Seven Ideas That Shook The Universe

Fall 1999 Course 14195 (Section 005)


Instructor: Prof. Brett Ellman, Room 102 Science Research Lab, Ext. 9575

Class Time: 1:10 - 2:00 MWF in Room 108, Smith Hall

Office Hours: 2:00 - 3:00 MWR or by arrangement

Textbook: Seven Ideas That Shook the Universe, Spielberg & Anderson (2nd Edition)




The place of humans in the Universe - are we the center of everything?

Geocentric vs. Heliocentric Cosmologies


As much a study of our minds as of the Universe. The story of a lengthy battle, often costly in human terms, of how observational truth, rather than philosophical dogma, won the day and gave birth to modern views of the heavens.



The Universe as a wondrous deterministic machine

Aristotle vs. Newton

Newton vs. Einstein

Energy and the nature of change


Wondrous - simple laws as explanations of the complexity we observe around us

Deterministic - knowing the laws and how to use them, we, in principle, know everything

Machine - From the smallest objects to galactic clusters, the same laws determine the movement and change observed all around us.

Special topic: Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons



You can't always get what you want - the end of determinism, of ghosts and walking through walls

Entropy and the direction of time

Quantum Mechanics

Quantum mechanics twists our conceptions of reality, showing us that the world is far stranger than we ever dreamed of.



How to build a Universe 101: relativistic quantum mechanics, the Standard Model of the Universe and Beyond




Supplemental Instruction

Our section of 7 Ideas is fortunate in having three knowledgeable students available to assist you in learning the material. Roughly speaking, there will be several meetings (including an evening session) each week in which you can nail down difficult concepts, get practice, complain, and so on, under the guidance of an undergraduate or graduate student. Details will be announced in class early in the term.



The Nitty-Gritty




4 tests (including final): 22%, 22%, 22% and 22%

Each test will consist of about 25 multiple-choice questions

The tests will be approximately equally spaced during the semester and will only cover material covered since the previous test (the tests are not cumulative).


4 quizzes: 12%

Each quiz will be 1 or 2 very simple (simpler than on a test) multiple-choice questions based on the previous lecture. If you show up for classes, these are a comparatively easy way to raise your grade.



There will be NO makeups of any sort for tests or quizzes. HOWEVER, if you get sick or have another genuine emergency (e.g., serious family illness), bring me documentation (valid doctor's note on their letterhead) and you're grade will be calculated as if that test or quiz did not exist. In other words, you will not be penalized for it! Please do this soon after the test. The only exception is the final, which must be taken.