Caleb Scharf

This professor has earned a CULPA gold nugget

Jun 2020

i gotta agree with the reviews below. caleb scharf is the goat. he lets you turn in assignments late, grades everything based on completion, and recaps everything you need to know for each week's hw and the exams during his seminars. in exchange for how nice he is, he does require you to do an extra credit portfolio as part of your grade, but minimal effort on that pretty much guarantees you an A. if you get this guy, don't switch out of his class. if you're reading this to see whose fro sci seminar to switch to, begs on your hands and knees that Caleb has an open spot in his seminar.

May 2020

Caleb Scharf is a GODSEND for Frosci and if you get him do NOT let him go. Even before the pandemic he was incredibly kind and made everything completion grade. He really doesn’t have a problem with turning stuff in late as long as you are not abusing it. His lectures can be a little boring, but he recaps everything you need to know to do the homework and the topics you need for the exam. The midterm was not that easy, but keep in mind that we were all just forced to leave campus so many of us were struggling. The final seemed to be a lot easier. During the pandemic he was super understanding and as long as you tried to get work done you couldn’t fail. He also is a really knowledgeable astrobiologist and was always willing to answer questions about his research and the department. The homeworks can be a little long and the course material a bit dense, so try to start early. He also has you do a portfolio where you have to accumulate a certain amount of points by doing stuff like writing about spotlight guest lectures, making how-to YouTube videos, writing discussion questions, and a whole bunch of other options

May 2020

Glad I read the reviews and decided to switch to his seminar class. Super nice guy, quick to respond to emails, understands how fro sci might be weird to grasp and tries to make the process easier and more fun. He gives a review of the lecture during seminar, gives us time to work on the homework in class, answers questions, and sometimes organizes us to do some fro-sci related fun activities. The interruption by the whole coronavirus situation was not great, but Caleb did his best to keep everyone updated and provided consistent help. I have in a different time zone 12 hours ahead of EST, so I really really appreciated the fact that Caleb recorded all seminars, offered OHs to accommodate different time zones, and organized fun/insightful discussions on Piazza. Great seminar instructor.

Dec 2013

I was lucky enough to have Caleb Scharf for Frontiers of Science this semester. Caleb Scharf is a really awesome guy. He's very understanding, and does not grade harshly. Homeworks are completion, which was fantastic. He understands the Frontiers is not always the most fun/interesting class- he does his best to make his discussion section bearable. No complaints about the class. I had to miss for a medical reason in the middle of the year, and he was fine with an explanation. He responds to emails quickly and does his best to answer any questions. He is the Director of Astrobiology at Columbia, which I'm pretty sure means that he studies aliens.

May 2010

Caleb is fantastic. Honestly, he is one of the best instructors that I have had. He really cares about the class and the material and incorporates recent developments in the field into his lectures. I definitely recommend this class. I definitely have a very different perspective about astrobiology and exoplanets than I had going into the course, and the science behind detecting these planets is really quite cool. You don't really need an astronomy background to take the class--everything is built from first principles. You pretty much just need calculus and freshman physics.

Apr 2006

Best. Class. Ever. This is one of the best classes I have ever taken. Not only is the subject material absolutely engaging, but Professor Scharf is a brilliant and inspired astronomer, whom other instructors should look to as an example to be followed. The course material, which is basically astrophysics applied to the rising field of astrobiology and both new and ancient questions of Life in the Universe, is incredibly unique. Only a handful of universities in the nation have classes that teach the new subject, and as far as I know, none of them teach the material with as quantitative and scientific a viewpoint as Professor Scharf. Every class usually begins with some announcements about discoveries or events from the past few days or week that dramatically shape the course material, which is changing nearly every day. It was really quite amazing to study and to examine the material that appears in the news every day. Go to and check their "Science and Space" news - much of that relates to the current quest to find ExtraSolar Planets, and that's what you'll be studying in class! I would absolutely recommend this class to anyone even remotely interested in astronomy, biology, or modern science in general. The pre-requisite of calculus-based physics is definitely very helpful, but not essential, as Scharf tends to explain everything very extensively along the way. He is always availiable to help out, he responds to every e-mail with great efficiency, and his lectures are truly fascinating. No one falls asleep, and I for one, was riveted by the second part of the class, where you begin to discuss the heart of astrobiology. The beginning of the class can maybe be a bit dull if you're not into astrophysics, as you do some quantitative mathematics on gas cloud collapse, and some orbital dynamics, but once you learn the qualitative aspects of them, it becomes much, much clearer to you, and you walk away feeling like you could teach the material to someone else, which is perhaps the epitome of good teaching... as the proverb goes... Professor Scharf is a very good lecturer, sometimes prone to some sporadic humor, which is always entertaining, he does, as the previous reviewer said, have a very intense pace, and doesn't stop the lecture usually at all during the 75 minute period. But honestly, I never noticed - the material is really that interesting if you get into it, and you will. There is no textbook, and the readings come from Scientific American, some astrophysics texts, and some journal articles. The lack of a textbook on the subject should give you an idea of how modern the subject material really is, and how subject to change it is. If you have to take a class, you're not afraid of a little physics, and you really would like to know about the issues presented to us by the discoveries of other worlds, and the possibility of life beyond the earth, I absolutely recommend this class to everyone. I'm sure you won't regret it.

May 2004

Caleb Scharf is an excellent teacher. The class is cutting edge, so there is no well-developed syllabus for him to follow. He made up his own syllabus and lectures essentially from current research papers. Caleb is a great lecturer and is extremely funny. He tries to distill only the most relevant math and physics from the material so that it is actually providing insight into the material and not complicating it. If you're a math or physics major this kind of lecture style, only putting up relevant physics without derivation, might put you off at first, but once you accept it you realize it really makes your life easier. My favorite aspect of the class was the scientific process. Because a lot of the material is new, there is not necessarily an accepted scientific doctrine, so the evidence supporting and rejecting different theories is weighed before your eyes. Compare this to your physics class where there has been a "correct" interpretation for at least 80 years. I think the process of scientific discovery is exciting and usually undergrads don't get the chance to see it unfold.

Mar 2003

Prof. Scharf is a very nice and understanding young Brit who didn't bore us to tears. He knew his stuff and kept lecture moving along. He paces non-stop but as long as you can tolerate that, the class is no problem. We did talk about some interesting problems and theories in astrophysics and he did his best to make sure that everyone in the class understood.