ASTRONOMY 236 - A Brief History of Matter in the Universe


Time and Place: T, Th 9:30-10:45 in 6515 Sterling Hall

Web Page:

Instructor: Professor Eric M. Wilcots

5524 Sterling Hall


Office Hours: T,Th 11-12, or by appointment

Texts: The only required text is Galileo's Commandment: An Anthology of Great Science Writing, editied by Edmund Blair Bolles.I will also hand out a number of articles in class throughout the semester, and these will also be required reading.There will be a number of supplementary texts held on reserve in the Astronomy library and/or in the Physics library (the Astronomy library has limited hours).These include: Geochemistry (Arthur H. Brownlow), Astronomy & Astrophysics (Michael Zeilik & Stephen A. Gregory), Moons and Planets (William K. Hartmann), and Introduction to Geochemistry (Konrad B. Krauskopf & Dennis K. Bird).You should consider these texts to be resources to get a bit more information or at least a different perspective from what is presented in class.They may also serve as reference material for some of the writing assignments.The course content will largely be contained in lecture material, the Bolles book, and the articles handed out in class.

Writing in Astronomy 236:

As you know this course fulfills the University's Communications-B requirement.The rules and regulations of such courses are that the students turn in at least 30 pages of writing over the course of the semester.This includes drafts that get reviewed by the instructor.The course assignments are designed to fulfill the requirements of the Comm-B designation while improving your compositional skills and enhancing your knowledge of the history of matter in the Universe.The readings and writing assignments are also designed to introduce you to a variety of different styles of scientific writing.There will be four major writing assignments 

Writing Fellows:

This course takes advantage of the Student Writing Fellow Program.Writing Fellows are competitively chosen undergraduates who help students develop their writing skills.They are trained in how to critically evaluate writing and respond helpfully, and they will work with you individually outside of class to help you improve the clarity and effectiveness of your writing.But, Writing Fellows do not grade your papers or teach you course-specific content. 

Here?s how it works.The Writing Fellows will work with you on two different assignments.In each case you will submit a polished draft of your paper to me on the assigned due date.I will pass it along to the Writing Fellows who will carefully read your paper, make comments on your draft, and then meet with you individually for a conference to discuss your writing and suggestions for revision.These conferences are required.You will then revise your paper and submit both the original draft and the revised version on the specified revision due date.Please include a cover letter briefly explaining how you responded to each of your Writing Fellow?s comments.

A ?polished draft? represents your best effort at the assignment.They should be double-spaced and have a complete set of references.It is of quality comparable to what you would turn in for grading.Polished drafts are not outlines, rough drafts, or even a first draft.Proofread carefully to remove any grammatical errors.

We?ll be using the writing fellows on the 1st and 4th assignments of the semester.

Writing Assignments:

Writing Assignment #1 - "Public Opinion".This assignment is based (in part) on a true story.Assume that the State Board of Education votes that students will no longer be responsible for learning about the Big Bang because "its not real science" and its "just a theory."Your job is to write an op-ed piece for the newspaper arguing for or against the Board's position.Your response should clearly state what science is, how the development of our understanding of the Big Bang fits or does not fit that definition.You should also review the body of knowledge and how it either does or does not support the Big Bang.Your positions should be clearly supported with references.Remember that your audience is the general public that would read the newspaper and you don't know whether or not they will support the Board's decision.

Your paper should be 3-4 pages long.

Writing Assignment #2 - "Writing for non-Scientists".Pick a topic covered in this course an write an article on the topic for a popular magazine.Feel free to pick a topic we have not yet discussed.Assume your audience to be college-educated, but not scientific (all those English majors running around out there).You will be assessed on the content and the effectiveness of reaching the targeted audience.The length should be 5 pages.If you?ve written less than 4, you need more content.If you've written more than 6, you're probably be too verbose.I'll have a list of suggested topics once the time gets closer.

Writing Assignment #3 - "Writing for the Journals".We have a week long lab exercise in this course which will probably concentrate on the analysis of the composition of a sample of rocks and minerals.Your assignment is to do the lab and write up your results as if you were writing for a scientific journal such as Science or Nature.Remember that your audience will be other scientists.The paper should about 3-4 pages long.

Writing Assignment #4 - "The Proposal".Academics spend huge amounts of time writing proposals, the most significant of which request funding from the Federal government to support our scientific research.Astronomers, geologists, physicists, and chemists get a good deal of their support from the National Science Foundation.The heart of any proposal is the research statement, a document that effectively demonstrates the author?s familiarity with their area of research, and poses and justifies, in a persuasive manner, a question or series of questions to be answered by the funded research.The questions should, of course, be important to furthering our understanding of the specific field.The statement then goes on to clearly explain how the research will answer the questions raised in the proposal.Your assignment is to write the research statement of a proposal to the National Science Foundation.You may chose your own topic, but it must be closely related to the course content and it must be approved by me in advance.You are limited to 8 pages, and keep in mind that it will be difficult to write a good proposal in less than 5-6 pages.You should concentrate on: demonstrating your knowledge of the subject (call this part review), understanding what the important unanswered questions are and why they are important, and giving an overview of how we might go about answering the questions.About half of the paper should be review, another third should be the identification of the unanswered questions and the last bit should be how you?d try to answer the questions.


There will be an in-class midterm on March 14 and a comprehensive final schedule for Sunday May 12 at 2:45pm.


Midterm: 10%

Final Exam: 15%

Paper #1: 20%

Paper #2: 15%

Paper #3: 15%

Paper #4: 20%

Miscellaneous: 5%


Reading assignments for each week are listed in italics.All selections are from Galileo's Commandment unless otherwise noted.A (p) indicates a paper to be distributed in class.Parentheses indicate reading that is optional but recommended.

Part One - The Atom & The Elements

Week 1-Reading: Lucretius, Butterfield, Boyle, Lavoisier, (Brownlow Chapter 1)

Jan 22 (1) - Introductions/Overview
Jan 24 (2) - Historical Perspective: Lucretius to Quantum Mechanics

Week 2 - Reading: Duncan, Curie, Oppenheimer, Levi

Jan 29 (3) - Structure of the Atom: The Nucleus

Jan 31 (4) - Structure of the Atom & The Definition of the Elements

Part Two - Origin of the Elements

Week 3 - Reading: Hubble & Humason(p), Penzias & Wilson(p), Hoyle, Smoot, Galileo (Silk Chapters 3-8, Ferris Chapters 8-11)

Feb 5 (5) - The Size and Expansion of the Universe

Feb 7 (6) - The Big Bang

Week 4 - Reading: Hoyle, Bania et al. (p), Hogan(p), Bahcall(p), Srianand et al.(p), Hogan(p), (Silk Chapter 3-8, Ferris Chapters 8-11)

Feb 12 (7) - The Big Bang continued

Feb 14 (8) - The Origin of H & He

Week 5 - Reading: Cannon, (Brownlow Chapter 1) 

Feb19 (9) - Tests of Big Bang Nucleosynthesis

Feb21 (10) - Galaxy Formation

Polshed Draft of Paper #1 Due in class on February 21

Week 6 - Reading: Rutherford, Heisenberg, (Zeilek & Gregory Ch 13, 16, 17)

Feb 26 (11) - Nucleosynthesis and Stellar Evolution
Feb 28 (12) - Nucleosynthesis and Stellar Evolution

Part Three - From There to Here

Week 7 - Reading: Arnett & Bazan(p),Henning & Salama(p) , (Zeilik & Gregory Ch 16-17,20)

Mar5 (13) - Nucleosynthesis and Stellar Evolution

Mar7 (14) - The History of the Milky Way

Revised Version of Paper #1 Due in class on March 7

Week 8 - Reading: Maxwell, Henning & Salama(p), Gilmore & Wyse(p)

Mar 12 (15) - The History of the Milky Way

Mar 14 (16) - Midterm Exam (in class)

Week 9 - Reading: TBD

Mar 19 (17) - Molecules in Space
Mar 21 (18) - Star Formation

Week 10 - Reading: McPhee, Cameron(p), Russell(p), Thommes et al.(p), Chapman(p), Tegler & Romanishin(p), (Brownlow Ch 7-9), (Hartmann Ch 10)

Apr2 (19) - Molecules and Star Formation

Apr4 (20) - Formation of the Solar System

Paper #2 Due in class on April 2

Week 11 - Reading: Schonbachler(p), Sephton(p), McSween(p), Cooper et al.(p), Nicolussi et al , Drake & Richter(p) , (Hartmann Ch 4-5)

Apr9 (21) - Meteorites

Apr 11(22) - The Outer Solar System

Week 12 - Reading: None!

Apr 16 (23) - Rock Lab
Apr 18 (24) - Rock Lab

Week 13 - Reading: Moon Origin(p), Melosh(p),

Apr 23 (25) - Formation of the Moon
Apr 25 (26) - Composition of the Inner Solar System

Paper #3 (Rock Lab Write-Up) Due in class on April 23

Polished Draft of Paper #4 Due in class on April 25

Week 14 - Reading: da Vinci, Sullivan, Wegener, Argon(p), Wedding Ring(p), Perfit(p), (Brownlow Ch 7-9), Krauskopf & Bird Ch 17, 18)

Apr 30 (27) - Origin of Igneous Rocks
May 2 (28) - Evolution of Mantle and Crust

Week 15 - Reading: Herodotus, (Krauskopf & Bird Ch 17, 18, 21), (Brownlow Ch 7-9)

May 7 (29) - Evolution of the Earth?s Mantle and Crust
May 9 (30) -- Overview


May 12 (31) - Final Exam - Revised Version of Paper #4 Due