Astro 1905 - Freshman Seminar - Fall 2011
Thursdays 2:30-4:25pm Physics Room B49
Instructor - Prof. Liliya Williams, 353 Physics, 624-1084,
Office hours:  T, Th   10:30-11:30am, or by appointment

GOALS: In this course you will
    Become better acquainted with other students, a faculty member, and the U
    Consider the various coincidences that made intelligent life in the Universe possible
    Learn about the frontiers of modern Cosmology
    Have fun!

    Attend all classes
    Do assigned readings, post weekly questions/commentaries/reflections on WebVista, and discuss them in class
    Participate actively in discussions, including weekly "fascinating facts" (on 3x5 cards)
    Write one 500 word reflective essay on the course (due Dec 8th)

    Check-in time (10 min)
    Fascinating facts (20 min)
    Discussions of readings/questions, exercises (30 min)
    Break (5 min)
    Discussions of readings/questions, exercises (50 min)

  • The Goldilocks Enigma, by Paul Davies -- available in Book Store
  • Scientific American
  • Science News
  • Astronomy Picture of the Day
  • Other material will be assigned on the web or on library reserve


    Assigned Reading
    Sep 8
    Introductions - us, the course
    Powers of 10
    Cosmic Calendar
    Sep 15
    Coincidence problems; Physical laws
    Preface, Chapter 1
    Sep 22
    Big Bang and the Expansion of the Universe
    The curvature of the Universe;
    How many dimensions to the Universe?
    Chapter 2
    Curvature of 2D space
    Heaven & Hell - Escher
    Gravity Probe B - tests of relativity
    Gravity Probe B - 'A Simple Test'
    Sep 29
    Coincidences in the very early Universe
    Chapter 3, first part
    CMB - Cosmic Microwave Background
    CMB; Helium abundance
    Oct 6
    Inflation; Quantum Gravity; the Multiverse
    Chapter 3, second part
    Physics Nobel Prize 2011
    Accelerated expansion of the Universe and Dark Energy
    Oct 13
    The subatomic world of particles;
    The four fundamental forces
    Chapter 4
    Macroscopic objects --> strings
    Elementary Particles
    Proton-proton collision
    Oct 20
    Unifying particles and forces; Supersymmetry; String Theory
    Chapter 5
    Oct 27
    Dark matter (WIMPS and MACHOS); Dark energy
    Chapter 6
    Supernova 1987A and neutrinos
    Cryogenic Dark Matter Search - 1
    Cryogenic Dark Matter Search - 2
    Nov 3
    Synthesizing chemical elements in stars
    The mystery of Carbon; The coincidence of Dark energy
    Chapter 7
    Astronomer's Periodic Table
    DNA Building Blocks Can Be Made in Space
    Nov 10
    Symmetry and why/how to break it
    Physics laws again: their form and their constants
    Chapter 8, p.151-170
    The Higgs mechanism
    Higgs particle not yet found
    Nov 17
    Critique of the Multiverse
    Chapter 8, p.170-190
    Dec 1
    Design: creatures/structures vs. physical laws
    Multiverse vs. Theory of Everything
    Chapter 9
    Heike crabs (Ch.6); artificial selection
    another Heike crab picture
    simple rules &rarr complex structures: Mandelbrot set
    Alan Turing (1912-1954)
    Take a verbal Turing test
    Take a visual Turing test
    Dec 8
    Bringing it all together: Is life an accident or not?
    Chapter 10
    Double Slit Experiment

                                      Details of requirements:

    Fascinating facts:
    Bring an interesting something you've learned recently, to share/discuss in class.

    Tentative readings are shown above, in the table. Changes, if any, will be announced in class.

    Weekly Reflections:
    Each week provide an approximately 1/3-1/2 page of thoughtful commentary, questions, reflection, etc. on the reading material, and the material we covered in class the previous week. Post entries at WebVista (AST 1905 LECT 002) before 12noon on Wednesday before Thursday class.

    Final reflective essays:
    These should be 450-550 words long, and be original and thoughtful reflections on the content and experience of the course. They should be developed around a coherent theme. You will be graded on content, grammar, and presentation. You can submit in electronically in plain text or Word 2003 (.doc); do NOT use Word 2007 (.docx). Or submit a hardcopy.

      Readings 25%
      Weekly commentaries/questions/reflections 25%
      Class Participation 25%
      Final Essay 25%

    Special Needs:
    Any special needs should be discussed with the professor before the 2nd week of class

    Academic Standards:
    You are responsible for being familiar with the academic standards and 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 student’s 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

    Web Vista:
    In this class, our use of technology will sometimes make students' names and U of M Internet IDs visible within the course website, but only to other students in the same class. Since we are using a secure, password-protected course website, this will not increase the risk of identity theft or spamming for anyone in the class. If you have concerns about the visibility of your Internet ID, please contact me for further information.