Nuclear Astrophysics

Course Website:

Course Description:

The goal of this course is to develop a thorough understanding of the close relationship between the properties of nuclei - quantum systems of femtometer length scale, and the properties of the Universe - governed by gravity on mega parsec lengths scales. I will attempt to cover a broad range of astrophysical scenarios and nuclear reaction processes to provide an overview over the problems nuclear astrophysics addresses and over the techniques that are used to solve them. I will try to emphasize current research directions, in particular the role of unstable nuclei, as well as outline the major historic steps that led to our current understanding.


Hendrik Schatz
Room: N-104 Cyclotron Building
Telephone: 333-6397
Office hours: after class and by appointment


The textbook for the course will be:

Nucleosynthesis and Chemical Evolution of Galaxies
by Bernard E. J. Pagel

There is no textbook in nuclear astrophysics that covers all that is relevant. Therefore the course will not follow a textbook, but this book gives a nice introduction into the relevant nuclear physics and astrophysics and will be used as a reference. I will hand out materials for more indepth coverage or extra topics. Depending on your career goals, interests, and learning style it might be a good idea to get one or more of the other books that are available - here is a book list.


Homework will be assigned weekly. Usually homwork sets will be handed out on Thursdays in class and written solutions to the problems will usually be due by the beginning of the class the following Thursday unless noted otherwise. In addition, there will be occasionally reading assignments. It is encouraged to work in groups and to discuss problems, but solutions submitted must be individual, original work.


This year, there will be no exams.

Term paper and presentations:

At the end of the term a ~10 min presentation (final length depends on enrollment) and a term paper with a length of 20-30 pages about a topic of your choice are due. The topic should be of current interest in nuclear astrophysics and go beyond what is covered in the course. Nuclear Astrophysics is a broad field and you are free to chose a a topic in observational astronomy, theoretical astrophysics, experimental nuclear physics, theoretical nuclear physics, atomic physics or a subset of these as long as it is related to some nuclear processes in the universe. More technical aspects of observatories, satellites, or accelerators might also be appropriate if presented in a physics context.

The particular topic chosen should be broad enough to be interesting in general and to avoid to be too technical, but it should also not be too broad, for example it should not embark on presenting the history of nuclear astrophysics. If you don't have any ideas yetit might be helpful to surf the JINA website ( for presentations on current topics in nuclear astrophysics. Journals such as Scientific American, Astronomy, etc are also a good source for interesting current topics. Other sources are websites such as, or scientfic journals such as Astrophysical Journal Letters, Physical Review Letters etc.

Here is a tentative schedule for the assignments related to the paper and the presentations.
Date Due
Feb. 15 Topic chosen and approved by professor (you are responsible for scheduling an appointment and discuss a proposed topic before this deadline, to ensure there is time to reiterate if necessary)
March 3 Written outline (bullets are ok), a plan for further research, and a list of literature to be used
April 5 First draft and outline for the 10 min presentation
April 29 Final draft of paper due
Finals week

Presentations to be given in a symposium like setting. Open to the public. All students are required to attend all presentations.

In general the paper should meet the usual standards of a scientific article. It has to be original, entirely written by you for this course, and must include a complete list of all references used. If you had deeper discussions with someone that contributed significantly to the contents you should mention the person in the "acknowledgement" at the end of the paper before the references ("I thank .... for many interesting discussions" or something like that). The paper should include an introduction that references relevant review articles and puts the topic in a broader context (what is the problem and why is this important). The introduction should, however be concise and only be as broad as necessary. Overall, the paper should be selfcontained and understandable to a typical astrophysicist as well as a typical nuclear physicist, or an educated scientist from any other area.

The paper needs to be submitted in a final form that meets typical publication standards in terms of layout, grammar, spelling, figure quality etc. Latex is the preferred format to achieve such a standard almost "automatically".

The final presentation replaces the final exam. Therefore, you cannot pass the course without the presentation.


There will be some announced quizzes during the term. These will be mostly done in groups and detailed instructions about individual and group accountability will be provided in each case.


The final course grade will be based on homework (60%), term paper (30%), and presentation (10%). Group quizzes and participation in class can yield up to a 5% bonus.


Assignments can be excused in the case of illness or other severe and documented reasons. Students are required to contact their professor, for example by e-mail, to discuss missed assignments, excuses and makeups as soon as it is possible once the problem becomes apparent.

Audience and Prerequisites:

The course is geared towards any level graduate students with research interest in astronomy or nuclear physics. Prerequisites are minimal and an attempt will be made to keep the material understandable and interesting for students with wide varying backgrounds. 

I will require only a basic understanding of some fundamental concepts in quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics at the undergraduate level. Here are some examples:

Particle Physics

Quantum Mechanics:

Statistical Mechanics:

(This is not a complete list)