at interfaces, guided electromagnetic waves, and simple radiating systems will be covered.
3
PHYS-612
Classical Electrodynamics II
This course is an advanced treatment of electrodynamics and radiation. Classical scattering theory including Mie scattering, Rayleigh scattering, and the Born approximation will be covered. Relativistic electrodynamics will be applied to charged particles in electromagnetic fields and magnetohydrodynamics.
3

Admission Requirements

To be considered for admission to the Ph.D. program in astrophysical sciences and technology, candidates must fulfill the following requirements:

  • Complete a graduate application.
  • Hold a baccalaureate degree (or equivalent) from an accredited university or college in the physical sciences, mathematics, computer science, or engineering.
  • Submit official transcripts (in English) of all previously completed undergraduate and graduate course work.
  • Have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.2 (or equivalent) in course work in mathematical, science, engineering, and computing subject areas.
  • Submit scores from the GRE.
  • Submit a personal statement of educational objectives.
  • Submit a current resume or curriculum vitae.
  • Submit two letters of recommendation from academic or professional sources directly to RIT. These must be confidential.
  • International applicants whose native language is not English must submit scores from the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE. A minimum TOEFL score of 79 (internet-based) is required. A minimum IELTS score of 6.5 is required. The English language test score requirement is waived for native speakers of English or for those submitting transcripts from degrees earned at American institutions.

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Additional Info

Residency

All students in the program must spend at least one year (summer term excluded) in residence as full-time students to be eligible to receive the doctorate degree.

Time limitations

All doctoral candidates must maintain continuous enrollment during the research phase of the program. Normally, full-time students complete the course of study in approximately four to five years. A total of seven years is allowed to complete the requirements after first attempting the qualifying examination.

MS to Ph.D. transfer

Depending on each student's progress in their course work and the research project, students enrolled in the astrophysical sciences and technology MS program may seek program approval to have their MS thesis and thesis defense serve as the Ph.D. qualifying examination. Upon successfully qualifying, students may choose to proceed to Ph.D. candidacy rather than accepting a terminal master of science degree. This transition is contingent on the availability of an adviser and research funding.