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Research Graduate Program in Earth and Space Sciences

Our Mission

The mission of the Department of Earth and Space Sciences is to further the understanding of Earth, the solar system, and their histories. The Department's scope extends from the center of Earth to the rim of the solar system, and its activities cut across traditional disciplines of physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and mathematics. Our faculty, students, and staff examine Earth's interior structure, chemistry, motion, and dynamics; geologic hazards; processes affecting the surface environment; the surrounding space environment; planetary processes; and geobiology. We provide a foundation for interdisciplinary teaching and research that is based on the geologic record, and on rigorous observation and modeling of Earth's present state. Our research aims to provide a basis for making accurate predictions of future conditions.

Graduate Students in Earth and Space Sciences

Our graduate students come from a variety of disciplines, but should have a solid background in math, physics, and chemistry. Some of the more common backgrounds are geology, physics, and chemistry. Students typically begin taking courses in their field of interest immediately, and are encouraged to being their research early in their first year.

First year students typically take an introduction to research course, a research seminar, and classes related to their field of study. Students will also conduct research, which may include laboratory work, field work, data analysis, or something else, depending on their research focus. Most students will also TA or RA, if they are receiving an assistantship.

Preparing for the Graduate Program in Earth and Space Sciences

While there are no specific requirements for admission into the graduate program has no specific course requirements, students should meet general undergraduate science requirements. It is recommended students have at least one year of calculus with analytical geometry (Math 124, 125, 126), at least two quarters of calculus-based physics (Phys 121 & 122), and at least two quarters of general chemistry (Chem 142 & 152), with a GPA above 3.2. Students should have demonstrated capability of tackling tough problems in their respective field on interest.

Research in Earth and Space Sciences

Earth and Space Sciences is a broad as it sounds. We have four research groups and sixteen subgroups that are faculty are actively involved in. We encourage students to utilize multi- disciplinary resources be it departments, labs, classes, or faculty when pursing their research and many of our courses are cross listed with other environmentally focused programs.

Our faculty, staff, and students are involved in a diverse array of research projects using everything from state of the art laboratories, such as our space plasma laboratory, local resources with projects at Mt. St. Helens, and even remote field camps such as McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Students develop their own research projects based on their interests, with their advisors providing support and experience.

Research Highlights:

  • Discovery of the geologic record of a giant tsunami-the smoking gun of the dinosaur-killing asteroid impact.
  • First laboratory measurements of melting of iron under core conditions to determine Earth's deep thermal and compositional state.
  • Discovery of large electric fields in the upper atmosphere above thunderstorms.
  • First 3-D mapping of the space environment around the planets.
  • Strong motion records from recent earthquakes, providing the information necessary for the next generation of construction standards.
  • Discovery of 2.5 billion year old "whiff" of atmospheric oxygen produced by photosynthetic cyanobacteria prior to the general oxygenation of the atmosphere.

Graduate Degrees Offered

The Department of Earth and Space Sciences offers programs of graduate study leading to the degrees of Master of Sciences (M.S.) in both our Research Program and our Applied Geosciences Program and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in our Research Program. The department also participates in the Astrobiology graduate program and the Program on Climate Change. In the 2019-2020 academic year, our department has approximately 90 graduate students.

Available Funding

Applicants who are admitted into the PhD program are typically offered TA and/or RA appointments for the first academic year. Financial support for successive years is contingent on satisfactory progress and the availability of funding. In total, PhD students are awarded support during the nine-month academic year for five calendar years. Funding is variable for all M.S. applicants.

Applying to the UW Graduate Program in ESS

Admission as a graduate student in Earth and Space Sciences is competitive. We typically have 200 applicants, and accept an average of 15 students a year. The average applicant GRE scores for Autumn 2019 were 160 (V), 162 (Q), 41 (AW) and the average GPA being 3.46. The admissions committee holistically reviews each application, and do not reject an applicant based solely on GRE scores or GPA. The application deadline is Jan. 5. We strongly recommend that international applicants submit applications by December 1 to allow additional processing time.

Application to the program must be made via the online application, available on the UW Graduate School website: