Choosing EAPS for your Major
Earth. Planets. Climate. Life.
At MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), we are curious. How did life originate? Is it unique to Earth? When did the oceans and atmosphere form? What can 4.3 billion year-old rocks tell us about our past and future climate and its influence on life? We delve into questions about the fundamental forces shaping the natural world, spanning the full scale of space and time. Our work stands at the crossroads between basic theory and practical applications to sustain life on Earth, allowing us to both to benefit from and protect our planet.
Trying to decide among interests in biology, physics, chemistry, and math? Perhaps you’re interested in some aspect of engineering? When you learn more about the research areas in EAPS, you might just find an option as an undergraduate major that encompasses all of your research interests. The Department’s flexible academic program allows students to develop individualized courses of study, and our small class sizes encourage and enhance student-professor interactions. As an undergraduate you will develop a broad suite of skills while investigating profound, interdisciplinary questions about the natural world. Our program provides students with a challenging course of study in the geophysical sciences: geology, geophysics, geochemistry, geobiology, atmospheric science, oceanography, climate, planetary science, and astronomy. And through this study, quantifying and modeling natural systems in which longer time scales and larger space scales are principal considerations, undergraduates become fluent in techniques for analyzing the behavior of complex systems—an important skill that can later be adapted to the study of problems in virtually any field.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kinds of science does EAPS involve?
EAPS is made up of geologists, chemists, physicists, and mathematicians who apply our various skills to the study of the Earth and nearby solar systems. As an academic community, we are captivated by the interdisciplinary challenges that emerge in the geophysical sciences.
What will I do as an EAPS student?
Here is a sampling of what we do at EAPS:
- Using the compositions and isotopic signatures of organic compounds found in rocks and sediments, we reconstruct ancient biotic communities to understand how life might have evolved within them.
- To understand the processes that shape our current Earth, we study and learn the tempo of events and the rates at which processes have operated. The techniques of high-precision radiometric dating allow us to calibrate the geologic time scale. No Dates – No Rates.
- Using the latest methods for combining materials at high temperatures and pressures, we study the chemical differentiation of the Earth and the development of the crust and mantle. From this information, we extrapolate the processes of formation and evolution of the interiors of other planets, including the moon, Mars, and meteorite parent bodies. Our ability to process seismic waves and generate images of the Earth’s interior leads us to a greater understanding of the movements along a fault and the generation of earthquakes.
- Using a suite of techniques that include field measurements and mathematical and analog modeling, we gain a greater understanding of the link between the ocean and climate. A complete understanding requires knowledge of fluid dynamics as well as atmospheric and ocean chemistry.
- Currently, EAPS faculty have had instrument packages orbiting Mars and Mercury, leaving Pluto and heading toward a Kuiper Belt object. Faculty are actively engaged in designing new missions and building the required instruments for the payloads. EAPS researchers have access to the most up-to-date observatories, including Magellan in Chile and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) located in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
Do EAPS students work in the field?
Yes. If you would like to see some of the places our students have studied, check out the pages of our Field Trips.
What can I do with an EAPS degree?
MIT’s EAPS undergraduates go on to pursue graduate work as well as meaningful careers in the energy, environmental, and space industries, including:
- satellite tracking and operations
- natural resource development
- meteorology and hurricane tracking
- risk assessment in the insurance industry
- geotechnical engineering
- land use planning
- scientific journalism
- marine policy development
As a sampling, some recent undergraduates are working at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, serving as consultants, attending law school, and interning in Japan and Germany. Students who decided to attend graduate school in the geophysical sciences are at top-tier institutions in their fields, including MIT, MIT/WHOI Joint Program, Brown University, CalTech, University of Michigan, Princeton, and Stony Brook University.
Job opportunities in geoscience careers are increasing: A recent article in Nature describes the range of job opportunities and the growing need for geoscientists in the decades ahead.
If you choose a job in industry or business, you can anticipate a competitive salary—median income is $82,300. This chart from the American Geosciences Institute includes data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for a wide range of positions:
- Geoscience Engineering Managers: $152K
- Environmental Engineers and Mining Engineers: $97K
- Atmospheric and Space Scientists: $95K
- Geoscience and Environmental Science Postsecondary Teachers: $82-98K
- Hydrologists, Geoscientists, Geographers: $84K
- Cartographers and Photogrammetrists: $69K
- Conservation Scientists: $64K
- Environmental Science Technicians and Mapping Technicians: $47K
A major in EAPS also provides an excellent background for professional careers beyond the geosciences.
- Pre-Medical Advising
- Pre-Law Advising
- MIT/Wellesley Teacher Education Program offered through the Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Why are the geophysical sciences a compelling area of study?
The geophysical sciences have provided compelling evidence for three dramatic revisions in the way we view ourselves and our world: the Copernican model of the solar system, evolution as a process that has shaped modern life, and plate tectonics as a process that has shaped the surface of the modern Earth. The second and third of these revisions has required a fourth: “the discovery of time” (Toulmin and Goodfield, 1965)—the understanding that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old.
The geophysical sciences and astronomy/astrophysics are distinguished by the role of history in their research. The standard paradigm of conducting science focuses on the use of the scientific method; this is often interpreted to mean that we only gather data by controlled experiment. In studying the Earth system, however, we are studying the result of a series of experiments that have already been run. How then do we proceed to be scientifically and quantitatively rigorous about our conclusions concerning Earth’s history and the implications for Earth’s future? We do so by identifying critical environments in the modern world where the solid Earth, its fluid envelopes, and its biota interact, and where we can gather meticulous data to combine with that which we’ve gathered from innovative and precise laboratory techniques.
What is a typical plan of classes for an EAPS major?
EAPS majors build a common foundation by taking four core courses in the department and 18.03 or 18.034. Each student builds an individual selection of courses from among the Discipline and Suporting Science subject to customize their program to their interests. The capstone for the major is the research, writing, and presentation of a senior thesis. You can view more specific degree charts and roadmaps at twelve.mit.edu.