The observatory, faculty, and courses were already in place, so it was time to make it official: Siena now offers an astrophysics major.
The College has received approval from the New York State Education Department to offer a bachelor of science degree in astrophysics, effective this fall.
John Moustakas, Ph. D., associate professor of physics and chair of Siena’s physics and astronomy department, said the application for the major was “a matter of putting all the pieces together.”
“We already had all the elements for this program: a state-of-the-art observatory, faculty with expertise in different areas of research, strong coursework and student demand,” he said. “Now the major is in place.”
Moustakas explained that astrophysics is the application of physical principles to observations of astronomical phenomena – in other words, learning how the universe works. The goal is to improve understanding of the properties, fate and evolution of the universe and everything in it.
The major is “inherently interdisciplinary,” he said, featuring coursework in astronomy, physics, mathematics, computer science and data science.
“The coursework will enable students to build a strong tool kit that can serve as a foundation for a variety of fields,” he said.
Majors will complete a capstone research project their senior year.
Moustakas said that right after earning a B.S., more than 90 percent of astrophysics majors in the country either attend graduate school or are employed in the STEM private sector at starting salaries of $55,000 a year and up.
“Adding an astrophysics major puts us in a strong cohort of small to mid-size colleges that offer this major, such as Williams, Haverford and Vassar.”
Kristina Gatto ’24 (below) said she will definitely change her major from physics to astrophysics.
“I know that the program will be amazing,” said Gatto. “We have an excellent observatory, and the faculty are really dedicated to working with their students.”
This summer Gatto studied as CURCA scholar with Rose Finn, Ph.D., professor of physics and astronomy, whose Astronomy 101 course she took as a freshman. They studied exoplanets using the Breyo Observatory’s 27-inch optical telescope.
“It was a great opportunity, especially as an undergrad, to do this level of research.”