224 Merrill Science
PO Box: AC# 2245
Please call the college operator at 413-542-2000 or e-mail info@amherst.edu if you require contact info@amherst.edu

Nicolas B. Cowan

Assistant Professor of Astronomy

Departmental affiliation: Physics and Astronomy

Research Interests

I study the atmospheres of extrasolar planets (planets orbiting stars other than the Sun). My goal is to empirically measure their atmospheric reflectiveness (clouds), infrared opacity (greenhouse gases), and heat transport (winds). These are the dominant factors that determine the climate on all planets, including Earth. In order to make these measurements, I obtain and analyze observations from telescopes on the ground and in space. Often, this analysis involves constructing temperature and surface maps of the exoplanets ("exo-cartography"). An up-to-date publications list and CV are at www.nickcowan.com

Teaching Interests

My teaching interests span astronomy, planetary science, and geophysics. I tend to emphasize an intuitive understanding of the big picture, which suits my background as a physicist who studies the large-scale character of planets.

I will be teaching "Alien Worlds," an introductory class about Solar System planets and exoplanets. The goal is for students to qualitatively learn what makes planets tick: how they form, where they orbit, what their interiors and atmospheres are like. The major quantitative goal of the class will be to produce an estimate of how many habitable planets there are in the Solar neighborhood.

Starting in fall 2015, I will teach "Stellar and Planetary Structure," part of the astronomy major at Amherst. Students will use calculus and differential equations to understand the interior structure and atmospheres of stars and planets, emphasizing the basic physical processes that explain phenomena as wide-ranging as the star-quakes and planetary weather. I hope to occasionally supplement these courses with First-Year Seminars, as well as the upper-level course "Climate Physics."


Ph.D. University of Washington (2009)

B.Sc. McGill University (2004)