Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic & Space Sciences in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan

Doctoral Program :: Joint Graduate Program in Space and Planetary Physics

This graduate program is a joint program with the Physics Department, and requires taking additional classes in Physics. Its emphasis is on the physics of the heliosphere, planetary magnetospheres, ionospheres and upper atmospheres (including those of the Earth). The Space and Planetary Physics Joint Program includes a heavy emphasis on the underlying fundamental physical principles and theory. Enrollment in the program must be by approval of either the AOSS or Physics graduate advisor, and may occur only after completion of one or more terms in AOSS or Physics.

The core of course requirements for the degree comprises a series of graduate level courses in fundamental physics as well as space and planetary physics. In addition to the core requirements, students must complete their academic plan with specialty courses.

Program Advisor

Professor Paul Drake (AOSS)


  • AOSS doctoral students are expected to have a high level of ability and scholarship in atmospheric science, oceanography, space and planetary sciences, or geoscience and remote sensing.
  • Students are expected to carry a course load of 9 — 12 credit hours (3-4 courses excluding seminar courses) each semester until the dissertation work is begun.
  • During the first year the student must select courses from among the core courses for their particular program.
  • During their first two years, students are expected to complete a total of two terms in seminar course AOSS 747 and a total of two terms in seminar course AOSS 749.
  • Each student is required to complete the eight core courses plus four specialty courses to be determined with the guidance of the student's research advisor and either program chair.
  • There are no foreign language requirements.
  • Students are not expected to take courses during the summer term, as these months are primarily used to gain research experience.
  • Typically after three semesters of classes, each student will take and must pass a qualifying examination before being advanced to candidacy. A PDF file describing the procedure and exam is available here: AOSS Qualifying Exam Description.
  • Most students begin research soon after beginning their program. No later than upon achieving candidacy, they focus on dissertation research under the guidance of an advisor.
  • The minimum GPA required to advance to candidacy is 6.0 on Rackham's 9.0 point scale.

Core Courses


  • AOSS 532 Radiative Transfer
  • AOSS 551 Advanced Fluid Dynamics
  • AOSS 574 Intro to Space Physics
  • AOSS 597 Space Plasma Physics


  • Physics 505 Electricity and Magnetism-I
  • Physics 507 Classical Mechanics
  • Physics 510 Statistical Physics
  • Physics 511 Quantum Theory-I

Plus: at least 4 credits of graduate-level seminar in AOSS or Physics.

Specialty Courses

(four additional courses, at least one from Physics and one from AOSS)

This list contains suggested courses for grad students in the Space and Planetary Physics program. It is not meant to be comprehensive list of all possibilities, but rather a good starting point for planning a degree. Students should discuss their courses with both the program academic advisor (in AOSS or Physics) and with their research advisor to tailor the classes taken to best suit the student’s specialization.

  • AOSS 479 Atmospheric Chemistry
  • AOSS 545 High Energy Density Physics
  • A OSS 565 Planetary Atmospheres
  • AOSS XXX Planetary Electrodynamics
  • AOSS 595 Magnetosphere and Solar Wind
  • AOSS 598 The Sun and Heliosphere
  • Physics 506 Electricity and Magnetism-II
  • Physics 512 Quantum Theory-II
  • Physics 513 Advanced Quantum Mechanics-I
  • Physics 522 Atomic Physics
  • Physics 523 Advanced Quantum Mechanics-II
  • Physics 525 Cosmology
  • Physics 527 Stellar Astrophysics
  • AERO 523 Computational Fluid Dynamics I
  • AERO 623 Computational Fluid Dynamics II
  • ASTRO 530 Stellar Astrophysics
  • ASTRO 532 The High Energy Universe

A variety of elective courses is utilized to provide flexibility to build a complete program which fits the interests and needs of the individual student.  Students are expected to divide their course work between their home department and the second department such that at least 40% of their credit hours come from the second department.

Please Note:  Courses are subject to change. Please consult with your advisor.


Admission to the program is open to any student admitted to the graduate programs of either department with the consent of either the AOSS or Physics Program Advisor. Admitted students must meet the admission standards of both departments. The usual course of action for students is to enter the program from the beginning of their graduate career. However, students may enter the program at any time in their graduate studies, with the consent of either the AOSS or Physics Program Advisor, provided they have fulfilled the requirements for satisfactory progress in their home department.

Program Requirements

Each student is required to pass the qualifying examination is in AOSS.  This involves a written examination which covers the materials in the AOSS core courses described above and an oral exam. This portion of the qualifying examination will be given during May of the second year. Following the successful completion of the qualifying examination, the student forms a dissertation committee composed of five faculty members.  The committee must be chaired by a qualified faculty member from one of the departments and have at least two members from the other department.