Selected Topics in Physics: Cosmology
(Independent Study)

PHY 420 --- Spring 2001 Syllabus
Physics Department --- Mercer University

Texts: See list below.
Class Meetings:
MW 3:00-4:30pm, WSC 110
Dr. Jose L. Balduz Jr
Willet Science Center 110
        office hours:
TR 11:00-noon and 2:00-4:00pm, or by appointment, or try your luck anytime...

This is an advanced course in the history and present state of cosmology, for junior or senior level students. It is intended primarily for physics majors, but should be of interest also to many other students, especially those in the sciences and engineering. Prerequisite are PHY 161 & 162 General Physics I & II, PHY 305 & 306 Modern Physics I & II, and Mat 191 & 192 Calculus I & II. Students are therefore assumed to know some quantum physics and relativity, and to be able to use basic calculus. They will learn about the history and philosophical implications of cosmology from antiquity, through the Renaissance, to the modern era. They will also learn some of the physical foundations, mathematical formalism, and interpretation of modern work in this area. The goal is for students to develop both a broad understanding of this grand science in all its historical and cultural significance, as well as some of the more rigorous analysis and observations brought to bear on the subject in the 20th century. We will use both technical texts dealing with modern cosmology, i.e. work done in the 20th century, as well as other, non-technical, descriptive and philosophical texts dealing with the history of cosmology in various cultures and time periods. Not every book on the list will be read in its entirety: The list follows:

Technical Texts:

Other Texts:

Meetings (20% of total grade): It is imperative that the student should meet with the instructor at least once a week. The student must come to this meeting well prepared: having read a sizable amount of material for discussion, and having at least attempted some numerical problems. Multiple meetings per week are recommended, up to about three or four hours per week.

Homework (40% of total grade): About once every other week, the student must work out a number of problems from the technical texts, to be handed in for grading. When a chosen problem presents difficulties beyond the studentís ability to overcome, they are encouraged to discuss the problem with the instructor, who will be glad to provide the needed help.

Papers (40% of total grade): The student will write two short papers (at least five pages each) and a longer one (at least ten pages). The first will be on a topic from cosmology in antiquity. The second paper will deal with cosmology in the medieval and Renaissance times. The third, longer paper will be on a topic in any area of cosmology, subject to agreement by the instructor and the student. These will not be mathematical papers, but will instead discuss the history of cosmology, its cultural context, its philosophical implications, and its impact on society.

Grading: The percentage for each activity is shown in the left table below. To convert the total percentage to a letter grade, use the scale shown in the right table below.

  # total %
Meetings ~16 20
Homeworks ~8 40
Short Papers 2 20
Long Paper 1 20


  GP %
A 4.0 90-100
B+ 3.5 84-89
B 3.0 78-83
C+ 2.5 72-77
C 2.0 66-71
D 1.0 56-65
F 0.0 0-55

Miscellaneous policies:

  1. All parts of this syllabus are tentative and subject to revision.
  2. Late homeworks, papers will suffer a 5% penalty per day (excluding holidays and weekends) until they are handed in: i.e., 5% if one day late, 10% if two days late, ...
  3. There will be no dropped grades. All work done in the course will be counted.
  4. There will be no extra-credit work.
  5. The College of Liberal Arts' academic misconduct policy will be followed. In addition, all students are bound by the Mercer University Honor Code.
  6. Students are strongly encouraged to discuss with the instructors all their work during the course, regardless of their grades. Questions about point awards should be brought up as soon as possible, as all grades will be final one week after the materials are graded and returned to the students.
  7. Students who believe that they possess disabilities for which reasonable accommodation is required must so inform one of the instructors at the close of their first class meeting. They must then identify their disability and the accommodation requested. The instructor will refer them to the office of the Dean of Students for evaluation, documentation of their disability, and a recommendation as to the accommodation, if any, to be provided. Students who do NOT consult with either instructor and follow up at the office of the Dean of Students, as provided above, will thereby waive any claim to a disability and the right to any accommodation pertaining thereto.
  8. All requests for reasonable accommodation are welcome also in regard to absence from class for school representation (i.e., athletic or other events) or personal/family problems. Let's talk about it...