Majors & Programs


Earth & Planetary Sciences

Whether you’re interested in studying the world beneath your feet, or worlds farther away, the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences provides the tools for understanding the processes that shaped our planet and other solar system bodies. Understanding the earth system is also the key to addressing many environmental challenges, including climate change, water supply, and energy. Thus, as an earth scientist, you would be uniquely poised to help solve some of society’s most pressing problems. Because planets are complex systems, earth and planetary sciences is by necessity an interdisciplinary field. We apply biology, chemistry, physics, and math to the investigation of topics such as early life on earth, the structure of earth’s deep interior, the nature of contaminant transport, and the evidence for water on Mars. If you’ve developed a passion for the basic sciences and are looking for a way to study these sciences outside traditional disciplinary boundaries, earth and planetary sciences is an ideal choice of major.

Why M​ajor in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences?

A Chance to Preserve Life and Our Natural Resources

Your understanding of Earth’s global systems may help to curtail the harmful effects of human activity upon the environment. The result would be to preserve better natural resources and global ecologies for the generations to come. Currently we live in societies that both consume what we believe to be limited energy sources and, at the same time, pollute the atmosphere to such a degree that major changes in our climate have been predicted. We need creative people to help change the course of events and to better understand the changes that may take place.

Discover New Insights into Earth's Global Systems

For example, your insights and understanding of such geophysical phenomena as the seismic waves from earthquakes might further our ability to someday predict major shifts in Earth’s tectonic plates, thus saving the lives of thousands of people. Your understanding of this process of plate collisions and the resulting creation of mountains could help in the discovery of new reserves of minerals, ores, and petroleum.

You Can Do a Lot with a Major in Earth & Planetary Sciences

In addition to pursuing graduate studies, medicine, law, or business, you can choose to proceed directly into private, industrial, or governmental positions. You might work in labs, in the outdoors, a combination of both, or behind a desk. Here are examples of some professions toward which you could apply your major in Earth & Planetary Sciences:

  • Economic Geologist
  • Environmental Consultant
  • Environmental Lawyer
  • GIS Specialist
  • Mining Geologist
  • Petroleum Geologist
  • Pollution Remediator
  • Planetary Scientist
  • Government Scientist
    • U.S. Geological Survey
    • E.P.A.
    • Fish & Wildlife Service
    • Forestry Service
    • NASA
    • National Park Service
  • Remote Sensing Analyst
  • Science Journalist
  • Urban Planner


The Earth & Planetary Sciences major (EPS) concentrates on the geological aspects of Earth and other planets. Offerings range from general courses surveying the concepts, methods, and results of Earth and planetary sciences, suitable for any non-major, through a program of fundamental, modern, quantitative studies that will prepare students for the full range of opportunities in the geosciences in the 21st century. Within the EPS department, there are four majors — geophysics, geochemistry, geology, and environmental earth sciences — for students who want to focus on a particular specialty.

The Environmental Earth Sciences major (EES) is designed to enable students to delve deeply into the inter-disciplinary study of critical environmental topics. Student understanding of environmental science is fostered both by a broad base of coursework across the natural sciences, and by the unique perspective earth science provides on the context and complexity of environmental systems.

Perform Original Research

Students majoring in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences often conduct research during the semester or over the summer. You will work with faculty in the laboratory to conduct many of your own studies and you also may gather data in the field. Many students participate actively in cutting-edge research using advanced lab equipment and powerful computing systems. Many undergraduate students have co-authored published scientific papers. 

You will also learn hands-on geology through visits to unusual geological structures in the local Midwest and in the West. Recent field studies in which undergraduate students have participated have involved expeditions to Antarctica, Tonga and Fiji, Madagascar, the Galapagos, Italy, and Scotland.

Examples of Recent Undergraduate Research

  • Using Seismic Waves to Map Antarctica
  • Aqueous Geochemistry of Yellowstone
  • Studying the Impact of Lead Pollution on Missouri
  • Investigating Environmental Wetlands Restoration
  • Participating in Mars Exploration Rovers Mission
  • Isolating and Characterizing Novel Microbes
  • Experimental Rock Mechanics

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