Chile beckons to astro students

Undergraduates frustrated at the lack of science-oriented study abroad opportunities will now have the chance to take a six-week course in astronomical observation in South America.

Yale announced on Monday that a seven-year-old exchange program with the University of Chile, formerly offered only to graduate astronomy students, will be expanded to allow all undergraduates who fulfill a physics prerequisite to study in Santiago, Chile, during the summer.

The renewed Yale-Universidad de Chile International Program in Astronomy Education and Research will allow students to take a course that covers introductory astrophysics and astronomical observation techniques using Universidad de Chile’s extensive facilities.

The program, which was partly funded by the now-defunct Andes Foundation, will now be completely funded by Yale for the next three years.

Astronomy Department chair Jeffrey Kenney said the program presents a unique opportunity for math and science students, who are often unable to study abroad during the school year because of strict requirements that can be hard to fulfill outside of the University. The astronomy courses offered in Chile will count toward the astronomy major and the astronomy and physics combined major and can be used to satisfy either the observational course requirement or half the introductory lab requirement.

The expansion of the program follows the University’s recent push towards globalizing its educational offerings, Provost Andrew Hamilton said in a statement released Monday.

“This is a very important agreement for Yale University and the Universidad de Chile,” Hamilton said. “It embodies our strong commitment to international education and to our encouragement of students in the sciences.”

Kenney said the courses offered are similar in spirit to Astronomy 155, “Introduction to Astronomical Observing” and Astronomy 255, “Research Methods in Astrophysics,” but will be substantially different in approach because of the unique observing facilities in Chile, which he said has the world’s largest concentration of research-oriented observatories in the world. Students will have access to Cerro Calan and Cerro Tololo Observatories and will take field trips to other major observatories in the area, he said.

When the Yale-Universidad de Chile program began in 1999, it was open only to graduate students and acted as an exchange program so that the Universities could share students and faculty. Yale graduate students who have participated in the program have produced noteworthy research, such as one study showing that the Milky Way Galaxy was formed in part through the combination of smaller galaxies, the University statement said.

Yale’s Department of Astronomy has gained a lot from the exchange with Chile, Kenney said, because the department is a modest program when compared to those of other universities.

Brett Andrews ’08, an astronomy and physics major, said Chile’s high altitude makes it one of the most ideal locations for astronomy study. He said the program will be especially advantageous for those looking into doing graduate work.

Samantha Tonini ’07, an English and astronomy double major, said she was impressed by the amount of resources that Yale provides to its undergraduates.

“Monetary resources … really allow such progress to be made by advanced students,” she said. “That [this] kind of program [is] open to undergraduates [is] fantastic.”