Nuclear Astrophysics


Course Website:

Course Description:

The goal of this course is to develop a broad understanding of the close relationship between the properties of nuclei - quantum systems of femtometer length scale, and the properties of stars - 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 current 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.


Prof. Hendrik Schatz
Room: W-211 Cyclotron Building
Telephone: 333-6397
Office hours: I am available after class, by appointment (send an e-mail), or just walk into my office


The course will not follow a textbook, but "Nuclear Physics of Stars" by Iliadis is the recommended textbook. There will be some reading assignments and suggestions out of this book.This book is an excellent complement to the lecture notes in that it allows you to dig deeper into the details of a specific subjects as needed. It also is a good reference book for the field. For more information on textbooks and a comprehensive list of what is available check out the booklist.

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)


Most weeks there will be homework assignments that have to be turned in by the announced deadline. Group work is welcome, but the work handed in must be original (not a word by word copy). Plagiarism will not be tolerated - please see me if you have questions about this. Often homework requires numerical work. You are of course welcome to use various types of software to solve the problems. However, you must hand in detailed step by step information on how the problems have been solved, how equations have been derived etc. For example, you could print an excel spreadsheet and then list the equations you used for each calculations. I


There will be two midterm exams, one in the middle of the course and one in the end. The exams will be closed book and will take place during the regular lecture time.

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 8-10 pages about a topic of your choice are due. Typically such papers should be review articles on a topic 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 yet it 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 assignment due dates related to the paper and the presentations:
Date Due
Feb. 13 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 13 Written outline (bullets are ok), a plan for further research, and a list of literature to be used
March 27 First draft for the 10 min presentation
April 4 Second draft for the 10 min presentation
April 19 Final 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.

Format of the paper: 8-10 pages. The paper must be written using Latex, either in AAS Tex (2 column ApJ emulated style) or RevTex (2 column Phys Rev C style) and conform to the AASTex/Revtex style rules.

The final presentation replaces the final exam. Therefore, you cannot pass the course without the presentation and you must attend the presentation session to pass the course.

Group activity and quizzes:

There will be some announced group work assignments during the term. These will be a set of problems that you work together in a group during class time and that are handed in afterwards. These are not quizzes in the classical sense - rather they are designed to replace a lecture and allow you to learn new material in a different way. In some cases these will require preparation, details will be announced in class. Group activities will be corrected and handed back, but grading will be based on participation and preparedness, partially judged by self-grading.


The final grade will be determined based on:

30% Homework
20% Term paper
15% Presentation
30% Midterms (15% each)
5% Group activity and quizzes participation