Adam G. Riess: Course – Stars and the Universe

Posted on 2012/07/18

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Quick Overview:

  • Title: Stars and the Universe: Cosmic Evolution (JHU)
  • Professor: Adam Riess
  • Description:  Evolution of the universe: from origin in a cosmic explosion to emergence of life on Earth and possibly      other planets throughout the universe.
  • Level: Lower Undergraduate
  • Instruction Delivery Method: Lecture
  • Department: AS Physics & Astronomy
  • Academic Area: N
  • Offered: Spring Semesters

Class Material: A lot of information but interesting. Math(up to basic trigonometry) and science(chemistry and physics) dependent. 

First half of the class focuses on how we came to understand what we know about the universe today (Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, etc). Second half covers the following aspects about stars, planets and the universe: what they are, birth and death, how old and far, recent discoveries and theories. All the information is in chronological order, making it easy to follow. Math up to basic trigonometry (reviewed in class so don’t worry) and some chemistry and physics (also reviewed in class) is required to understand the material. The scientific aspect can get confusing.

Professor: Great explainer, speaks clearly, and has a pleasant sense of humor.

Lectures are really interesting. For example, learning about how Eratosthenes figured out size of moon using math. Professor Riess knows what he is talking about so he explains the material very clearly. Nevertheless, sometimes material is too hard to understand in class, making that lecture hard to follow (later lectures). I have cracked up many times in the class. I have fell asleep couple times, but it was not because he was boring (I was just tired and the room is dark). Also, there are couple guest lectures (hit and miss).

Evaluation: 2 Tests (25%), 2 labs (20%), 8 problem sets (25%), clickers (15%). Great TA’s. 

Tests have a lot of math in it. Fair tests that focuses on the important concepts. You get a 3×5 notecard (both sides) to write whatever the heck you want on it for the test. Labs require you to observe using telescopes. This is probably the most disappointing aspect of class. We get Galileo-scopes to see Moon, Venus, etc. They appear as mere dots in our telescope. Homework can be difficult but lectures help a lot (lecture slides posted on website). Clicker questions in class but doesn’t matter whether you get it right or wrong. TA’s are really helpful. Go to them for help with problem sets/labs/questions.

Overview: Don’t get textbooks. A lot of information. Take with a friend. A class everyone at JHU should take. 

Here is the syllabus for our year and the grade distribution for Spring 2012 semester.

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