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The Physics of the Interstellar Medium

The course provides an overview of the structure and composition of the interstellar medium (ISM), and the physical processes acting therein. Course knowledge is used to gain insights to star-formation and galaxy evolution and explain observations of everything other than stars.

You will study the structure and composition of gas and dust in the Milky Way and other galaxies.  You will learn how various components assemble to make a working galaxy and produce the environments in which stars are born. This will include the physical process that regulate gaseous properties such as heating, cooling, and dynamical processes like shocks. You will see how atomic and molecular structure give rise to observable phenomena, and how we can use observations of gas and dust to infer their basic thermodynamic and chemical properties.

  • Course structure

    This is a mandatory course on the Masters’ program, but can also be taken as a free-standing course. It is given during the day at a pace of 50%.

    Teaching format

    The course comprises lectures, seminars and individual student presentations.


    There are three modes of assessment in the course, each comprising 1/3.

    1. Individual literature search and review projects on an ISM-related topic of the student’s choice.  Includes report and presentation.
    2. Solution of a number of quantitative exercises, both analytical and numerical
    3. A written exam at the end of the course.


    Matthew Hayes


  • Schedule

    The schedule will be available no later than one month before the start of the course. We do not recommend print-outs as changes can occur. At the start of the course, your department will advise where you can find your schedule during the course.
  • Course literature

    Note that the course literature can be changed up to two months before the start of the course.

    Course textbook: Physics of the Interstellar and Intergalactic Medium, Bruce T. Drain, Princeton University Press, 6th printing.

    Other Userful texts: Astrophysics of Gaseous Nebulae and Active Galactic Nuclei, Donald E Osterbrock and Gary J Ferland, University Science Boos, 2nd edition.

  • Contact

    The academic advisor and student office can be contacted via