AAS 199th meeting, Washington, DC, January 2002
Session 154. The Undergraduate Astronomy Major: What and Why?
Special Session Oral, Thursday, January 10, 2002, 2:00-3:30pm, Georgetown East

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[154.02] The Astrophysics Major at the University of California, Berkeley

J. Arons, C. Heiles (University of California, Berkeley)

The Astrophysics major offered by the Berkeley Astronomy Department has been redesigned to reflect broad educational goals. Students preparing for graduate school study mostly Physics and Mathematics, leavened with four semesters of astrophysics at the sophomore and senior level. These courses make heavy use of their concurrent Physics and Math. Astrophysics and Physics majors differ in the astrophysics courses replacing other electives which a Physics major might choose.

The major's redesign also opened the door to students who wish to pursue a major which gives them broad technical training without having graduate school as a goal. Many such students follow the same track as those pursuing the graduate school option; others take courses specifically designed for people with alternate careers in mind.

The major change has been a laboratory requirement for all Astrophysics majors, in either track. We now have advanced undergraduate laboratories: optical, radio, and near infrared; details are on our web page. These share the common thread of development of deep capabilities in data gathering, analysis, and presentation.

Students achieve expertise in these areas because the labs include the complete range of activities normally encountered in observational or experimental research. Students use laboratory equipment to measure the fundamental parameters of devices and systems, make astronomical observations with those systems, write software in UNIX and IDL to control equipment and analyze the results, and write formal lab reports in LATEX. We avoid ``black box'' or ``cookbook'' procedures . The students leave the course having gained experience and knowledge, and a ``feel'' for how to proceed when faced with sometimes recalcitrant equipment and imperfect data. A by product of the training has been an increase in student involvement in undergraduate research projects.

These innovations have led to a major that has doubled in size and, in a quite unanticipated development, has become gender balanced. We will present a number of aspects, both statistically and anecdotally, from this decade long experience with reform of an astronomy major.

If you would like more information about this abstract, please follow the link to http://www.ugastro.berkeley.edu/. This link was provided by the author. When you follow it, you will leave the Web site for this meeting; to return, you should use the Back comand on your browser.

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