November 02, 2011
Have you ever looked up into the night sky and wondered how the sun, the planets, and the stars function as a whole? Have you ever wondered how old the universe is? Why and how there is so much daylight during the summer solstice? Stephen Tufte, Associate Professor of Physics, dared to wonder and now, dares you to do the same in his Astronomy summer course. Physics 105 is an introductory level course designed for non-majors who have an interest in physics or astronomy, or who want to fulfill their Scientific and Quantitative Reasoning, Category A, requirement in a fun, informative, and interactive way.
Despite its compact schedule, the summer offering of Physics 105 allows for a more interactive and hands-on learning environment than the Fall/Spring sections. “The better weather allows for more significant use of the on-campus observatory for telescopic observations,” says Tufte. “[Additionally] the smaller class allows for more interaction during class and also allows me to assign more interesting projects.”
From the classroom to the Karle Observatory on-campus, Tufte describes the class as a “broad-brush survey of what we know about the Universe (after all, it’s a pretty big place!). We learn about the night, the sky, phases of the moon, and seasons. We cover key elements in the history of astronomy and tell the story of how we came to understand our current picture of an immense expanding cosmos.” Additionally, students study stars, galaxies, and the origins of the Universe, The Big Bang Theory. “I try to provide multiple ways of understanding each topic. Whenever possible, I present a conceptual picture, a visual representation, an in-class demonstration, and then of course the mathematical aspect,” says Tufte. This course is bound to keep your attention with everything from studying how the universe began, to seeing the latest visuals from the Hubble Space telescope.
When asked what Tufte enjoys most about teaching during the summer, he explained it was the “heightened interaction with students allowed by the smaller class size, the telescopic observing sessions, and also being able to really focus on the astronomy course since it’s the only class I’m teaching.” So take advantage of the summer months, and participate in Tufte’s Astronomy course, where small class size, interactive learning, hands on observation and summer weather are valued. “Never mind exploring another country,” Tufte says, “come explore the universe this summer!”