Mechanical Engineering to Astronomy

In July 2008, I found myself referenced on a discussion forum from March of the same year, hosted at An undergraduate student in India asked about the possibilities for a future career in astronomy for a student of mechanical engineering. The answer from so called expert Philip Stahl was extremely negative and discouraging. Fortunately, this was followed-up by someone who had read my interview with the Canadian Space Agency newsletter.

I submitted the following to on 28 July 2008, and again on the 31st, but they never posted it.

Astronomy after Undergraduate Studies in Mechanical Engineering

Of course there are opportunities for mechanical engineers in astronomy! I’m very surprised and disappointed that the question received such a negative reply from Philip Stahl.

Mechanical engineers are key members of any development team related to instrumentation for astronomy. As an example, if you are interested in control systems, adaptive optics systems for current and future optical telescopes is a very active and exciting area of development. Mechanical engineers are also involved in the design of mechanisms and structures for telescopes throughout the electromagnetic spectrum, both on the ground and space based.

In my own field of radio astronomy, the history of the subject begins with engineers! The pioneers of radio astronomy were engineers who developed the instrumentation, and used it for their "side interest" in astronomy and solar physics. The person often called the Father of Radioastronomy was Grote Reber who built a radiotelescope in his back garden! He did everything himself, so he was not only a mechanical engineer, but also an electrical and structural engineer, as well as being a radio astronomer who made the first radio map of the sky.

India recently built the Giant Metre-wave Radio Telescope, and the Raman Research Institute is home to some of the world’s leading radio astronomers. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research is another renowned place. I recommend looking into the possibility of doing a PhD at one of these places. There are also job opportunities in space astronomy with the Indian Space Research Organisation. Of course, if one would like to travel to a foreign country, like I have done, then there are many, many possibilities. Here are the links to the Indian institutes:

Good luck with your future career, and don’t give up on your dreams!

Steve Torchinsky

p.s. Thanks to Aparna for his reference to my website.

last update 2010 June 21, 19:01 UTC by Steve Torchinsky. See changelog.