Black Holes, and Cosmic Evolution (PHYS 145) 2003 Syllabus

What is this course about?

What are some specific course goals?

Course Problems: PHYS 145 and Problem Based Learning

Course Requirements


Detailed Class Schedule

What are discussion sections, and how are they related to the large class?

Exams from Previous Years

Why should I learn how to work in groups?

Course Policies (attendance, exams, academic honesty)

Study Tips

Course Instructors

Assignment Due Dates and Exam Dates

Linked Course Webpages

Description of in-class activities

Discussion Section Assignments

Information about Group D courses in general

Harry's Hotline


Version 2.1 revised 11/18/03

Information of current interest (Harry's Hotlist)

This section of the web page will contain hot links to things which you immediately need to know.

The second hour exam has been transformed into an optional, take-home exam, due at the beginning of class on November 21. The exam should be word-processed, though hand-drawn drawings are permitted and encouraged.

Second Big Assignment Support System


Big Assignment Support System:

We do want you to succeed on this big assignment. Consequently there is a system of people and technologies which, when combined, provides resources for help.

1. Your group. Even though in almost all cases your entire permanent group will not turn in an assignment together, you can certainly talk to your group members and send them e-mail.

2. Your TA: Brandon and Dara are both former students in this course. Both did well on an assignment which is quite similar to this one. They can provide help.

Harry Shipman:

3. Office hours: In recognition of this assignment I have established office hours, namely times when I will be in my office in 124 Sharp Lab and available for help. I tend to be in my office most times of the day unless I am traveling, but there may be other things happening in my life. These office hours, on Monday Nov 3 from 2-3 and Tues. Nov 4 from 3-4, are times when I will DEFINITELY be there.

4. Harrys hotline: I could not move the dates of a reasonably high-level advisory committee for the National Science Foundation, so I will be at a meeting there on Wednesday and Thursday. While their schedule is pretty terrible from the viewpoint of this problem, "modern" technology, so often not used in classrooms, can help. The voicemail hotline will be active on Tuesday night (Nov. 4), all day until midnight, Wednesday (Nov. 5) until 11 PM, and Thursday (Nov. 6) until midnight. Call 831 2986 and leave your message and a phone number. Ill call you back. If you dont want me to call after a certain hour, let me know. Its unlikely that I can read e-mail on Wednesday and during the day on Thursday, so at that time voicemail is by far the best way.

First Hour Exam Support System

There is a file of relevant questions from last years hour exam which should provide you with some information and increase your comfort level with this exam. This file also contains some information on the structure of the exam.

Harry’s Hotline, an award-winning service, will be running the night of October 12.

There will be a review session in Sharp Lab 130 from 5-6:30 PM on Sunday October 12.

This syllabus, which is available in full form on the World Wide Web, outlines course objectives, policies, exam dates, and meeting times. Previous experience shows that small changes in the class schedule may occur during the year -- though the exam times will most likely remain the same. You are responsible for knowing what is on the syllabus. Occasionally an exam question or two will determine whether you have read the syllabus.

What Is this Course About?

PHYS 145 is a course which focuses on a few particularly exciting areas in the field of astronomy and life science, a few important, big questions. It differs from many other entry-level science courses in that it is not a survey course and makes no pretense of "covering" all of one field. Black holes and the Universe are the two main topics covered in the course. (Quasars have diminished in importance over the years but are still in the course title.) Because the course is carefully and narrowly focussed, students can get a feeling for how science is done, because students in this course can learn almost as much about these areas of science as researchers know, in spite of the absence of high-level mathematics in this course. Students develop a feeling for science as a living, growing way of understanding our place in the Universe, rather than as a collection of well-understood facts which are to be memorized, dutifully regurgitated on exams, and forgotten almost immediately thereafter.

Course Problems or Driving Questions

In problem-based learning, five major problems, or driving questions, serve as organizers for the course. These driving questions are:

• How do we find black holes?

• What are black holes really like?

• How does gravity and high speed travel affect the behavior of space and time?

• Where did it all come from? (Put differently, what is the life cycle of the Universe?)

• Where did complex life forms come from?

Click on this sentence for a more complete description of problem-based learning, including the major University of Delaware initiative in this topic.

It really is remarkable that we can understand that this extraordinarily complex Universe that we live in is the product of a fairly simple beginning, the Big Bang, and a small set of reasonably well understood forces which are responsible for the creation and evolution of the contents of the Universe: galaxies, stars, planets, and people. Gravity, nuclear physics, and the properties of gases can explain the evolution of stars and galaxies. Biological evolution can explain the development of complex life forms, including human beings. To may thinkers, one of the most important human achievements has been our understanding of these forces, so that by sitting on a tiny rockball, off in the far reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy, observing the Universe, and understanding our observations, we can come to a remarkably complete understanding of how it all came to be.

Why are we offering group D courses, and how are they structured to meet the needs of general-audience students?

What are some specific course objectives?

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Course Requirements: What do you need to do in order to succeed in this course?

Here is how your grade is determined, if you do the second exam, which is a take-home exam: :

Participation points from group work in class

10 %

Small assignments (mostly discussion section)

10 %

Participation points from discussion

5 %

Big Assignments

16 % First one 5 %, second one 5 %, third one (short assignment) 2 %, final one 4 %

First Hour Examination

17 %

Second Hour Examination

17 %

Final Examination

25 %


100 %

Here is how your grade is determined if you do NOT take the second exam:

Participation points from group work in class

10 %

Small assignments (mostly discussion section)

11 %

Participation points from discussion

5 %

Big Assignments

21 % (First one 7 %, second one 7 %, third short one 2 %, fourth one 5 %

First Hour Examination

22 %

Final Examination

31 %


100 %

Assignments are due at the BEGINNING of the class in which they are due.

Grades in this class are determined on an absolute scale. 93% and above earns you an A; 90-92.9% earns you an A-, 87-89.9 % is a B+, 83-86.9% is a B, 80-82.9 % is a B-, 77-79.9 % is a C+, 73-76.9% is a C, 70-72.9 % is a C-, 67-69.9 % is a D+, 63-66.9% is a D, 60-62.9 % is a D-, and anything below 60% is an F. If an exam turns out to be unexpectedly difficult, exam grades may be adjusted upwards (but they are never adjusted downwards).

Note that many course assignments may be distributed over e-mail or the world wide web.You should regularly check your e-mail account at UD, or have UD e-mail forwarded to an account which you do check.

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What readings do you need to do in order to succeed in this course?

You need to buy three books for this course: Peter Coles's Cosmology: A Very Brief Introduction, Jonathan Weiner's The Beak of the Finch (both available at the bookstore) and Part 1 of Harry Shipman’s Black Holes, Quasars, and the Universe, available for $9 from Copy Maven, a copy store located on Main Street. Some additional readings be from the world wide web and from the Reserve Room. These additional readings will probably amount to no more than about 10 articles.

Click here to go to a detailed class schedule.

Click here to obtain a list of dates for assignments and exams.

What are discussion sections, and how do they relate to the large class?

On Wednesdays and Thursdays you will meet with your discussion section TA in a smaller group than is the case in the large class. These discussion sections will always involve group work, rather than lecture. For each week, there will be a specific assignment for discussion section (which counts for a grade), and much of what you in discussion section will be group work. The activities for group work have been specifically selected as being ones which will work better in a small class.

On Wednesdays or Thursdays, beginning on September 10, discussion sections meet at the following times and places:

W 2:30 - 3:20 PM section # 12 Sharp Lab 122 Dara Missan

W 3:35 - 4:25 PM section # 13 Sharp Lab 118 Dara Missan

W 4:40 - 5:30 PM section # 14 Sharp Lab 116 Dara Missan

Th 2:30 - 3:20 PM section # 15 Brown Lab 203 Brandon Terranova

Th 3:30 - 4::20 PM section # 11 Sharp Lab 109 Brandon Terranova

Th 4:30 - 5:20 PM section # 10 Sharp Lab 120 Brandon Terranova

The topics in discussion section are listed in the main class schedule. The due dates for discussion section assignments are in this schedule and in a separate list of assignments and test dates . The assignments themselves will be posted no later than four days ahead of time in a separate list of assignment topics .


You are working in groups in this course for two reasons:

● Ninety years of research and thousands of studies show that, when collaborative learning is done right, students learn better when they work in groups.

● In the 21st century workplace, you will be working in teams. If you have team skills, you will thrive. I'm an optimistic person and don't want to be very specific about what happens if you don't have team skills, but most Delaware students should be able to figure this out. See a separate webpage on teams .

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Answers to miscellaneous questions: (click on the question to get to an answer)

How can I, as a student, provide feedback to the professor?

What are the course policies about deadlines, class conduct, academic dishonesty, etc.?

What can I do to help me study for an exam?

How can I do a better job working in groups?

Course Instructors

The lead instructor is Harry Shipman, 124 Sharp Lab, phone 831-2986 (office); 731-7758 (home). Please do not call me at home unless your call is of an emergency nature. I am available to talk to students any time I am in my office, which usually means normal working hours when I’m not in other classes, group meetings, and the like. You can also email me with your question; unless I am traveling, which I tend not to do on weekdays during the semester, my goal is to answer all student emails within 24 hours. My electronic mail address free to stop by, though I’d prefer it if you avoid late mornings which is when I prepare for classes.

Teaching Assistants: Brandon Terranova and Dara Missan will be leading discussion sections and will be available for your questions. They are undergraduates who have been successful students in this course. They can help you with any questions you have. Their email addresses are: (Brandon) and dmissan@UDel.Edu (Dara).

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This page is maintained by and copyrighted by Harry L. Shipman, Annie Jump Cannon Professor of Physics and Astronomy, University of Delaware. (

Most recent revision: September 5, 2003