Earth and Planetary Sciences


Professor Jerry Mitrovica, Co-Head Tutor  
Professor Francis Macdonald, Co-Head Tutor

Harvard offers outstanding opportunities for students who wish to pursue studies in Earth and planetary sciences. Research and course work in the Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS) department encompass a broad range of science disciplines, technology, and applications to environmental and economic endeavors. These studies involve students in the development and application of new tools and technologies, state-of-the-art computational modeling of a wide range of Earth planetary processes, and field work in remote and challenging settings.

These are intellectually exciting times for the Earth and planetary sciences, which are of unprecedented importance to contemporary society. Our environment is increasingly subject to stresses placed upon it. As never before, we have an imperative to better understand the consequences of human activities for the Earth’s atmosphere, the oceans, the solid Earth, and the organisms that live on it. Exploring for, extracting, and conserving natural resources are vital to the global political economy. We must mitigate the ill effects of earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, and climate change by learning to predict their time and place. Moreover, new technologies, datasets and computational capacity are allowing us to better understand the functioning of Earth systems and the interplay between tectonics, climate, and life.

Because the Earth’s natural systems (atmosphere, ocean, biosphere, solid earth) are interconnected, the training of Earth and planetary scientists broadly spans the boundaries between biology, chemistry, engineering, physics, mathematics, and the Earth sciences themselves, and provides a broad intellectual foundation that is beyond what is typically possible in a "pure" science program. The department trains students rigorously in the basic sciences, typically in the same foundational courses as students in Astrophysics, Chemistry, Engineering Sciences, and Physics. These foundational courses are followed by upper-level courses that focus on disciplines within Earth and planetary sciences. Within the EPS department students may focus on atmospheric and ocean science, energy and climate, environmental geoscience, geobiology, geochemistry, geology, planetary sciences, and solid earth geophysics.

To facilitate and reinforce our interdisciplinary vision, students are required to take at least one course in each of the three major sub-disciplines in the department: Atmosphere(s) and Oceans; Earth History and Geobiology; and Geology, Geophysics and Planetary Science. Moreover, all students are encouraged to participate in department-sponsored field experiences. Many students complete their studies with a senior thesis that affords the opportunity to do original research under the guidance of department faculty.

Career opportunities in Earth and planetary sciences are diverse, spanning the private, government, and academic sectors. Government service includes research and administration in NASA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency, the US Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency, and many other agencies and departments. Earth scientists work in and direct a number of oil and mineral exploration and production companies. Many opportunities continue to grow for entrepreneurs who build companies specializing in resources, natural hazards, waste repositories and cleanup, and environmental impacts. There also are abundant opportunities in the academic world for those continuing on to graduate degrees; and in addition to scientific career paths, an undergraduate degree in Earth and planetary sciences provides an excellent background for continuing study in law, business, and medicine.

The research environment of the department is an unparalleled resource for undergraduate education. Concentrators may work with faculty and graduate students on major research projects as a research or field assistant, in the context of course work, or as part of an undergraduate research project. Class sizes are small and student-professor contact is frequent and informal. Each graduating senior becomes personally acquainted with numerous faculty members in the department. Writing a senior thesis, which may be based on field, laboratory, or theoretical research, provides students with the opportunity to explore beyond the elementary level in one or more of the subspecialties of Earth and planetary sciences.

REQUIREMENTS
Requirements: 14 courses (56 credits)

1. Required courses:

A. EPS Courses (6 courses): At least one course at the 50- or 100-level sampling all three sub-disciplines: Atmosphere(s) and Oceans; Earth History and Geobiology; and Geology, Geophysics, and Planetary Science.

i. A minimum of 2 foundational courses from either EPS 10 or SPU 12, 14, 25, 29, 30, and 31, and all 50-level EPS courses. NB: No more than one of these from EPS 10 or SPU 12, 14, 25, 29, 30 or 31.
ii. Four additional courses in EPS, at least three of which must be numbered 99 or above.

B. Basic science requirements (5-7 courses):

i. Physics: (2-3 courses): Options a and b are preferred.

a. Physical Sciences 12a and 12b -or-
b.Physics 15a, 15b, and 15c -or-
c. Applied Physics 50a and 50b -or-
d. Physical Sciences 2 and 3 by petition.

ii. Chemistry (1-2 courses):

a. One course option: Chemistry 17 or higher; or EPS-ES 133, 135 or ES 164
b.Two course option: Physical Sciences 10 and 11; Physical Sciences 1, 10, or 11 followed by EPS-ES 133, 135, or ES 164
c.Two course option by petition: Physical Sciences 1 followed by Physical Sciences 10

iii. Mathematics (2 courses) through or above Applied Mathematics 21a and 21b or Mathematics 21a and 21b.

C. Additional courses (ordinarily 1-3 courses) in EPS or in related fields to complete the requirement of at least 14 courses.

2. Honors eligibility: EPS 99r, Senior Thesis Tutorial. Students must complete at least one term of EPS 99r to be eligible for honors. EPS 99r must be taken for a letter grade. One semester of EPS 99r will count toward concentration credit in 1.A.ii. An oral presentation of the thesis is required.
3. Tutorial: Required. (Generally taken in the sophomore year. Non-credit.)
4. Thesis: Optional for basic concentration; required for departmental (English) honors.
5. General Examination: None.
6. Substitutions: Advanced placement may be used to allow students to complete higher-level courses under A-B; but a minimum of two physics, one chemistry, and two mathematics courses must be completed to satisfy concentration requirements. Students interested in substituting a course in place of the above requirements should consult their EPS concentration adviser and submit a petition to theAcademic Admininstrator.

7. Other information:

 

A. None of the courses required for concentrators may be taken Pass/Fail and C– is normally the minimum acceptable grade.

B. Students must complete the two foundational courses by the end of their first year in the concentration (ordinarily no later than the first semester of the junior year).

C. Students are strongly encouraged to consult with a faculty adviser during freshman year to plan appropriate choices of coursework in math, chemistry, and physics.

D. Related fields: Includes most departmental courses offered in Applied Mathematics, Astronomy, Chemistry, Computer Science, Engineering Sciences, Environmental Science and Public Policy, Mathematics, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Physics, and Statistics which count towards the respective concentration requirements. Courses offered through the General Education program are not admissible for the related field requirement, except as noted above in 1.

E. Math Ma, 1a, 1b; Life Sciences 1A and 1B normally do not count toward concentration credit.

F. Thematic Plan of Study: Students must discuss and develop individual plans of study together with their concentration adviser. Students are strongly encouraged to focus their departmental coursework in a thematic subfield (atmospheric and ocean science, energy and climate, environmental geoscience, geobiology, geochemistry, geology, planetary sciences, or solid earth geophysics).

G. Summer School/Study Abroad: Courses from study abroad, Harvard Summer School, or other Harvard schools may count toward concentration credit if approved by the EPS Undergraduate Committee prior to the student’s enrollment in these courses. Students must petition for such credit by contacting the Academic Administrator. Freshman Seminars normally do not count for concentration credit.

H. Freshman Seminars: Freshman Seminars ordinarily do not count for concentration credit because they are Sat/Unsat courses.

I. Field Trips: An important aspect of the EPS concentration is participation in field trips and/or summer and January field camps, supported by the department.

Joint Concentration Requirements: 11 courses (44 credits)

1. Required Courses:

A. EPS courses (5 courses).

i. A minimum of 2 foundational courses from either EPS 10 or SPU 12, 14, 25, 29, 30, and 31, and all 50-level EPS courses. NB: No more than one of these from EPS 10 or SPU 12, 14, 25, 29, 30 or 31.
ii. Three additional courses in EPS, at least two of which must be numbered 99 or above.

B. Basic science requirements (5-7 courses):

i. Physics: (2-3 courses): Options a and b are preferred

a. Physical Sciences 12a and 12b -or-
b. Physics 15a, 15b, and 15c 
-or-
c. Applied Physics 50a and 50b -or-
d. Physical Sciences 2 and 3 by petition.

ii. Chemistry: (1-2 courses)

a. One-course option: Chemistry 17 or higher; or EPS-ES 133, 135 or ES 164
b. Two-course option: Physical Sciences 10 and 11; Physical Sciences 1, 10, or 11 followed by EPS-ES 133, 135, or ES 164
c. Two course option by petition: Physical Sciences 1 followed by Physical Sciences 10

iii. Mathematics (2 courses) through or above Applied Mathematics 21a and 21b or Mathematics 21a and 21b.

C. Additional courses (ordinarily 0-1 course) in EPS or in related fields to complete the requirement of at least 11 courses.

2. Honors eligibility: EPS 99: Senior Thesis Tutorial, or similar course in the student’s other concentration. Students must complete at least one term as part of the joint concentration. EPS 99 must be taken for a letter grade. One semester of EPS 99 will count toward concentration credit in 1.A.ii. An oral presentation of the thesis is required.
3. Tutorial: Required. (Generally taken in the first year of declaring. Non-credit.)
4. Thesis: Required. An oral presentation of the thesis is required. An EPS faculty member must serve as a thesis reader.
5. General Examination: None.
6. Substitutions: Advanced placement may be used to allow students to complete higher-level courses under B; but a minimum of two physics, one chemistry, and two mathematics courses must be completed to satisfy concentration requirements. Students interested in substituting a course in place of the above requirements should consult their EPS concentration adviser and submit a petition to the Academic Administrator.
7. Other information: Same as Concentration Requirements.

ADVISING

At the beginning of the first term of concentration each student is assigned a faculty adviser. Students normally continue with the same adviser throughout their concentration, although advisers may be changed upon student request. For students writing a thesis, the senior thesis adviser will also act as an additional concentration adviser. Students should meet individually with their advisers at least once each term to discuss course selections and other academic matters. Students may also seek advice from the Co-head Tutors at any time. Students seeking additional advising about course options in chemistry are encouraged to speak with Professor Ann Pearson (Hoffman G-13, 384-8392; pearson@eps.harvard.edu).

For up-to-date information on advising in Earth and Planetary Sciences, please see the Advising Programs Office website.

RESOURCES

The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences is housed partly in the Hoffman Laboratory of Experimental Geology, which is directly connected with department classrooms and offices in the Geological Museum on Oxford Street. Physical oceanography and some of the atmospheric sciences are housed in Pierce Hall, just across Oxford Street from Hoffman Laboratory. Biological oceanography and paleontology are housed in the Geological Museum, with direct connection through the museum to the parts of the department located in Hoffman Laboratory.

HOW TO FIND OUT MORE

All essential information about the concentration is included. Additional information may be obtained from the department’s Academic Office, on the fourth floor of Hoffman Laboratory, or from the Co-head Tutors, or on our website. Outside of the Academic Office, Hoffman 4th floor, is a bulletin board that contains many notices of job opportunities, lectures, fellowships, and other matters of interest.

Co-Head Tutor Professor Jerry Mitrovica, Geological Museum 203B, 617-496-2732, jxm@eps.harvard.edu;

Co-Head Tutor Professor Francis Macdonald, Geological Museum 204C, 617-496-2236, fmacdon@fas.harvard.edu;

Academic Administrator Chenoweth Moffatt, Hoffman Laboratory Room 402, 617-384-9760, moffatt@eps.harvard.edu.

ENROLLMENT STATISTICS
Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Earth and Planetary Sciences 24 27 17 17 16 12 18 18 21
Earth and Planetary Sciences + another field 4 1 1  2 3 6 5 4 5
Another field + Earth and Planetary Sciences 5 7 6 7 8 5 5 5 2