Fall 2017 HC 441H: Cosmology

Fall Term, 2017-2018

Professor: James Schombert

4 credits

  • CRN 12810: Tuesday & Thursday, 08:30 – 09:50 @ LAWRENCE 222

Cosmology, the study of the formation and evolution of the Universe, has progressed from its origins in early man’s ideas of Nature, to Chinese and Greek worldviews, to Dante’s vision of Heaven and Hell, to Newton’s Clockwork Universe. Today, cosmology has entered a Golden Age with the launch of numerous space telescopes and development of technology that allows us to study the echo of the Big Bang. In addition to exploring the processes behind the origin of spacetime and matter, the science of cosmology has also expanded to resolve a number of philosophical and theological issues, such as Creation (i.e. Genesis 1:1) and the anthropic principle.

This course is a historical and philosophical review of our cosmological worldview from mythical times to modern science. We explore topics in the geometry of the Universe, expanding spacetime and the Big Bang, dark matter, black holes and wormholes, quarks and mesons, galaxies and quantum physics. Our goal is to provide the student with a summary of our current understanding of astrophysics as it relates to the structure of the Universe and what topics remain to be explored in the 21st century. The material is presented without complex mathematics, but an understanding of basic geometry and algebra is helpful.

This course has been taught to HC seniors as a 400-level colloquia in the past. One of the constant concerns in science teaching is our inability to teach modern topics in the sciences, rather than material that dates from the 19th century. Response to that criticism is that one must ”crawl, before walking”; however, this course has been successful in exploring topics in modern cosmology without consuming large portions of class time ”crawling”. This is done by having a very flexible reading list (students follow paths where their knowledge is missing, skipping sections they already understand) and using class time interactively following topics where the students are confused. This turns the class into a seminar rather than lecture.