Physics Department, Duquesne University


January 10 thru April 26
Lecturer: Simonetta Frittelli,
206 Bayer Learning Center
phone: 396-6355

Schedule:1:00 pm - 1:50pm, Mon, Wed and Fri, 101 Bayer Learning Center
Texts: A short history of the universe, by Joseph Silk (Scientific American Library, New York,1994).
           Gravity's Fatal Attraction, by Mitchell Begelman and Martin Rees (Scientific American Library, New York, 1996)

It is the scientists' business to find out what the universe looks like, where it came from and where it is headed. Yet the universe is everybody's business, not just the scientists'; everyone wants to know. One should not need to be a math wizard to know, in a broad sense, why the universe is the way it is and what makes it go. Our No. 1 goal is to learn the gossip about the universe: what the scientists have found out so far, in the broadest sense.
Other goals depend on your overall attitude: If you have not been much into science, perhaps we can get you to open your mind and appreciate science. On the other hand, if you are already a trained scientist, chances are you wouldn't mind stopping to remember what led you to science in the first place!

The Math Connection: There is NO MATH in this course, for two reasons. 1. It's not feasible to put the math in each one of the topics that we will cover without pre-requisites. And 2. Qualitative thinking (no numbers) is in no way less deserving than quantitative analytical thinking. In fact, ``to today's mathematicians, [...], qualitative means features that are conceptually deeper than mere numbers'' (Ian Stewart, mathematician and Professor of Mathematics, in Life's other secret, Penguin Books, London, 1998, page 246).

The use of light in astrophysical observations. The role of grtavity in modeling the cosmos. The recession of distant galaxies, including an explanation of the Doppler shift. Isotropic universes: flat, closed and open, including an explanation of general relativity. The cosmic background radiation, including an explanation of blackbody radiation. Helium abundance in the universe. Problems of the big bang theory. The early universe, including an explanation of quantum uncertainty. Grand unification and inflation. Stellar evolution, including white dwarfs and neutron stars. Black holes. The dark matter problem. Time permitting: Galaxies: origin, structures and evolution. The acceleration of the universe.

Class meets three times a week. Some meetings will be heavy with lecture material, other meetings will be more like a group discussion session. Students are encouraged to attend every lecture and engage actively during discussion: Shyness hinders the learning process, and is therefore banished from this class. Each student is held responsible for all the material covered during class meetings, regardless of attendance. All visual material presented by the instructor during lecture is amenable to inclusion in any test.

The textbooks do contain material that lies outside the scope of this course. Students will not be held responsible for such material. Because none of the textbooks conforms to the instructor's idea of the pace and scope of the course, lecture notes will be handed out which will serve as a concise guide to the course contents. In no way should the lecture handouts be used as substitutes for the textbooks. The handout indicates sections of the textbooks which are to be considered required reading for tests.

Reading will be assigned regularly, and will be discussed in class as necessary. Students are required to turn in reading questionnaries to receive a score. Questionnaires turned in late will receive only up to 65% of the score, since their purpose is mainly to enforce the pace of the course.

There will be three special assignments to develop over the course of the term. These will include handling of the computer room of a large telescope, web searches and collection of newspaper clippings.

Special activities on topics of relevance might be implemented to enrich the student's exposure to the subject. Videos on relevant topics will be shown. The class is expected to attend the video sessions and be prepared to discuss questions relating to the videotapes, not excluding written assignments. Supplementary reading materials will be handed out as appropriate.

The course does not rely on prior science background. But, because practically all branches of physics contribute to cosmology, every student should be receptive towards shots of all kinds of physics as we move along. Extra-curricular activities to consider this term include:

- Field trips to local observatories
- Star-gazing evening
-1-month-long Moon observations-

There will three non-cumulative tests, which might be designed either as multiple-choice questions or essay type. All will be closed-book tests. In preparing for a test, students are encouraged to choose a parring partner to bounce ideas off. Ideal partners are people with similar background.

Students are expected to be on time for all exams, since no extra time will be given to students who arrive late. There will be no make-up exam. Any unattended exam is assigned a score of zero points and is taken into account in the final grade, unless very special circumstances prevent a student from taking the test at the date scheduled. If very special circumstances arise, the student should notify me early in advance and provide for documented excuse. Examples of non-valid excuses are: oversleeping through the alarm in the morning of the test; not feeling ready for the test; not calling the main office immediately to notify an expected delay after car developing an engine failure during the commute on the day of the test.

Final grades will be assigned according to the total number of points accumulated by the student during the term. Points accumulate according to the following table:

       Course component      point value
       TEST 1                100 points  
       TEST 2                100 points  
       Reading               50 points  
       Special assignment 1  25 points   
       Special assignment 2  15 points 
       Special assignment 3  10 points 
       TEST 3                150 points  

The Reading score is assigned according to the percentage of correct answers out of total questions handed out for the duration of the term.

The letter grade will be assigned according to the following scale:

   Accumulated point score   Letter grade  
         405-450              A        
         383-404              A-   
         360-382              B+   
         338-359              B        
         315-337              B-    
         293-314              C+    
         248-392              C        
         180-247              D        
           0-179              F        

Handicapped Students: It is the responsibility of any handicapped student to inform me, by the end of the first week, of any conditions which will require special assistance in class or testing, in order for the appropriate arrangements to be be made.

Created and maintained by Simonetta Frittelli. Last updated October 13, 2004