About Astrophysics

Our Program and Courses

Astrophysics is a major at F&M. You will explore the wonders of the cosmos, studying galaxies, planets, stars, black holes, asteroids, and more. Through hands-on exploration and individualized instruction, you will develop critical, science-based decision-making skills, which will prepare you to evaluate and address important questions in one of the world’s hottest, fastest-changing fields. As part of your journey, you’ll take several courses in astronomy to build your knowledge of astrophysics.

Your learning won’t take place in the classroom alone; you’ll be in the field, using satellite data and ground-based observations to pursue your research. Whether focusing on your findings in the lab or embarking on independent and collaborative research, you’ll be guided and mentored by your professors and supported by F&M’s cutting-edge field, laboratory, and computing equipment.

By the time you graduate, you will: 

  • Be able to use published information from primary sources and compare and interpret this information with measured results in the lab.
  • Learn to compile lab reports effectively integrating text, data and analysis, and graphics to explain procedures and support conclusions.
  • Be able to plan and successfully execute the solution to complex problems that require multiple steps to solve.
  • Create and present oral and written presentations of problem solutions or research projects in a manner that demonstrates your understanding and makes a topic accessible.
  • Select and apply the appropriate formal mathematical techniques in solving problems.
  • Develop mathematical models to describe collected data and correctly determine whether a model appropriately describes the data.

Curious what astrophysics classes are like? Take a look at our course catalog to see the depth and breadth of what’s available to you.

Our Faculty and Staff

Edward W Cook

Observatory Assistant

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Fronefield Crawford

Charles A. Dana Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Director of Grundy Observatory

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Etienne Gagnon

Associate Professor of Physics, Co-Director of the Creativity & Innovation Initiative, Department Chair of Physics & Astronomy

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Ken Krebs

Associate Professor of Physics

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Amy L Lytle

Associate Professor of Physics

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Kelly E Schenke

Academic Department Coordinator

Philosophy; Scientific and Philosophical Studies of Mind

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Debbie R Schmidt

Assistant Professor of Physics & Astronomy

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Steven W Spadafore

Electronics Engineer

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Calvin Stubbins

Professor of Physics

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Ryan Trainor

Associate Professor of Physics

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Learning Outside the Classroom

Research Opportunities 

As you become fully immersed in your studies, you may find yourself forming theories or questions about the universe. The good news? You don’t have to wait until graduate school to investigate. Every student at F&M has extraordinary opportunities to engage in independent or faculty-led research . In fact, astrophysics students’ research have earned them publications in leading scholarly journals. They’ve also worked side-by-side with their professors on a wide array of cutting-edge topics, including: 

  • Gravitational wave astronomy and pulsar astronomy
  • Galaxy formation and black holes
  • Cosmology and large-scale structure
  • Interstellar chemistry and molecular content of late-stage stars and planetary nebulae
Explore research at F&M

Off-Campus Study

Off-campus study, in the U.S. and internationally, is encouraged. Our students have traveled with faculty to locations around the world to use observatory and laboratory facilities, including the Keck Observatory in Hawai’i, the Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico, and the Parkes Telescope in Australia. Some of them even use NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope for their research.
Explore off-campus study at F&M

Our Facilities and Resources

The William M. Hackman Physical Sciences Laboratories

The hub of astrophysics at F&M is the William M. Hackman Physical Sciences Laboratories building. Hackman houses six instructional laboratories; 11 student/faculty research laboratories; a telescope deck and imaging lab; an ellipsometer; a small radio telescope; the Beowulf Cluster, a group of equipment primarily used for pulsar survey data processing; and a lounge for physics majors to gather to study and share thoughts and ideas.

Joseph R. Grundy Observatory

The Joseph R. Grundy Observatory provides exciting opportunities to explore the universe right on the F&M campus. The Grundy Observatory features an 1884 vintage 11-inch Alvan Clark refracting telescope and a 16-inch Boller & Chivens classical Cassegrain reflecting telescope.
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Astronomy Research Lab 

Located in the William M. Hackman Physical Sciences Laboratories building, the astronomy research lab is a space designed for our research students to work on astronomy research projects. Students typically work on these projects during summers but also sometimes during the year. The lab has a number of Linux computers that we use for research, a printer, plenty of disk space, and several IDL licenses. This room is also used for the NANOStars progam at F&M. You can explore some of the other research projects that students have worked on in the lab.

Small Radio Telescope

The Small Radio Telescope (SRT) is a 2.3 m diameter satellite television dish on a fully motorized Az-El mount which has been developed by Haystack Observatory. The SRT at F&M is located on the roof of Hackman Physical Sciences Laboratory and is capable of both total power measurements and contour mapping. This telescope observes at L-band (a wavelength of 20 cm, or a frequency of 1.4 GHz) and is used in part of our lab instruction in both our introductory astrophysics course and senior-level laboratory capstone course for majors. The SRT control computer is located in the astronomy lab on the fourth floor of Hackman. The telescope is capable of both radio continuum and spectral line observations and combines aspects of astronomy, digital signal processing, software development, and data analysis and reduction.

Telescope Deck and Imaging Lab

The observing deck in the William M. Hackman Physical Sciences Laboratories contains low vibration piers which hold six 8-inch Meade LX-200 telescopes. Cables in conduit under the floor connect the telescopes with six laboratory PCs. The telescopes can be operated in three modes: students can begin learning about telescopes by moving and pointing the telescopes manually; the telescopes can also be controlled using the computer built into the telescope base with commands entered through the hand paddle; finally, the telescopes can be controlled from the computers inside the lab. The astronomical imaging laboratory, located next to the observing deck, allows students taking astronomy courses to work with computer controlled telescopes and CCD cameras to record and process images of celestial objects.

Each telescope is equipped with an SBIG ST-7 CCD camera with a 5-position filter wheel. Sub-floor cables connect the CCD cameras to the lab computers, where students can operate the cameras and telescopes, record images, and enhance and measure images. Software on the lab computers includes The Sky, a planetarium program that allows students to point the telescopes and CCDSoft, a program that controls the camera and permits analysis and measurements from images. Students can switch from program to program with a single click of the mouse to move the telescope and record images.

In addition to controlling the telescopes and cameras, the imaging laboratory is also designed to support cloudy night labs and student projects. Although six computers are connected to the telescopes, the lab also contains additional computers. All of these computers contain CLEA software for cloudy night labs and are used by classes and by individual students for projects. All of the computers are networked to the Internet for ease in communication with astronomical databases world wide.

The imaging laboratory at F&M was used by classes beginning with the 1997-98 school year. A new spectrograph has been purchased and is currently being installed and tested. It will permit students in upper level courses to obtain spectra of planets and bright stars and to analyze the spectra. We are continuing to develop new ways for astronomy students to use the laboratory and experience digital imaging in astronomy.

National Undergraduate Research Observatory (NURO)

F&M is a member of the National Undergraduate Research Observatory (NURO) located in Flagstaff, Arizona. Teams of faculty and students regularly make trips to the observatory for training and research experiences.

The North Museum Planetarium

The nearby North Museum houses the largest planetarium in Central Pennsylvania. The planetarium is regularly used in F&M astronomy classes, and there are a variety of shows given to the public throughout the year. The museum also has a number of other astronomy exhibits for all ages. Admission to the museum and planetarium is free with your F&M ID.

Success Beyond F&M

What happens after you graduate with a degree in astrophysics? A galaxy of opportunities awaits. 

Graduate School

Many of our graduates go on to pursue advanced degrees after F&M. They’re admitted into some of the nation’s finest graduate programs, including Columbia University, Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the California Institute of Technology.

Career Paths

Career outcomes for astrophysics graduates are diverse. Some have gone on to work as scientists at NASA, while others have held positions such as:

  • Aerospace Engineer
  • Astronomer
  • Astrophysicist
  • Computational Scientist 
  • Data Scientist
  • Energy Industry Analyst
  • Engineer
  • Materials Scientist
  • Meteorologist 
  • Process Engineer
  • Professor 
  • Research Scientist
  • Quantitative Research Analyst
  • Seismologist
  • Technical Writer 

Student Spotlight

“My biggest goal is to become an astronaut.”

Franklin & Marshall College student Menelaos Raptis was just 7 years old when he received his first telescope – a surprise gift from his father. The perfect place for stargazing, Raptis says, is his hometown of Thessaloniki, Greece, a port city on the Thermaic Gulf of the Aegean Sea. “Through astro-gazing, I was able to develop my imagination and my interest in space – and to form some questions: ‘Is there alien life on other planets? What are the boundaries of the universe?’” Raptis said.
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Research Spotlight

Searching for ‘Cosmic Lighthouse’ Signals

Six Franklin & Marshall College students, using decades old data, are searching the sky for elusive pulsars, which spin as much as 100 times per second while sending pulsed radio signals. “Actually researching these astronomical phenomena has been such an incredible experience," said Mckenzie Golden '25. "It is a testament to the unbelievable undergraduate opportunities that are right at your fingertips at F&M.”
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Public Observing Night at the Observatory

Grundy Observatory is open to public observing on the third Monday of each month all year (weather permitting).

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Related Fields of Study

Computer Science

As technology evolves and our understanding of computerized systems increases, computer science has become more advanced. At F&M, you’ll explore this ever-changing field, learning the mathematical basis of modern computer science, gaining technical and programming skills, and understanding how to put theory into practice.

Mathematics

The study of mathematics is ancient, and its roots in clear and creative thought can still be seen today. While studying mathematics at F&M, you will learn both the fundamental foundations and theories of the field as well as how to apply these theories to real-life problems.

Physics

From questions about the origins of the universe to integral inquiries about magnetism and electricity, the study of physics reshapes the way we perceive the natural world. Physics at F&M provides ways for you to examine complicated natural systems, explain your observations, and develop models that predict future behaviors.

Astrophysics in the Spotlight

September 26, 2023

Students Stargaze at Cherry Springs Retreat

Students attended a recent weekend retreat to Cherry Springs State Park for two nights of stargazing in September. Night sky enthusiasts flock to the park for its spectacular views of the Milky Way.

July 26, 2023

Summer Research Goes Interstellar

A 2023 Hackman scholar, rising junior Delaney Adair is analyzing data from telescopes around the world to study protoplanetary nebula M1-92.

January 23, 2023

No Fault in Our Stars for Aspiring Astronaut

F&M first-year student Menelaos Raptis was just 7 years old when he received his first telescope. Follow the aspiring astronaut's journey from Greece to Lancaster.