The aim of the undergraduate program is to provide thorough training in the geological and planetary sciences and, wherever possible, to integrate these studies with courses in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology taken during the student’s earlier years at the Institute. Active involvement in research, particularly during the summer, is encouraged. For geologists, field work is important because it provides first hand experience with geological phenomena that is challenging to completely explain or to fully understand solely from classroom or laboratory treatment. We offer a major in Geological and Planetary Sciences (GPS) that involves a number of core courses and various electives. We also provide information below on more focused tracks in each of the options, such that you can be awarded a major in GPS with a stated track on the transcript. These tracks are offered in geology, geobiology, geochemistry, geophysics, and planetary science. Electives permit students to follow lines of special interest in related scientific and engineering fields. Those who do well in the basic sciences and at the same time have a compelling curiosity about the earth, climate, and the other planets are likely to find these options of interest, especially if they enjoy grappling with complex, interdisciplinary problems. Many students majoring in the earth and planetary sciences pursue further training at the graduate level, while others take jobs that leverage a strong background in earth science including opportunities in sustainability, risk assessment, and climate policy.
For those students with an interest in geobiology, there are options to either be associated with the Biology and Biological Engineering or the GPS division. This association formally affects some of the course requirements that are needed to satisfy the undergraduate degree. Additionally, a students’ affiliation with one division or another is likely to significantly shape their choice of elective courses and potentially research opportunities. We suggest that any interested students discuss this choice with their adviser and/or contact the option representative in the GPS geobiology option.
It is strongly recommended that students start the GPS major with the Ge 11 sequence in the sophomore year. Because Ge 120 ab may not be offered every year, students in the geology track may also need to take Ge 106 and Ge 120 a in winter and spring term of their sophomore year in order to prepare for Ge 120 b the following summer.
Suggestions of elective courses that fulfill degree requirements are listed below, and include some 200-level courses. While these courses are primarily intended for graduate students, advanced undergraduates may enroll with permission of the instructor.
GPS Double Majors
For students simultaneously pursuing a degree in a second option, courses taken as required courses for that option can also be counted as Ge electives where appropriate. However, courses that count toward the electives requirement in the other option cannot simultaneously be counted toward satisfying the elective requirement in GPS.
GPS Undergraduate Degree Requirements
The following core courses are required for all GPS option tracks:
- Ge 1 or Ge 11a
- Ge 11a, 11b, 11c, 11d
- A writing class, (at least three units)
- An oral presentation class (at least three units)
- Ma 2
- Ma 3 or Ge/Ay 117
- Ph 2a or Ph 12a
- One of: Ph 2b, Ph 12b, Ph 2c, Ph 12c
Courses that cover both writing and presentation, e.g. En/Wr 84, that are at least 6 units may be counted towards requirements (3) and (4) above. Students that elect to use Ge 11a for requirement (1) may substitute an elective for Ge 11a in requirement (2). Assuming 3 units each for requirements (3) and (4), the total core requirements totals 87 units; a writing course such as En/Wr 84 (9 units) would increase this to 90 units.
The GPS Major (no special track)
In addition to the core requirements stated above, the student may design a course of study, in consultation with their adviser, that satisfies the following requirements:
63 units of advanced Science, Mathematics, or Engineering outside GPS.
72 units of GPS elective coursework. The combination of the core requirements and the 135 units of GPS major requirements should total no less than 222 units.
Geology Track
In addition to the core requirements stated above, a GPS major with a Geology track must include:
- Either ACM 95ab or a full-year chemistry sequence, Ch 41abc or Ch 21abc
- Ge 106
- Ge 114 ab
- Ge 115 ab
- Ge 120 a
- Ge 112 or Ge/ESE 125
- An external geology field camp during the summer following sophomore or junior year, chosen in consultation with advisor, and with the student’s participation funded by Caltech.
- Additional elective courses in Ge or ESE to bring the total number of units to 220, including the core classes.
Typical Course Schedules
Units per term | ||||
1st | 2nd | 3rd | ||
Second Year | ||||
Ma 2 & 3 | Sophomore mathematics | 9 | 9 | - |
Ph 2 a & c | Sophomore physics | 9 | - | 9 |
Ge 11 abc | Intro. To Earth and Planetary Sci. | 9 | 9 | 9 |
Ge 106 | Intro. to Structural Geology | - | 9 | - |
Ge 120a | Field Geology Intro. | - | - | 9 |
HSS electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Total | 36 | 36 | 36 | |
Summer | ||||
External Geology Field Camp | - | - | 15 | |
Third year | ||||
ACM 95 ab | Intro. Methods of Applied Math. | - | 12 | 12 |
Ge 112 | Sedimentology and Stratigraphy | 12 | - | - |
Ge 114 ab | Mineralogy | 9 | - | - |
Ge 115 a | Petrology and Petrography | - | 9 | - |
Ge 111 ab | Applied Geophysics | - | 6 | 9 |
HSS electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Total | 30 | 36 | 30 | |
Fourth Year | ||||
Geology electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Ge 115 b | Petrology and Petrography | - | 9 | - |
HSS electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Scientific Writing | - | - | 3 | |
SEC 10 | Oral Presentation | - | - | 3 |
Total | 18 | 27 | 24 |
Geobiology Track
In addition to the core requirements stated above, a GPS major with a Geobiology track must include the following courses. Similar to En/Wr 84, Bi 24 satisfies both the writing and speaking requirements, (3) and (4), above. Additionally, for the geobiology track, Bi/CNS/NB 195 or Be/Bi 103a can be substituted for the Ma 3 or Ge/Ay 117 courses for requirement (6) above.
- Ch 41abc
- Ch/Bi 110a or Ch/Bi 110b
- Bi 8 and Bi 9
- At least 9 units of laboratory instruction selected from the following: Bi 10, Ch 7, Ch 8, Ch 15, Ge 116, Ge 120a, Ge 120b
- Any 6 electives from the geobiology core courses: Bi 117, Bi 122, ESE/Bi 166, ESE/Bi 168, Ge/ESE/Bi 178, Ge 112, Ge/ESE 143, Ge 124a, Ge 124b
- 9 additional unit in Ge, Bi, Ch, or ESE
Units per term | ||||
1st | 2nd | 3rd | ||
Second Year | ||||
Ma 2 & other | Sophomore mathematics | 9 | 9 | - |
Ph 2 a, c | Sophomore physics | 9 | - | 9 |
Ge 11 abc | Intro. to Earth and Planetary Sci. | 9 | 9 | 9 |
Bi/BE 24 | Writing and oral presentation | - | - | 6 |
Bi 8 | Introduction to Molecular Biology | - | 9 | - |
Bi 9 | Cell Biology | - | - | 9 |
Bi 10 | Cell Biology Laboratory | - | - | 6 |
HSS electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Total | 36 | 36 | 48 | |
Third Year | ||||
Ch/Bi 110a | Intro. to Biochemistry | 12 | - | - |
Ge 124 ab | Paleomagnetism | - | - | 15 |
Scientific Writing | - | 3 | - | |
Ch 41 abc | Organic Chemistry | 9 | 9 | 9 |
HSS electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Geobiology electives | - | 9 | - | |
Total | 30 | 30 | 42 | |
Fourth Year | ||||
ESE/Bi 166 | Microbial Physiology | 9 | - | - |
ESE/Bi 168 | Microbial Metabolic Diversity | - | 9 | - |
Ge/ESE/Bi 178 | Microbial Ecology | - | - | 9 |
Ge 143 | Organic Geochemistry | - | - | 9 |
Bi 122 | Genetics | 9 | - | - |
Ge 112 | Sedimentology and Stratigraphy | 12 | - | - |
Ge 116 | Analytical Laboratory Techniques | - | 9 | - |
HSS electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Geobiology electives | - | - | 9 | |
Total | 39 | 27 | 36 |
Geochemistry Track
In to addition the core requirements stated above, a GPS major with a Geochemistry track must include:
- ACM 95ab or Ch 41 abc or Ch 21 abc
- 3 GPS electives with a chemical component from the following list: Ge 114ab, Ge 116, Ge 140a, Ge 140b, Ge/ESE 140c, Ch 21a, Ch 41a, ESE/Ge/Ch 171, Ge/ESE 143, Ge/ESE 149
- 81 additional units of elective courses in Ch, ESE, Ge, APh, or MS. These courses may be selected from: Ch 4ab, Ch 5ab, Ch 6ab, Ch 7, Ch 8, Ch/ChE 9, Ch 14, Ch 15, Ch 21bc, Ch 41bc, Ch 102, ChE 63ab, ESE 103, ESE/Ge 142, Ge/ESE 154, ESE/Ge/Ch 171, ESE/Ge/Ch 172, ESE/Ch 176, ESE/Ch 177, Ge 40, Ge 106, Ge 112, Ge 115ab, Ge 120ab, Ge/Ch 127, Ge/Ch 128, Ge/AY 132, Ge/ESE 143, Ge/ESE 129, Ge 191, Ge 212, Ge 214, Ge 215, Ge 217, Ge 218, Ge 219, APh 17abc, APh/MS/ME 105abc, MS 115, MS 125, MS 131, MS 133, MS 142, MS/ME 161
Students may petition the Geochemistry option representative to use courses not listed above to satisfy requirements (2) and (3).
Units per term | ||||
1st | 2nd | 3rd | ||
Second Year | ||||
Ge 11 abc | Intro. to Earth and Planetary Sci. | 9 | 9 | 9 |
Scientific Writing | - | - | 3 | |
Ge 109 | Oral Presentation (GeCh option) | - | - | 6 |
Geochemistry core or electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Ph 2 ab | Sophomore Physics | 9 | 9 | - |
Ma 2 & other | Sophomore Mathematics | 9 | 9 | - |
HSS electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Total | 45 | 45 | 33 | |
Third Year | ||||
ACM 95 ab | Intro. Methods of Applied Math. | - | 12 | 12 |
HSS electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Geochemistry core or electives | 18 | 18 | 18 | |
Total | 27 | 39 | 39 | |
Fourth Year | ||||
HSS electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Geochemistry electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Total | 18 | 18 | 18 |
Geophysics Track
In addition to the core requirements stated above, a GPS major with a Geophysics track must include:
- ACM 95ab
- One of the following courses that was not already used to satisfy the core GPS degree requirements: Ph 2b, Ph 12b, Ph 2c, Ph 12c, ME 11a, APh 17a, Ch 21c, Ch 25
- 45 units of courses in advanced Science, Mathematics, or Engineering outside of GPS
- 51 units of GePh electives, including but not limited to: Ge 111a and Ge 111b (15 units total), Ge 160a, Ge 161-168, Ge 174, Ge 177, Ge 261, Ge 263, Ge 264, Ge 266ab, Ge 271
Units per term | ||||
1st | 2nd | 3rd | ||
Second Year | ||||
Ge 11 abc | Intro. to Earth and Planetary Sciences | 9 | 9 | 9 |
Scientific Writing | - | - | 3 | |
SEC 10 | Oral Presentation | - | - | 3 |
Ph 2 abc | Sophomore Physics | 9 | 9 | 9 |
Ma 2 & Ma 3 | Sophomore Mathematics | 9 | 9 | - |
HSS electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Total | 36 | 36 | 33 | |
Third Year | ||||
ACM 95 ab | Intro. to Methods of Applied Math. | - | 12 | 12 |
Advanced Science Electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
HSS electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Ge 111 ab | Applied Geophysics Seminar | - | 6 | 9 |
Ge 11 d | Geophysics | - | 9 | - |
Total | 18 | 45 | 39 | |
Fourth Year | ||||
Geophysics electives | 18 | 18 | 9 | |
HSS electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Total | 27 | 27 | 18 |
Planetary Science Track
In addition to the core requirements stated above, a GPS major with a Planetary Science track must include:
- ACM 95ab
- One of the following courses that was not already used to satisfy the core GPS degree requirements: Ph 2b, Ph 12b, Ph 2c, Ph 12c, ME 11a, APh 17a, Ch 21c, Ch 25
- 45 units of courses in advanced Science, Mathematics, or Engineering outside of GPS
- 54 units of GPS coursework that includes 4 courses (36 units) chosen from the following: Ge 107, Ge 128, Ge 131, Ge 132, Ge 133, Ge 137, Ge 150, Ge 151, Ge 157c, Ge 159
We recommend the students consult with their advisers regarding courses that are used to satisfy requirement (3).
Units per term | ||||
1st | 2nd | 3rd | ||
Second Year | ||||
Ge 11 abc | Intro. to Earth and Planetary Sci. | 9 | 9 | 9 |
Scientific Writing | - | - | 3 | |
Ph 2 abc | Sophomore Physics | 9 | 9 | 9 |
Ma 2, 3 | Sophomore Mathematics | 9 | 9 | - |
HSS electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Total | 36 | 36 | 30 | |
Third Year | ||||
ACM 95 ab | Intro. Methods of Applied Math. | - | 12 | 12 |
HSS electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Advanced science | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Planetary science | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Total | 27 | 39 | 39 | |
Fourth Year | ||||
HSS electives | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Planetary science | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Additional advanced/planetary science | 9 | 9 | 9 | |
Total | 27 | 27 | 27 |
GPS Minor
The minors in the GPS Division are intended for non-GPS undergraduates to supplement a major degree with knowledge of earth and planetary science. The requirements for the minor are as follows:
- Ge 11a
- Select two of the following courses: Ge 11b, Ge 11c, Ge 11d
- 27 units of 100-level or higher GPS courses, excluding Ge 109
If the courses selected for requirement (3) above are sufficiently focused in one of the GPS options, students may opt to include a track on their transcript (e.g. Minor in GPS with [option] track). Minor tracks are possible in Geobiology, Geochemistry, Geology, Geophysics, and Planetary Sciences. The courses selected for (3) must be approved by the appropriate option representative in the division. Any 27 units that satisfy (3) may be used to satisfy the GPS minor, regardless of focus.