About the Department

Lick Observatory (Image courtesty of L. Hatch © )

HubbleA Tradition of Excellence

The roots of UCSC's Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics reach back to the 19th-century founding of Lick Observatory, the world’s first permanently occupied mountaintop observatory. Today, UCSC is one of the world's leading centers for both observational and theoretical research in astronomy and astrophysics. Indeed, the department was recently ranked first in the country in research impact, based on citation studies. Faculty and students in the department and our affiliated research centers are building and using first-rank telescopes and instrumentation—on Earth and in space—extending humanity’s vision to planets orbiting nearby stars and the first stirrings of the Universe. 

Steve VogtAward Winning Faculty

The department includes 24 faculty members, whose research interests range from our solar system and the Milky Way to the most distant galaxies in the Universe and the most fundamental questions of cosmology. Senior faculty members in the department have received the highest honors in their field, including the Franklin Institute’s 2009 Bower Prize (Sandra Faber), the 2006 Berkeley Medal (Joseph Miller), the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s 2005 Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal (Robert P. Kraft), the 2005 Bruno Rossi Prize and the 2005 Hans Bethe Prize (Stanford Woosley), the 2004 E.O. Lawrence Award (Claire Max), the 2002 Carl Sagan Memorial Award (Steven Vogt), and the Royal Astronomical Society’s 1997 Gold Medal (Donald Osterbrock). Junior faculty win prestigious funding, such as Packard Fellowships in Science and Engineering, Sloan Research Fellowships and National Science Foundation Early-Career awards. An impressive nine of UCSC’s 18 faculty elected to the National Academy of Science have been affiliated with the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. In addition, we typically have over a dozen postdoctoral researchers in residence, a steady stream of visiting scientists, and a dedicated and skilled technical staff.

Outstanding Training Programs

UCSC is a leader in astrophysics education, and we attract some the best graduate students in the country, enrolling approximately 40 students working towards the Ph.D. degree. Graduate students benefit from the low student-faculty ratio and extensive research opportunities. The Importance of our top-notch graduate students cannot be understated. Our students continually receive high-profile awards from the ARCS Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Kavli Foundation, and the Hubble Postdoctoral Fellowship program. Moreover, the synergy between our Ph.D. students and their advisers is one of the most remarkable and enduring in all of science. Skilled advisers inspire their students to aim high, while superb students empower their advisers to attack problems at the acme of difficulty. In short, the world’s best faculty, working with top-quality graduate students, are capable of extraordinary achievement.

The department also sponsors an undergraduate minor in Astrophysics, and collaborates with the UCSC Department of Physics to offer an undergraduate major in Astrophysics. Importantly, undergraduates have numerous opportunities to become involved in research themselves.

World-class Facilities and Affiliated Research Organizations

Keck Observatory in Hawaii

UCSC houses, administers and collaborates closely with some of the most important research centers and facilities associated with astrophysics and the planetary sciences. UCSC faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows have access to most of these resources at these cent. For details about these resources, see affiliated research centers and facilities.

  • CfAO (Center for Adaptive Optics)
  • Center for Origin, Dynamics, Evolution of Planets (CODEP)
  • Gordon and Betty Moore Laboratory for Adaptive Optics (LAO)
  • High-Perfomance Astro Computing Center (HIPACC)
  • Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP)
  • International Summer Institute for Modeling in Astrophysics (ISIMA)
  • Keck Observatory, Mauna Kea, HI
  • LICK Observatory, Mt Hamilton, CA
  • Next Generation Telescopes Science Institute (NEXSI)
  • Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics (SCIPP)
  • Santa Cruz Theoretical Cosmology Group
  • Theoretical Physics Santa Cruz (TASC)
  • Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT)
  • UCSC Department of Physics
  • University of California Observatories (UCO)

The UCSC Campus

The UCSC stands in the midst of 2000 acres of meadows and redwood forests on a dramatic site overlooking Monterey Bay and the city of Santa Cruz. The Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the UCO/Lick administrative offices, and most faculty and student offices are in the new Interdisciplinary Sciences Building, which is shared with Physics and Environmental Studies. Immediately adjacent is the Center for Adaptive Optics headquarters, which includes meeting space, visitor space, and additional faculty and student offices. Also nearby are the Earth and Marine Sciences building and the University's Science Library.

See Also