Thomas E. Oberst

Associate Professor

Physics Faculty

(724) 946-7204

Campus Location:
   Hoyt Science Resources Center
Mailbox: 177

Thomas E. Oberst
Department of Physics
Westminster College
New Wilmington, PA 16172
oberstte -at-

About Me

Assistant Professor of Physics
Director, Westminster College Planetarium and Observatory


B.S. Physics, Duquesne University, 2001
B.S. Mathematics, Duquesne University, 2001
M.S. Physics, Cornell University, 2007
Ph.D. Astrophysics, Cornell University, 2009

I teach several courses in physics and astronomy for the Westminster College Department of Physics, including:
Astronomy (PHY 121), Foundations of Physics (PHY 141), Optics (PHY 231), Thermal Physics (PHY 311), Modern Physics (PHY 313), Electromagnetic Theory (PHY 352), and Astrophysics (PHY 402).

In my teaching I provide individual attention to each student and incorporate the lastest pedagogical research findings and best practices, including Think Pair Share, Classroom Response Systems, Just-In-Time Teaching, Lecture Tutorials, group problems, interactive demonstrations, software simulations, student presentations, and student inquiry -- as well as some traditional lecture.


I direct the Westminster College Planetarium, where we offer indoor fulldome programs and outdoor stargazing for the College, surrounding community, K-12 classes, scouts, and other groups. For more information please visit our website at

I also deliever many astronomy-related talks and workshops in the community, including for youth summer reading programs at libraries and for amateur astronomer gatherings.

Discovering new planets
Every clear night, my students and I use a remotely controlled semi-automated telescope on the Westminster College campus to search for new worlds. Our current targets include exoplanetary candidates for KELT, Kepler, and several other projects, which we help to vet and characterize. We have co-discovered 12 exoplanets so far. Seeing exoplanets directly is very difficult because they are extremely distant and don’t produce their own light, as do stars. Therefore, we wait and watch for stars to dim when their planets cross in front of them – a technique known as the transit method. We are able to detect dimmings of as little as 0.2 % of a star’s brightness, which can correspond to planets ranging in size from super-Earths to inflated Jupiters, depending on the size of the host star.
Stellar nurseries
My other line of research asks, “what environment are stars born into?” To help answer this, I’ve observed from the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) and Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO) on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and from the former Antarctic Submillimeter Telescope and Remote Observatory (AST/RO) at the Earth’s south pole. Stellar nurseries are shrouded in clouds of gas and dust, which are best penetrated by and emit most of their energy in the far-infrared and submillimeter wavelengths of light. Because moisture in Earth’s atmosphere blocks these wavelengths, the best telescopes for these observations are located where it’s high, dry, and cold. These observations have helped determine basic properties of the places where stars form – including the species of chemicals present and their abundances and densities.