Paris: Astronomy

The group tours CERN.

Program Term:


Language Requirement:



 Damaris Crocker De Ruiter

Application Deadlines:



The College’s Spring quarter Astronomy program in Paris is built around a three-course physical sciences sequence devoted to theoretical and observational astronomy.

    This sequence is designed for non-science majors (and thus assumes no mathematics beyond the College’s pre-calculus requirement). Students who have already completed their PHSC sequence may count the three courses toward the five required to satisfy the Minor in Astronomy and Astrophysics. The program may also be of interest to science majors who want to supplement their work in physics and chemistry with a quarter devoted to the cosmos.

    Each year a three-course sequence will be composed from the six PSHC courses that are offered on campus to present a range of foundational topics, from the grand principles governing the universe and understanding its beginning, to the formation and evolution of stars and galaxies, and the search for habitable extrasolar planets. These courses, which are taught by Chicago faculty, capitalize on the Paris setting through museum and laboratory visits as well as guest lectures by French astrophysicists. In this regard Chicago's connection with the Laboratoire de Astroparticule et Cosmology (APC) at the Université Denis Diderot (Université de Paris-VII) is central. In addition to the astronomy sequence, program participants take a French language course, which runs at a normal pace through the quarter, a course designed to help students connect with French (and Parisian) culture.

    As a supplement to classroom work, the Astronomy program features excursions to local sites of historical and cultural interest such as the observatories at Nançay and Meudon. It is assumed that, apart from these organized excursions, students will use their free time to explore Paris on their own and to gain for themselves knowledge of this remarkable city deeper than that of the breathless tourist.

    The following courses will be taught in Spring 2023:

    • ASTR 18900/PHSC 18900/HIPS 18900 Mapping the Heavens: Early Astronomical Surveys
      Richard G. Kron, Assistant Chair for Academic Affairs, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics
      By making a map of the stars and galaxies in the sky, we can learn about our position in the Milky Way and beyond, and build a physical picture of the visible Universe. When thousands of stars are included in the map, we see clusterings on relatively small and relatively large scales, leading to the question: How did these structures come to be? This question motivated the earliest sky maps as well as current surveys that explore the expanding Universe. Throughout most of the 19th century the positions of stars were recorded visually with a telescope. By the late 19th century, photographic glass plates had become competitive with the human eye and created a permanent record. In addition to stars, photographs revealed patches of light (nebulae), many fainter than could be seen by eye through a telescope. This course will explore how the scientific questions of the day (How far can we see? How do stars move through space? What are the nebulae, and why are they distributed the way they are?) were addressed by making photographic atlases of the sky, and in turn how these atlases raised more questions. All of the astronomical background needed to follow the story will be introduced within the course. We will be using primary sources including journal papers and catalogs of stars and galaxies, and digital scans of glass plates from circa 1900, and will make our own star catalogs and compare our measurements to the work of astronomers such as Edwin Hubble. This course in Paris will feature work at l’Observatoire de Paris.
    • ASTR 12710/PHSC 12710 Galaxies
      Paolo Privitera, Professor, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics
      Galaxies have been called island universes, places where stars are concentrated, where they are born, and where they die. The study of galaxies reaches back to the Renaissance; Galileo Galilei first pointed a telescope skyward in 1610 and confirmed a then 2000 year-old Greek conjecture about the nature of our own galaxy—the Milky Way. This course will use extensive modern observational data from a wide range of telescopes to trace the modern picture for the formation and evolution of galaxies and the stars in them. Galaxies will then be used as markers of yet larger scale structures, in order to explore the influence of gravity over cosmic time. The object of study in this course is galaxies, and the narrative arc traced through that extensive data and understanding will highlight our profound discovery that most of the mass in galaxies (and the Universe as a whole) is in fact an exotic form of matter—dark matter—that we cannot directly see. Quantitative analysis will be an important part of the course in both laboratory work and lectures, but mathematics beyond algebra and some geometric understanding will not be required. This course will feature several observationally-oriented labs that will allow students to directly experience how some of the modern understanding of galaxies has arisen.
    • ASTR 12720/PHSC 12720 Exoplanets
      Leslie Rogers, Assistant Professor, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics
      The past two decades have witnessed the discovery of planets in orbit around other stars and the characterization of extra-Solar (exo-) planetary systems. We are now able to place our Solar System into the context of other worlds and a surprising conclusion that most planetary systems look nothing like our own. A challenging next step is to find planets as small as the Earth in orbit around stars like the Sun. The architecture of planetary systems reflects the formation of the parent star and its protoplanetary disk, and how these have changed with time. This course will review the techniques for discovery of planets around other stars, what we have learned so far about exoplanetary systems, and the driving questions for the future, including the quest for habitable environments elsewhere. Although quantitative analysis will be an important part of the course, students will not be expected to employ mathematics beyond algebra.

    All participants also take a French language course.

    Headquarters for the College’s study abroad programs in Paris is the University of Chicago Center in Paris, the University’s research and teaching arm in Europe. Situated in the thirteenth arrondissement, the Center in Paris is part of an ambitious intellectual project along the river Seine, including the Bibliothèque Nationale and a new home for Université de Paris (formerly Université Denis Diderot - Paris VII). The Center in Paris features classrooms, offices for faculty and graduate students, computer facilities, a small library, and an apartment for the faculty director. For participants in Chicago’s programs, the Center in Paris provides a focus for academic activities, a central meeting place, and a continuing Chicago “presence” within one of the major capitals of Europe.

    Students in the Paris Astronomy program are housed in a residence hall within the Cité Internationale Universitaire (Cité). The Cité, a park-like residential complex in the fourteenth arrondissement, is the international student campus in Paris, though French students also live there. Students reside in single rooms with a private bath and have access to Cité facilities, including a library, theater, laundry, and athletic facilities. Students will have access to common kitchens in the residence halls and can purchase inexpensive meals at the Cité’s restaurant universitaire.

    It is important to recognize the cultural context of student housing in France and understand that the amenities of dormitory facilities may vary. Although some of these differences may take some getting used to, remember that cultural differences extend to all aspects of your experience abroad. Having realistic expectations for your term in Paris will help you approach the study abroad experience with a positive attitude.

    Participants in the Paris Astronomy program remain registered as full-time students in the College. They take and receive credit for four courses: the three physical sciences courses and the French language class. The physical sciences sequence meets the College’s physical sciences requirement for non-science majors. Students who have already met this requirement may use these courses as electives. The three courses can also be used toward the five course requirement for completing a minor in Astronomy and Astrophyics. Their use, partial or total, in a program of study (major) must be approved by the undergraduate chair of the respective department. The language course will normally count as an elective. Course titles, units of credit, and grades are placed on the College transcript.

    Study abroad students pay regular College tuition, a program fee, and a nonrefundable study abroad administrative fee. The tuition and program fee are paid in conformity with the home campus payment schedule, and the nonrefundable study abroad administrative fee is submitted when accepting a place in a program. Precise figures for the Paris Astronomy program during the 2023–2024 year are listed below:

    Spring tuition: as set by the Bursar’s Office

    Study abroad administrative fee: $675

    Paris Astronomy program fee: $5,460

    Program fee includes:

    Out-of-pocket expenses include:

    • round-trip airfare to and from the program site
    • transportation on site
    • meals
    • course materials
    • personal entertainment and travel
    • communications (including cell phone usage)
    • health insurance and upfront payments for care
    • other miscellaneous expenses

    Previous program participants report spending in the range of $200 to $250 per week on meals and incidentals while on the program, though frugal students may spend less, and others could spend much more. Bear in mind that the cost of living in Paris is relatively high and that, while it is possible to live frugally, it is also possible to run short of money if you are unwary. It is therefore essential that you budget your funds prudently, apportioning your resources so that they last for the duration of the program. If you are planning to travel before or after the program or on weekends, you should budget accordingly.

    Study abroad students retain their financial aid eligibility. For more information about financial aid resources, please see our Tuition, Fees, and Funding section. 

    The Paris Astronomy program is open to University of Chicago undergraduate students only. Applications from outside the University are not accepted.

    The program is designed for undergraduates in good academic and disciplinary standing, including first-year students. While the program stipulates no minimum grade-point average, an applicant’s transcript should demonstrate that they are a serious student who will make the most of this opportunity. Because the physical sciences sequence is taught in English, there is no language prerequisite, although students are encouraged to take French on campus before the program begins.

    Each application is examined on the basis of the student’s scholastic record and personal statement. If you are interested in applying for this program please fill out the online application.

    To discuss the Paris Astronomy program and the possibility of participating, please contact Damaris Crocker De Ruiter.