Eugene Chiang

Professor of Astronomy and Earth and Planetary Science at the University of California at Berkeley

Postal: Hearst Field Annex B-20, Berkeley CA 94720 Office: D29B Phone: (510) 701-5996 Fax: (510) 642-3411 Email: echiang{at}

Research                 Teaching                 Students

Publications              CV                          Talks

Order-of-Magnitude Estimation and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon ("BP") Oil Spill



Theoretical astrophysics, with emphasis on understanding the origin and evolution of planetary systems, both extra-solar and solar.

Interested students should talk to me or the students with whom I collaborate.

Topics of interest include:

(1) Protoplanetary Disks.

Disks of gas and dust surrounding young stars provide the reservoirs from which planets ultimately coalesce. Spectra and images of these systems from ultraviolet to millimeter wavelengths are modelled to understand their thermodynamic states and accretion profiles.

(2) Extra-solar Debris Disks.

A number of optically thin disks of dust have been stunningly resolved around stars 10--1000 times younger than the Sun. Debris disks offer clues regarding the endgame of planet formation. Imprinted in their structures may be signs of active gravitational sculpting by nascent planets.

(3) Extra-solar Planetary Dynamics.

Extra-solar planets evince surprisingly small orbits, remarkably large eccentricities, and/or strongly resonant behavior due to mutual gravitational perturbations. We seek to understand the dynamical processes that shape these orbits.

(4) The Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt.

Pluto has only recently been discovered to be one of at least tens of thousands of asteroid-sized bodies (Kuiper Belt Objects, or KBOs) orbiting the outer Solar System. This ring contains the most pristine, unprocessed material in our planetary system and holds clues to its early evolution.

(5) Planetary Rings.

Rings furnish the most accessible laboratories for disk dynamics; they showcase a rich interplay of forces due to interparticle collisions, self-gravity, the gravity of shepherd moons, and electromagnetic fields.


NEW: Astro 7B: Introduction to Astrophysics (4 units)

Spring 13: For undergraduates, geared toward those seeking to double major in physics and astronomy. Continues the survey of modern astrophysics begun in 7A, applying elementary physics to the understanding of astronomical objects. Accretion disks, black holes, gravitational lensing, superluminal motion, galaxies, cosmology.

Astro 7A: Introduction to Astrophysics (4 units)

Fall 09/10/11/12: For undergraduates, geared toward those seeking to double major in physics and astronomy. An introduction to modern astrophysics, applying elementary physics to the understanding of astronomical objects. Orbital motion; interaction of radiation with matter; stellar evolution; compact objects. Companion course to Astro 7B.

Astro 202: Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics (4 units)

Spring 07/08: For graduate students and prepared undergraduates. Hydrodynamics and magneto-hydrodynamics, with emphasis on developing intuition, order-of-magnitude problem-solving skills, and the ability to interpret the astrophysical literature. Applications include stellar winds, accretion disks, and galactic sub-structure.

Astro 250: Order-of-Magnitude Physics (3 units)

Spring 06/09: For graduate students and prepared undergraduates. Learn the art of estimating everyday quantities to within a factor of 10. Topics treated: material properties (why neutron star crusts are like jello), fluid mechanics (power requirements for 747s), waves and sound (loudness of tea kettles), human physical performance (water loss from professional cyclists), and economics (taxing the rich versus the poor).

Astro 201: Radiative Processes (4 units)

Fall 03/04/05/06/10: Fundamental principles underlying why we see what we see in astronomy, geared towards graduate students.

Astro 162 (re-tooled Astro 149): Planetary Astrophysics (4 units)

Spring 03/04/05: Planetary astronomy/astrophysics at a level geared towards focussed undergraduate majors. Click on the link for a full course description, including links to presentation topics and problem sets.

Astro 250: Galactic Dynamics (3 units)

Fall 07: Wiki-based graduate reading seminar on galaxies. Orbit theory, spiral structure, bars, numerical algorithms (linear programming and tree codes), relaxation, black hole dynamics, and formation.

Summer Reading Club

Summer 03: Informal reading seminar to review classic, seminal papers in astrophysics, co-organized with Yoram Lithwick. Includes free food, courtesy of the Theoretical Astrophysics Center.

EPS 290: Classic Papers in Earth and Planetary Science (3 units)

Fall 03: Graduate reading seminar to review seminal, pedagogical papers in earth science, co-taught with Raymond Jeanloz.

Astro 250: Special Topics in Astronomy: Planetary Dynamics (3 units)

Fall 02/11: Graduate seminar on the gravitational dynamics of planetary bodies. For a full course description, including readings and problem sets, click on the link.

Astro 250: Special Topics in Astronomy: Disk Dynamics (3 units)

Spring 02: Graduate seminar on the dynamics of accretion disks, co-taught with Eliot Quataert. Mechanisms of angular momentum transport were reviewed, with applications to planetary rings, protoplanetary disks, and accretion disks surrounding black holes, both stellar and supermassive.


Born in New York, 1973.

Married to Inn H. Yuk. Son Noah B. Chiang, born in Berkeley, 2007.

In December 2003, I wrote and acted in the Christmas Faculty Play. In December 2006, I co-wrote and acted in the same. In December 2009, I wrote a scene in which the arxiv server cron achieved sentience. In December 2012, I wrote, directed, cast, acted, and created the special effects for the Holiday Play.

An action photo: