Academics » Graduate Studies
Past and Present
The astronomy department at New Mexico State University came into existence in 1970, arising out of a research group founded in 1955 by the planet Pluto's discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh. That early research group had a strong focus upon solar system studies. The department's astrophysical expertise and research efforts have subsequently expanded to cover all facets of the field. Today, the department is a site of active research in theoretical and numerical cosmological studies; galactic and extragalactic studies with emphasis upon the ISM, galaxy evolution, quasar absorption lines, stellar populations, variable stars, and interacting binaries, solar physics, and planetary studies with an emphasis upon atmospheres. Each of these research topics are furthered by telescopic observations obtained at facilities with which the department is affiliated, many of which are within driving distance of campus.
The Astronomy Department at NMSU offers programs leading to the Master of Science and the Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Graduate courses cover topics in astrophysics, stellar atmospheres, observational techniques, the interstellar medium, galactic structure, star formation and evolution, extragalactic objects, cosmology, and solar system studies. Students also take courses in other relevant fields to broaden their knowledge and capabilities.
Recent graduate degree recipients have secured positions at the University of Chicago, the University of California in San Diego, Yale University, the Space Telescope Science Institute, NRAO/VLA, UMass Amherst, and Johns Hopkins University, to name but a few.
The NMSU Astronomy Department is a member of the Astrophysical Research Consortium (ARC). The department operates ARC's 3.5m optical/IR telescope at Apache Point Observatory (APO), near Sunspot, NM. This telescope, used for research and teaching by NMSU astronomy faculty and students, is equipped with a number of advanced optical and infrared imagers and spectrographs. The department is also a member institution of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), which owns 2.5m and 0.5m telescopes also located at Apache Point Observatory. In addition to these two world class facilities at APO, NMSU has its own 1m optical/IR telescope located there.
NMSU researchers frequently work with other national observatories in New Mexico, such as the Very Large Array and Very Long Baseline Array radio telescopes near Socorro, and the National Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak. They also use the Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona, the Keck Observatory, the Subaru Observatory, and Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii, the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory and the European Very Large Telescope in Chile, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory, the ROSAT X-ray satellite. Faculty and students have also been involved in the operation and science investigations of a number of solar system exploration spacecraft missions.
Research at NMSU
The graduate astronomy program at NMSU offers outstanding research opportunities for graduate students, who work closely with faculty and postdoctoral fellows. The program offers access to some of the world's finest astronomical instrumentation, as well as access to collaborations with leading international researchers. NMSU's southern New Mexico location provides an unparalleled opportunity for research in optical, infrared, and radio astronomy. In addition, faculty are analyzing data from Earth-orbiting astronomical satellites and are modeling planetary atmospheres, interiors, and the large-scale structure of the Universe. Graduate students are presented with ample opportunities to travel to observing sites and conferences at which they can present their work and build networks of collaborators around the world.
Students seeking admission to the Astronomy Graduate Program must have an appropriate background in physics and mathematics, usually demonstrated by at least a bachelor's degree in physics, astronomy, or a related field. Applicants who have received a relevant master's degree from another institution are encouraged to apply directly to the PhD program. The application materials for admission can be found here or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Specific questions about the application procedure or the astronomy program, should be directed to Dr. Nancy Chanover, chair of the NMSU Astronomy Graduate Admissions Committee.
Graduate assistantships, research assistantships, and minority fellowships are available. At present, three of our senior graduate students are supported by prestigious NASA graduate fellowships; it is customary for students to apply for, and to obtain, such awards throughout the course of their graduate studies at NMSU. Most students are supported throughout the entire year by a variety of teaching and/or research assistantships. In addition, students are eligible to apply for summer positions at other facilities.
NMSU Research in General
Astronomy is among the many departments at New Mexico State conducting research of national and international significance. Categorized as a level one research institution by the Carnegie Foundation, the university holds more than $300 million in total contracts, with an annual research budget of about $85 million. NMSU receives the fifth highest amount of funding for universities nationwide from NASA.
The university anchors the southern end of the state's Río Grande Research Corridor. This linkage of high-tech agencies and universities includes Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, White Sands Missile Range, NASA's White Sands Facility, the numerous astronomical observatories, and labs with specialties such as plant genetics and artificial intelligence.
Campus and Environs
The New Mexico State University campus lies within the city of Las Cruces in south central New Mexico, just east of the Organ Mountains, a southern extension of the Rocky Mountain chain. With a metropolitan area population of about 136,000 people, Las Cruces and surrounding Dona Ana county offer city life with semirural amenities. The geography is a combination of desert mesas, big-sky openness, mountains, and Río Grande valley greenery. Within a half day's drive from campus are several recreational and historic sites: the Gila Wilderness, White Sands National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, ski and summer resorts in the Sacramento Mountains at Ski Apache, and the cities of El Paso, Texas and Juárez, Mexico.