The U.W. Astronomy Department is a moderate-sized unit with outstanding strengths in many key areas, including the origin of the Solar System, the search for cosmic life, stellar evolution, the processing of the elements, the formation and structure of stars and galaxies, and the structure and evolution of the Universe. Our ten tenure/tenure-track faculty, ten emeritus and research faculty and postdocs, and twenty-five graduate students and many of our undergraduates are engaged in research covering a broad range of astronomical research topics that span the full range of modern methodologies from experimental to observational and theoretical. Topics of interest include cosmology, cosmo-cartograpy and cinematography (i.e. mapping the universe and its changes), galaxy formation and evolution, dark matter and energy, gravitation, galactic structure, stellar structure and evolution, planetary and cometary composition and formation, orbital stability, asteroid studies, and numerous other topics. We provide the supportive atmosphere conducive to prepare all of our students of every gender, background, and nationality for a lifetime of professional activity in modern astrophysics. Over 85% of our graduates have been successfully employed in professional astronomy after 10 years of their graduation.
The undergraduate program in astronomy undergraduate program in astronomy strives not only to provide a basic bachelor’s level understanding of modern astronomy, but also to prepare students for professional graduate programs and to challenge students to develop their interests, talents, and responsibilities to society. We have one of the largest undergraduate major programs in the nation. Undergraduates are active not just in classes, but also in hands-on experiences at our Manastash Ridge observatory, a campus radio telescope project, the on-campus observatories, and in a variety of creative, faculty-mentored research programs, some of which lead to professional publications. The undergraduate and graduate programs both provide career mentoring plus a balance of field coverage and problem-solving methods. Astronomy students at all levels have an array of opportunities to engage in public outreach which build class unity while developing a sense of civic responsibility and public presentation experience.
The Department’s graduate program exists to craft generations of creative, self-confident, and committed graduates who will be our lifelong colleagues in research (about 80%), teaching (about 10%), engineering, computing, and technology development (about 10%). Our success is measured by the professional success of our PhD students. Graduate students throughout the U.S. voted our graduate program the best in the U.S. Our undergraduate program has exploded to become one of the largest in the U.S. the past five years. Public and K-12 programs have exploded under the leadership of our faculty and lecturers. Every faculty member has professional grants and grant expenditures are now twice as large as our state-funded budget. Our faculty are major users of national telescopes in space and on the ground, and one member is the Project Scientist in Project Stardust that will return samples of interplanetary dust to the U.W. campus for analysis. Our faculty have taken leadership in major astronomical projects, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Hubble Space Telescope, and detectors and cameras at the leading edge of technology. Two senior faculty have been awarded top medals for their distinguished careers and service.
People are our most important asset in any pursuit of achieving excellence in education and research. The Department is committed promoting personal achievement and to encouraging diversity of people and interests within all of its programs. Over the years the improving balance of people of all genders and backgrounds has enriched our programs and the ways in which we plan for our future. Diversity has also added richness to our department’s culture, broadened our goals, and strengthened the coherence of our learning community. Our efforts to recruit and retain all students at every level, and to attract a healthy mix of K-12 students into astronomy and the other physical sciences, will continue in collaboration with staff from the Graduate School and the Colleges of Arts & Sciences and Engineering. Several of our graduate students have been innovators in on-campus efforts to involve under represented groups in astronomy and all sciences.
Outreach is a very important secondary activity of the Astronomy Department. It helps to satisfy the strong curiosity of the public, to attract young people into the sciences, to provide an opportunity to include under-represented population groups, and to teach civic responsibility to the students of the department. We offer an annual open house with live demonstrations, planetarium shows, various lectures of topics of interest to K-8 students and their parents. In addition, our advanced students operate the campus planetarium for K-12 and UW groups. The old campus observatory, renamed for Prof Theodor Jacobsen by the UW Regents in 2004, is open to the public two nights per month, where undergraduate students prepare and deliver talks on astronomy. Project AstroBio sends astronomers from UW and elsewhere in the Puget Sound region into K-12 schools to develop new curricula with teachers. Of course, we try to answer questions from the general public, as does every department on campus.
Our research facilities are outstanding and varied. We are founding partners in the new “Large Synoptic Survey Telescope” (LSST), which is an eight-meter instrument being designed to map the entire sky repeatedly to search for distant supernovae, bursters, gravitational lenses known as MACHOs, distant material in the solar system, and asteroids whose orbits threaten impacts with the Earth. We have access to about 100 nights per annum on the high-performance 3.5-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescopes, both in in southern New Mexico. We also have a dedicated 0.8-meter (30-inch) telescope at Manastash Ridge Observatory in Eastern Washington used for undergraduate and graduate student training and research.
Our needs divide nicely into two broad areas: the investment to improve in the things we do well, and the investments needed to realize bold new aspirations and adventures made possible by new research and technologies. Investing for improving our ongoing efforts includes support for faculty, students, and their recruitment and retention; support for our research and teaching facilities; and discretionary support that can be used to seize the large and small opportunities that arise unexpectedly. Support that opens new scientific pathways is called “strategic” Our strategic initiatives consist of two new centers of excellence, one in theoretical astrophysics and the other in deep survey telescopes that will plumb the depths of our sky to search for our cosmic origins and the history and future evolution of our solar system and planet. Truly meaningful support can be made in large and small ways. Please refer to our support web pages.