Course syllabus


RRY145 / ASM520 Stellar physics lp3 VT24 (7.5 hp)

Course is offered by the department of Space, Earth and Environment

Contact details

Examiner and lecturer:
Elvire De Beck,, tel. 031-772 1917

Teaching assistant:
Ramlal Unnikrishnan,

Aim of the course

Stars are central objects within astronomy: they are interesting objects in their own right, and they are important components of galaxies whose dynamics and history can be studied through observations of stars. In addition, essentially all of the elements in our universe have their origin inside stars. Stars are complex systems. The theory of stellar structure and evolution rests on many parts of physics: mechanics, hydrodynamics, thermodynamics, statistical physics, the most extreme examples of condensed matter physics, nuclear physics, atomic physics, and radiative transfer and spectroscopy. The course will provide a deep understanding of the workings of stars, and it will provide an excellent example of how applied physics is used to describe a complex phenomenon.


We will have our sessions according to the following schedule:

  • Tuesdays 10-12
  • Wednesdays 8-10
  • Fridays 10-12

All sessions are scheduled for room FL52 in the Physics building.
For the full schedule, with information on rooms, please visit TimeEdit
A preliminary schedule of the lectures and exercise sessions can be found here under Files.

Course literature & materials


Course design

General information about the course can be found at Chalmers Student Portal:

The course consists of lectures, exercise classes and a research project, followed by a written and oral examination.

The lectures will cover the following topics, although one topic is not necessarily one lecture:

  1. Background
  2. Equations of structure
  3. Equations of state
  4. Thermodynamics (brief)
  5. Polytropic models
  6. Nuclear reaction rates
  7. Nuclear processes
  8. Energy conservation
  9. Energy transport – radiation
  10. Opacity
  11. Energy transport – conduction
  12. Energy transport – convection (very brief)
  13. Stellar atmospheres
  14. Star formation
  15. Main-sequence evolution
  16. Solar neutrinos
  17. Post-main-sequence evolution
  18. Final stages
  19. Stellar nucleosynthesis

The exercise classes and discussion sessions are intended to help you prepare for the examination.

The research project will be introduced and followed-up in dedicated course slots. The project is a mandatory part of the course, counts for 1.5 ECTS, evaluated separately from the final examination. Your performance on the project work can contribute to bonus points for your overall grade, provided that you pass the final exam. It will not be possible to pass the course without carrying out the project. 
The research project has been designed to improve active learning and help the students digest the many different concepts and topics that are touched upon throughout the lectures. The project will be carried out as a group work and presented in a seminar setting with discussions close to the end of the study period, that is, before the final examination. The outcome of the project relies on discussion between peers, presentation, and reflection.


Learning objectives and syllabus

After completion of this course, the student should be able to:

  • describe what can be learned about stars and their evolution from observations
  • write the equations of stellar structure and explain them
  • derive the characteristic timescales of stellar evolution, and the characteristic temperatures, densities, and pressures in stellar interiors
  • describe radiative transport in stellar interiors
  • describe convection in a star and list the consequences of it for stellar evolution; derive under which conditions a star is convective
  • describe stellar atmospheres and how radiative transfer models are used to explain their properties
  • explain the base for the spectral- and luminosity classification of stars
  • describe the nuclear processes taking place in stellar interiors
  • derive temperature dependences of different nuclear burning processes, and the energy released
  • use a stellar evolutionary model to derive stellar characteristics
  • describe the evolutionary tracks for stars of different masses
  • analyze observational characteristics in terms of stellar physics
  • explain the role of stars in the chemical evolution of the universe
  • describe the end stages of stellar evolution: white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes

Link to the syllabus on Studieportalen: Study plan  (be aware that this link automatically sends you to the 2019/2020 version, rather than the current one.)

Examination form

  • Mandatory research project work (report deadline 28/2, presentations during week 10, reflection deadline Monday 11/3).
  • Written examination (Thursday 14/3 - AM). 
    Re-examination: (4 June - PM; 29 August - AM)

Student representatives

PROG      Name                     Email
MPPHS     Martin Almqvist    
UTBYTE    Jacopo Bottoni       
MPPHS     Alma Cavallin          
MPNAT     Emil Lindblad    
FK            Linnea Löfvenholm 


Course evaluation

The course will be evaluated using the standard procedure at Chalmers. (See for more information.)
There will be a questionnaire, which all students are encouraged to fill out to help us continuously work on improving the course. This concerns: lecture content and style, alignment with the learning objectives, clarity of instructions, communication content and style, etc. A link to the course survey will be added here when it becomes available.