Astro 1905 - Freshman Seminar - Spring 2014
T 3:35-5:30 Physics Room B49

Instructor - Lawrence Rudnick,  (Doc R.) 383 Physics, x4-3396,
Office hours:  T, Th   10:30-11:30 or by appointment


GOALS: In this course you will:


             a) Become better acquainted with other students, a faculty member, and the U;

     b) Learn about the wonderful and sometimes frightening universe in which we live;

     c) Reflect on how we make choices, as individuals and communities, in the face of risks; and

     d) Have fun


REQUIREMENTS : (details below)

     a)  Attend all classes

     b)  Post weekly reflections on the week's class on the web - due at 23:59:59 Friday

     c)  Do assigned readings and post comments and two numbered questions on web (by 23:59:59 Sunday)

     d)  Research, prepare and make one class presentation on assigned topic (choices due 2nd week of class)

     e)  Participate actively in discussions - including weekly "fascinating facts" (on 3x5 cards)

     f)  Write one 500 word reflective essay on the course


     Check in time (10 min)

     Fascinating facts  (20 min)

     Discussions of readings / questions (40)

     Break (5min)

     Presentation/exercise by LR and/or Students ( 45 min)

     Check-out time (5min)


    "Countdown to Apolcalypse," Paul Halpern  (you'll receive on loan) (Count)
    Introductory Astronomy readings- (find on web) - (Astro)
Projects will involve library and web research.




Assigned Reading



Jan 21

Introductions - us,  the course, the nature of catastrophe



Jan 28

Historical Apocalyptic Views - THE Flood

Count: 1-3



Feb 4

Volcanos /Earthquakes 

Astro: Earth



Feb 11

Global changes - natural

Count 4-5



Feb 18

All risks of death

see Moodle


Feb 25


Count: 7
Astro: Comets/Asteroids

 Impact Video


 Mar 4

Global change- human

Count 6, and
Read AND click/read on EACH of the 4 sections at the bottom of the page


Mar. 11

 Avoiding impacts

Do the following and write comments as before, and questions for class discussion.


2. Go to;orb=1 and play with 3 or 4 different orbits.

  I recommend that you a) turn off planet labels and b) zoom in to see better.   A small prize will be given to the person who finds the asteroid that approaches Earth the closest.  In your posting, include Asteroid name, date of closest approach and Earth distance.

Collision detection

Collision prevention

Alex, Matt
concepts due 2/21
detailed outline 3/3

Mar. 25

Life  on Earth

click on each of the six major types of biomes and read pages.


2. Check out and explore the interactives, especially Climate Time Machine and Global Ice Viewer.


Write comments and 2 questions, as usual.

3. Bring in picture of most interesting animal you can find & describe how its characteristics fit its environment


Historical Changes in Biosphere

concepts due 2/28
detailed outline 3/10

Apr. 2

Life in space?

TENTATIVE: TBD by presenters

Read Wikipedia article on Extrasolar planet,
then poke around, to get latest status, on the website

Life elsewhere?

Kate, Spencer
concepts due 3/14
detailed outline 3/24

April 8

 The End of the Sun

Fatal Stars /

TENTATIVE: TBD by presenters

Countdown to Apoc, Ch 8
Wikipedia: Supernovae


Gamma ray bursts

Greg, Jared, Holly
concepts due 3/22
detailed outline 4/1

April 15

Threats from afar

TENTATIVE: TBD by presenters

Please read the material on the following page:
the compiler is unknown to me, but appears to be a gifted, if eccentric, thinkier

Alien Invasions

Conner, Daniel
concepts due 3/28
detailed outline 4/7

April 22

 Could have been threats


Musser, George. "What Would Happen If Earth and Mars Switched Places? | Observations, Scientific American Blog Network." Scientific American Network. Scientific American, 09 June 2011. Web. 09 Apr. 2012. <>.

What if?

Seth, Emily, Polly
concepts due 4/4
detailed outline 4/14

April 29

 Risks - real and imagined

  PART A. Go to and find out what it tells you about you according to your birthday. Make notes and be prepared to discuss in class.
PART B.  Go to the following 3 web sites, fill out the forms and post the results on your Thoughts/Qs posting:   1. how will you die, (not the details); 2) life expectancy (Wharton calculation); 3) life expectancy (Canadian) BROKEN BROKEN
You do not have to post questions this week, but you can comment on the above results, etc.

In your "Readings and Questions" for this week, go to , pick one of
Earthquakes, Extreme Heat, Floods, Hurricanes, Landslides, Tornados,Volcanos, Tsunamis, Wildfires, Winter Weather
 write up in approx. 200 words:  a) advice for individuals;  b) government resources

In class (remote): pair up, pick, report on one item from


May 6

Could the U be unfit
for life?

Count: 9 , plus
Intro to Cosmology



Details of requirements:


Readings and questions: (Moodle)

Tentative readings on the syllabus. Changes announced in class.  For each reading, provide an approximately 100-150 word commentary (not just summarizing what you read) followed by two numbered questions that will be discussed in class.  Due Sunday night, 11:59 pm.

Reflections  (Moodle)

Each week, you will post a reflection,  approximately 100-150 words in length,  an  original and thoughtful commentary, reflection, etc. on the material we covered that week in class.  Entries must be posted no later than Thurs. night at 11:59pm.

Final reflective essays

Your final reflective essays will either be posted in the Final Essay forum on the web site, or be submitted by e-mail to by May 12th at 11:59pm. They should be 450-550 words long, and be original and thoughtful reflections on the content and experience of the course. They should be without spelling or grammatical errors, and should be developed around a coherent theme. Essays that appear to be first drafts will be returned for revision with a loss of one grade. Standards will be discussed further in class. You can submit in plain text or Word or pdf .

Presentation guidelines: (in groups of 2 or 3)

Two weeks before your presentation, you will submit in writing by email to, in plain text - NOT word documents, etc. AND cc'd to your partner(s) in the same email
1) a detailed outline of the topics you will cover,
2) a short description of the class activity
3) an initial list of both web and magazine/journal/book references
4) suggested pre-class readings for the class.
5) AV or other equipment needs

You will prepare a 40 minute lesson (combined) for the class, including a 10 minute class activity. For the class participation portion, you should prepare either questions for us to discuss and/or a class activity. The presentations should be interesting and informative, and their format (lecture, audio-visual, interactive, etc) is open to negotiation.

Fascinating facts - discussed in class


All weekly assignments will be graded on a two-level basis:  good/satisfactory (2) , and marginal (1).  Readings /questions  15%;  Reflections 15%;  Class presentation 25%;  class participation 25%; final essay 20%.  An average grade of "satisfactory" will be equivalent to a B.
Special Needs:

Any special needs should be discussed with Doc R. before the 2nd week of class.   

Academic Standards:

You are responsible for being familiar with the academic standards policies of your college of enrollment.

Student Mental Health Services

As a student you may experience a range of issues that can cause barriers to learning, such as strained relationships, increased anxiety, alcohol/drug problems, feeling down, difficulty concentrating and/or lack of motivation. These mental health concerns or stressful events may lead to diminished academic performance or reduce a studentís ability to participate in daily activities. University of Minnesota services are available to assist you with addressing these and other concerns you may be experiencing. You can learn more about the broad range of confidential mental health services available on campus via the Student Mental Health Website at