Spring 2019 HC 441H: Cosmology

Spring Term, 2018-2019

Professor: James Schombert

4.00 credits

  • CRN 32542: Tuesday & Thursday, 10:00 - 11:50 @ CHA 301

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 world views, 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 succeeded in resolving 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 will explore topics concerning 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 algebra is required. This course has (successfully) been taught several times over the past decade, and the lectures are online. Although the topics are unusual, the students have responded well to the lectures, readings and group projects. The lack of a good college level textbook on cosmology is offset by a number of very good review articles from our popular science journals (Scientific American, Science, Nature, etc.), which form the core of the reading assignments. As cosmology is not taught in the regular science sequences, both science and non-science majors have an opportunity for a unique course.