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Is chemistry needed for astronomy/astrophysics

  1. Apr 18, 2012 #1
    I am currently doing my GCSEs at secondary school and will have to choose 4 subjects for my A levels, currently I am thinking physics, maths, further maths and history. I also want to be an astronomer/astrophysicist and have heard that chemistry can be useful for that. Would i need to take chemistry or will i do fine without it?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 19, 2012 #2
    Chemistry is definitely used in astrophysics. In the U.S., if someone plans on getting a Bachelors of Science with a focus in astrophysics, they will most likely need to take at least a first year general chemistry course and maybe even a chem. lab, like I did.
  4. Apr 19, 2012 #3
    Thanks i'll just have to replace further maths with chemistry i suppose
  5. Apr 19, 2012 #4
    Understanding of basic chemistry is important for being an astronomer or astrophysicist, but even people who do astrochemistry are not anything like people who do terrestrial chemistry. The number of molecules we have actually observed in space is in the low hundreds. Most of the work in this field done by physicists is actually related to doing things like calculating reaction rates for the molecules we do know of (there are also chemists who do the corresponding experimental measurements of reaction rates when possible, but it's not trivial to reproduce astrophysical conditions in the lab). This is much more of an exercise in quantum mechanics than it is related to anything you learn in high school chemistry; but what you learn in that chemistry course will at least serve as the backdrop for when you talk about electron energy levels in your quantum mechanics courses. So if you want to get into a good physics program to end up doing astro, then having an advanced background in math will be more important for you than a background in chemistry. Besides, most universities require physics majors to take general chemistry anyway, their first year (unless you have AP, iB or equivalent credit for it -- I don't know how the A-levels match up to this).
  6. Apr 19, 2012 #5
    It's great that you're studying history. If you remain in England, the odds are you won't get to do it at uni!

    A-Level Chemistry may open some further doors for you, in terms of what courses you can apply for at university. The "Natural Sciences" at Cambridge, Durham, and UEA strike to mind. I reckon there's a couple more. In the event you change your mind, having A-Level Chemistry, along with Maths and Physics, allows you to apply for subjects such as "Chemical Engineering", "Chemistry" and "Medicine". The "Natural Sciences" seem to be quite flexible, from what I can see.

    On the other hand, doing Further Maths to A2 would mean that you'll (probably - haven't actually checked everything, seeing as I'm under the CIE board *and* not applying to the UK at all) find your first-year mathematical methods courses easier. If you're interested in Cambridge, you can apply for Mathematics with Physics and then switch to straight Physics during the second year or stay with Mathematics. Doing Further Maths also gives you access to Mathematics degrees.

    So, what would you enjoy more? Mathematics or Chemistry? I was faced with a similar decision and chose Chemistry because it provided more flexibility, although I did not particularly enjoy it. I really dig some aspects of it - physical chemistry, not really big on organic and inorganic - but there were more things I did not like and I eventually dropped it and took up French instead, for I have an interest in literature and I actually do better at that than Chemistry.

    Further Maths with CIE is also very annoying and not as flexible as with say, Edexcel. I also didn't like the idea of doing more advanced mathematics without proofs. So, not taking Further Maths was an easy decision for me. I also couldn't find anyone to help me with it, so I'd have had to study it all on my own.
  7. Apr 19, 2012 #6
    well i'm not that keen on chemistry but I like maths. I was just thinking they probably teach you the chemistry you need for astrophysics at uni.

    By the way i want to do physics and astrophysics at manchester
  8. Apr 19, 2012 #7
    I guess it just depends on what's more important chemistry Or further Maths since I Can'T drop physics or Maths and I really want to take history
  9. Apr 20, 2012 #8
    E-mail somebody in the *Physics department* of Manchester and ask them if chemistry is at all needed for their course. Alternatively, find a detailed syllabus and see if you can find any chemistry in it!

    You seem to have made your decision already though.
  10. Apr 20, 2012 #9
    Thanks mepris i'll do that then
  11. Apr 20, 2012 #10
    Hi KeplerJunior

    I can tell you for certain that if you want to do physics with astrophysics at Manchester then you just need A-level Maths, Physics and one other of your choice. Whatever the other one it doesn't matter much. You can find very detailed info on the courses on a Manchester physics course here: http://www.physics.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/courses/course-handbook/7_programme_structure/1styrs1prog.html [Broken]

    And entry requirements here: http://www.physics.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/courses/course/?code=00639 [Broken]

    I have a friend at Manchester who studies physics with astrophysics and got in with A-levels in Maths, Physics and English.

    If you decide to do further maths, you'll find that during first year you'll just be re-learning it all again. They teach you all the maths you need to know on the course. If you do chemistry, you won't find much use for it in undergraduate astrophysics, however if you decide to take other optional courses (of which there are many) then it could really come in handy! I certainly don't regret picking chemistry now, even if I didn't always enjoy it at the time.

    Be prepared to keep your mind open with regards to which university you choose! You've still got a while to decide. But if you want any info about Manchester then feel free to ask me (since I'm there right now).
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  12. Apr 21, 2012 #11
    Thanks JesseC thats really helpful, i've been trying to find information about the course. And don't worry manchester isn't the only uni i'm considering its just my preference at the moment. What optional courses is chemistry useful for?
  13. Apr 21, 2012 #12
    It'll be useful if you take any biophysics or medical physics courses (things like protein structures, ion transfer). I personally found it useful recently in an earth science course (planetology) which deals with the chemistry of the early solar system and the chemistry of planets (geochemistry of magma). In fact if you become interested in atmospheric physics then chemistry also pops up frequently (pollutants).

    On top of that, the stuff you learn in chemistry about bonding is absolutely essential for understanding solid state physics, which is a core course. I even did a project just a few months ago on quantum dots, which are produced by... you guessed it, chemistry. :p

    All that is by no means an exhaustive list... but yeah, it could well come in handy where you don't expect!
  14. Apr 26, 2012 #13
    Well i email manchester and they said they didn't have a preference between chemistry and further maths and that i should just do what i enjoy most and what will get me the best grade. In which case it would be further maths.
  15. May 4, 2012 #14
    Hi KeplerJunior,

    Nice to see you interested in joining the 'fold' so to speak. As both an astronomer and astrophysicist, and with a background in environmental engineering, I find that chemistry is both interesting and useful; however, the chemistry used for both astronomy and astrophysics isn't really that difficult. We are more interested in physical chemistry (size of atoms/molecules and the relation between these and properties such as electronegativity, the forces between atoms, etc, plus concepts such as the emission and absorption of various wavelengths by molecular species in sundry extreme environments - high pressure, temperature, velocity, etc); nothing too difficult. You can pick most of this up later on. I don't mean to sound flippant but what people say about chemistry is usually fairly apt -- that chemistry is just the physics of the outer electrons. :-)

    Mathematics at a higher level would be useful, but then again it's always good to spread yourself out and give yourself as broad a knowledge base as possible, especially with the way employment prospects are looking at the moment. I, myself, took high level maths in high school (but not the highest, as that's taught during first year uni). This allowed me to branch out into Chemistry and Biology as well before getting to university (and then carried this on into the first year or two at tertiary level). To be a well-informed scientist requires a broad knowledge base in as many different disciplines as possible. Then again, I find that most of the top people in the field are highly specialised and focused. They are very successful - but you'd be surprised how many of these 'guys' (and 'girls') couldn't change a car tyre, fix their own computer or carry on a light-hearted conversation.

    Broaden your skills and knowledge base, work on your lateral thinking skills, and don't lose sight of the beauty of the world around you, and you'll be fine.
  16. May 4, 2012 #15
    Hi Kepler Junior, haha i am just about to finish my GCSE exams and want to do astrophysics when i'm older (thinking of going to Manchester uni) and i'm doing physics, chemistry maths and history at a level, i think the subjects work well because after all the research i have done i found that chemistry physics and maths all complement and integrate with each other, just in case you wanted the view of someone going through the same stuff as you :)
  17. May 4, 2012 #16
    Thanks DarkPhysics and Ronj. I think i will be going for further maths although the way the a level choice system changes by then i may not be able to do history (please not) and just do chemistry. although i don't want that to happen it would make things simpler
  18. May 7, 2012 #17
    Good luck with everything and we'll no doubt see you 'out there' in the research community when you finish.

    Cheers (or should that be 'Live long and prosper!' :-)
  19. May 7, 2012 #18
    You can skip focus on learning your history subject.You can also read Stephen Hawkin's book "Brief historyof time" or topics on Einsteins special theorey of relativity both of which are
    free online.The idea is to gain momentum in your dream to become astrophysicist or
    astronomer.Best Luck.
  20. May 7, 2012 #19
    im currently in the 3rd year of my degree doing a Mphys Physics with Astrophysics. I did do As Level chemistry and have done no more personally ive found that although some chemistry couldn't necessarily hurt its not essential. Further maths will help you more than chemistry will in my opinon
  21. May 8, 2012 #20
    Thanks, i look forward to being in the research community DarkPhysics and jaychristian4, i have already read a brief history of time (not that i got all of it, may want to reread it) and sort of understand the theory of special relativity (though not entirely). If you could direct me to any websites that would be useful.
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