Syllabus: Fall 2012

Course Description and Prerequisites :

This is a lower division course intended to introduce students to the predicted properties of black holes and the astronomical evidence for their existence.  Along the way we will study modern ideas about the nature of space, time, and gravity.   This course is approved for the Natural Sciences Core Curriculum and it does not require CU course prerequisites. The course material will involve high school math and science.

Topics to be covered :

"Field" Trips:

Three of the classes will be shows at the Fiske Planetarium.

Required Textbooks:

Kip S. Thorne, Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy (W.W. Norton, paperback, 1994). More emphasis on the theory behind black holes, plus historical perspective from a scientist who has been at the forefront of BH research for more than 30 years.

Mitchell Begelman and Martin Rees, Gravity's Fatal Attraction: Black Holes in the Universe (W. H. Freeman, Scientific American Library Paperback, 2nd Edition). More emphasis on the observational evidence for black holes, with lots of neat color pictures.

Course Requirements and Grading Policy:

In-class Projects: There will be four in-class projects, tentatively scheduled for Sep. 18, Oct. 9, Oct. 25, Nov. 29.  The projects  will cover material discussed in class and in the assigned readings.  Students will be free to work in groups of 3 (although each one will be responsible for writing up his/her answers).

Term Paper: You are expected to submit a term paper (of about 8-10 pages, word-processed and double-spaced, plus a list of references consulted), by Tue. Nov. 13. You are free to choose the topic of your paper, provided that it relates to the material covered in the course. Grading of the papers will depend on: clarity of writing, relevance to major themes of the course, your demonstrated understanding of the material discussed, and use of references (printed and/or Web-based) other than the assigned textbooks.

Warning: You are encouraged to form study groups and to discuss the course material with your classmates, but I expect the papers to represent your own work. (Take note of the new Student Honor Code system, which has now been implemented in all schools and colleges. Policies and procedures may be viewed at

Clicker Questions: During most classes, questions to be answered with clickers will be posed, and clicker points will contribute to your final grade (see below).

Clicker questions will generally be of three kinds:

Points will be assigned as follows:




2 points


1 point

No answer

0 points

Every person gets 4 free clicker days, meaning that I will omit the worst scoring 4 days from your clicker score. These free clicker days include all eventualities,including days when your clicker fails to work, days when you forgot your clicker, days when you have a personal or family emergency, days when you have to be elsewhere to represent your team or club or University, and days when you go skiing.

Final: The final Exam, on Sat. Dec. 15, 4:30pm-7pm (in G1B30) will cover all the topics of the course.


Grading will be weighted as follows:




1st in-class project

 Tue. Sep. 18


2nd in-class project

 Tue. Oct. 9


3rd in-class project

 Tue. Oct. 25


4th in-class project

 Thu. Nov. 29


Term paper

 due Tue. Nov. 13 


Clicker questions

on most classes


Final Exam

 Sat. Dec. 15


If you add that up, it comes to 113.33%. To make it add to 100%, I will delete the worst of the 4 in-class projects.

Please note the following:

* If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit to me a letter from Disability Services in a timely manner so that your needs be addressed.

* If there are classes that you will be missing due to religious observance, please let me know, and I'll do my best to accomodate your needs.


course update


time table