General Education Sequences

There are many different ways of obtaining knowledge. Knowledge in physics and chemistry is essentially linked to experimental work in the lab. Through the continual process of analyzing experiment in terms of theory and of testing theory through the discovery of new phenomena, some of the most far-reaching, universal, and magnificent discoveries about the nature of the world have been made. Observational sciences, such as astronomy or geology, create knowledge and discover truth in a related, but different, fashion. In these sciences the goal is to learn about majestic themes such as the nature of the Earth, the solar system, or indeed the universe itself. Such knowledge is gained not primarily in the lab using equipment and samples that are interchangeable, but rather through observations on a single sample that is too big, too old, too distant, and too unique to duplicate: namely, the Earth and the cosmos themselves. Field trips or telescopic observations allow one to observe what happened. The data collected are then interpreted in light of other observations. But one can never redo the entire experiment again and recreate the planets and the galaxies. Mathematics provides a third, nonempirical, form of knowing along with a crucial tool for formulating and analyzing the discoveries of the other sciences. All of these disciplines strive for a knowledge that is of a different nature than that found in humanistic or social scientific discourse. One aspect of the general education courses in the physical sciences is to introduce the student to these different ways of knowing and these different visions of truth.

The physical sciences sequences (along with the first half of the natural sciences sequence) provide a way for students in the humanities and social sciences to meet the general education requirement in the physical sciences. There are several sequences in the physical sciences, each of which introduces a different discipline and different aspects of scientific knowledge.

General Education Sequences

Any of the two-course sequences PHSC 11100-PHSC 11200 Foundations of Modern Physics I-II, PHSC 11100-PHSC 11300 Foundations of Modern Physics I; Everyday Physics, and PHSC 11900-12000 Stellar Astronomy and Astrophysics; The Origin of the Universe and How We Know satisfies the general education requirement. In addition, any two-quarter sequence assembled from PHSC 10900 Ice-Age Earth, PHSC 11000 Environmental History of the Earth, PHSC 13400 Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, PHSC 13500 Chemistry and the Atmosphere, or PHSC 13600 Natural Hazards will satisfy the requirement. The general education requirement in the physical sciences must be completed in the first two years. The listings below identify several possible combinations.

Along with one of these two-quarter sequences, students must register for at least two quarters of an approved biological sciences sequence and at least one quarter of an approved mathematical science. A sixth quarter must be taken in any one of the three areas: physical science, biological science, or mathematical science. NOTE: To receive general education credit for calculus, two quarters must be taken; this will count as two quarters towards meeting the general education requirement in the sciences.

PHSC 10900-11000. SCIENCE AND THE EARTH. Open only to first- and second-year students and first-year transfer students. Taking these courses in sequence is not required. This sequence not offered in 2014-15.

PHSC 10900. Ice-Age Earth. 100 Units.

We examine the cause and effects of Earth's great ice ages, and use the knowledge so gained as a means to inform ourselves about the stability of Earth's climate system and its relationship to the life of humankind. The ice age also serves as the starting point for the exploration of Earth's history through deep time undertaken in PHSC 11000. The lab exercises deal with topographic maps that depict glacial landforms in various national parks such as Yosemite National Park in California and Glacier National Park in Montana. We also explore the glacial landforms in the Chicago vicinity through topographic maps and a day-long field trip. A day-long weekend field trip to ice-age sites is required. If a weekend date is not possible, the field trip will be run on the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving recess. Students who register for this class must arrange to attend the field trip at one of the offered dates. (L)

Instructor(s): D. Rowley     Terms Offered: Not Offered 2014-15
Prerequisite(s): MATH 10500, or placement in MATH 13100 or higher

PHSC 11000. Environmental History of the Earth. 100 Units.

Topics emphasize how geologic history has determined the physical and biological environments we experience on Earth today. In other words, we learn how the long-term processes of Earth history have shaped the surface and interior of the Earth, and have determined the diversity of life on the planet as seen both in the present day and in the fossil record. (L)

Instructor(s): M. Webster; S. Kidwell     Terms Offered: Spring
Prerequisite(s): MATH 10500, or placement in MATH 13100 or higher


PHSC 10900-13400. PAST AND FUTURE CLIMATE OF EARTH. Open only to first- and second-year students and first-year transfer students. Taking these courses in sequence is not required. This sequence is recommended for students wishing to focus on global climate change. PHSC 10900 introduces the geological evidence for climate change in the past (i.e., the ice age); and PHSC 13400 examines the mechanisms of this climate change and introduces forecasts of future climate change associated with industrial and agricultural activity. This sequence not offered in 2014-15.

PHSC 10900. Ice-Age Earth. 100 Units.

We examine the cause and effects of Earth's great ice ages, and use the knowledge so gained as a means to inform ourselves about the stability of Earth's climate system and its relationship to the life of humankind. The ice age also serves as the starting point for the exploration of Earth's history through deep time undertaken in PHSC 11000. The lab exercises deal with topographic maps that depict glacial landforms in various national parks such as Yosemite National Park in California and Glacier National Park in Montana. We also explore the glacial landforms in the Chicago vicinity through topographic maps and a day-long field trip. A day-long weekend field trip to ice-age sites is required. If a weekend date is not possible, the field trip will be run on the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving recess. Students who register for this class must arrange to attend the field trip at one of the offered dates. (L)

Instructor(s): D. Rowley     Terms Offered: Not Offered 2014-15
Prerequisite(s): MATH 10500, or placement in MATH 13100 or higher

PHSC 13400. Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast. 100 Units.

This course presents the science behind the forecast of global warming to enable the student to evaluate the likelihood and potential severity of anthropogenic climate change in the coming centuries. It includes an overview of the physics of the greenhouse effect, including comparisons with Venus and Mars; an overview of the carbon cycle in its role as a global thermostat; predictions and reliability of climate model forecasts of the greenhouse world. (L)

Instructor(s): D. Archer, D. MacAyeal     Terms Offered: Autumn, Spring
Prerequisite(s): MATH 10500, or placement in MATH 13100 or higher, or consent of instructor required; some knowledge of chemistry or physics helpful.
Equivalent Course(s): ENST 12300,GEOS 13400


PHSC 11100-11200 FOUNDATIONS OF MODERN PHYSICS I-II. Open only to first- and second-year students and first-year transfer students.

PHSC 11100. Foundations of Modern Physics I. 100 Units.

This algebra-based course presents an introduction to Newton's laws of mechanics, including a study of planetary motion. The course also discusses wave motion as applied to sound and light. It concludes with an introduction to the special theory of relativity, in which the Newtonian concepts of space and time are reconsidered. (L)

Terms Offered: Autumn
Prerequisite(s): MATH 10500, or placement in MATH 13100 or higher.
Note(s): Must be taken in sequence.

PHSC 11200. Foundations of Modern Physics II. 100 Units.

With the advent of quantum mechanics, physicists found a successful alternative to Newton's laws for explaining atomic phenomena. In doing so, a completely new philosophy concerning the laws of physics had to be adopted. In this course, we explore the basic tenets of quantum mechanics, and consider the quantization of energy, the indeterminacy of physical events, and other concepts unique to the quantum view of nature. (L)

Terms Offered: Winter
Prerequisite(s): PHSC 11100
Note(s): Must be taken in sequence.


PHSC 11100-11300 FOUNDATIONS OF MODERN PHYSICS I; EVERYDAY PHYSICS. Must be taken in sequence. This sequence not offered in 2014-15.

PHSC 11100. Foundations of Modern Physics I. 100 Units.

This algebra-based course presents an introduction to Newton's laws of mechanics, including a study of planetary motion. The course also discusses wave motion as applied to sound and light. It concludes with an introduction to the special theory of relativity, in which the Newtonian concepts of space and time are reconsidered. (L)

Terms Offered: Autumn
Prerequisite(s): MATH 10500, or placement in MATH 13100 or higher.
Note(s): Must be taken in sequence.

PHSC 11300. Everyday Physics. 100 Units.

This course will be a walking tour through various topics in physics. It is not organized in the traditional way—mechanics, heat, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, and relativity—but rather will look at real-world phenomena and try to figure out what is going on. Relying somewhat on knowledge gained in PHSC 11100, we will ask questions about the world around us. No formulas will be used. Questions might include, “Which draws more water from Lake Michigan, evaporation or the city of Chicago?” and “How does my cellphone work and what can I do to improve its reception?” The course will also address more substantial topics such as measuring the density of air, figuring out whether airplanes should be able to fly, estimating the density of the Sun, and determining the size of molecules. (L)

Terms Offered: Not offered in 2014-15.
Prerequisite(s): PHSC 11100 or consent of instructor
Note(s): Must be taken in sequence


PHSC 11400-11500. LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE. PHSC 11400 and 11500 are one-quarter courses that must be taken in sequence. This sequence treats our current understanding of the role that the laws of physics play in the development, existence, and persistence of life in the universe. The main goal of this sequence is for students to learn about these laws within the overarching context of this theme. The subject matter includes all the major branches of physics and certain aspects of cosmology, stellar evolution, and planetary science. There will also be brief discussions on the roles of chemical and biological evolution. This sequence not offered in 2014-15.

PHSC 11400. Development of Life on Earth. 100 Units.

Starting with the big bang theory of the early universe, students study how the laws of physics guided the evolution of the universe through the processes most likely to have produced life on earth as it exists today. Physics topics include the fundamental interactions and the early universe; nuclear, atomic, and molecular structure; Newton’s laws and the formation of stars, galaxies, and planetary systems; thermonuclear fusion in stars; the physical origin of the chemical elements; the laws of electricity and magnetism and electromagnetic radiation; the laws of thermodynamics; atmospheric physics; and physical processes on primordial earth. (L)

Instructor(s): D. Reid     Terms Offered: Not offered in 2014-15
Prerequisite(s): MATH 10500, or placement into MATH 13100 or higher.

PHSC 11500. Extraterrestrial Life. 100 Units.

Building upon the topics in PHSC 11400, this course goes on to consider what the laws of physics has to say about life elsewhere in the universe. We begin with an analysis of the prospects for life on other bodies in the solar system, especially Mars. This is followed by a treatment of the physics behind the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and the feasibility of human interstellar and intergalactic spaceflight. We conclude with a critical examination of speculative ideas in the popular media such as the suggestion that the universe itself is a living organism. Physics topics include extended applications of topics from PHSC 11400, optics and electromagnetic communication, rocket propulsion and advanced propulsion systems, theories of special and general relativity, quantum physics, complexity, and emergence. (L)

Instructor(s): S. Wakely     Terms Offered: Not offered in 2014-15
Prerequisite(s): PHSC 11400


PHSC 11900-12000 or PHSC 11900-12000-12800. INTRODUCTION TO ASTROPHYSICS. Must be taken in sequence. PHSC 11900 will be taught in Autumn and Winter Quarters, and 12000 will be taught in Winter and Spring Quarters. The sequence 11900-12000-12800 will be offered to students in the Paris study abroad program in Spring Quarter.

PHSC 11900-12000. Stellar Astronomy and Astrophysics; The Origin of the Universe and How We Know.

Must be taken in sequence. PHSC will be taught in Autumn and Winter Quarters, and PHSC 12000 will be taught in Winter and Spring Quarters.

PHSC 11900. Stellar Astronomy and Astrophysics. 100 Units.

This course explores the observational and theoretical bases for our present understanding of the structures and evolution of stars. After a brief introduction to descriptive astronomy and a survey and interpretation of the relevant observations, we develop the theoretical principles governing the physical properties and dynamics of stars. Subsequently, we apply such observational and theoretical methods to studies of the formation of stars and their planetary systems, the life and death of stars, and the formation of the chemical elements. This course also will be offered to students in the Paris study abroad program in Spring Quarter.

Instructor(s): R. Rosner, Autumn; S. Meyer, Winter. L: A. Kravtsov, Autumn; P. Privitera, Winter     Terms Offered: Autumn, Winter
Prerequisite(s): MATH 10500 or placement in MATH 13100 or higher.

PHSC 12000. The Origin of the Universe and How We Know. 100 Units.

The universe is made of galaxies, which are made of aggregates of stars. Stellar aggregates allow us to map the positions of the galaxies in the universe. Studies of galaxy motions and of supernovae allow us to explore the nature of space to the edge of the visible universe. Our description of space allows us to build falsifiable models of cosmology, the origin of all that exists. The course consists of exploring how we know what we know about cosmology and why our perceptions have gradually changed over 2000 years. The fundamental theories and observations on which our knowledge rests are explored in detail. This course also is offered to students in the Paris study abroad program in Spring Quarter.

Instructor(s): E. Kolb, Winter; S. Dodelson, Spring. L: P. Privitera, Winter; J. Carlstrom, Spring     Terms Offered: Winter, Spring
Prerequisite(s): PHSC 11900 or consent of instructor

PHSC 12800. European Astronomy and Astrophysics. 100 Units.

Modern astronomy was born in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, led by Nicolaus Copernicus of Poland, who simplified the description of the solar system by moving the Sun to the center of the Universe. The Italian, Galileo Galilei, first pointed a telescope at the sky in 1609 and discovered the moons of Jupiter, sunspots, the stellar composition of the Milky Way, and craters on the Moon. Tycho Brahe of Denmark studied planetary motions in great detail, allowing Johannes Kepler of Germany to define the principles of the orbits of the planets by 1615. Isaac Newton of England discovered the laws of gravity and of motion, and built the reflecting telescope later in the seventeenth century. By 1774, French astronomer Charles Messier began the explosion of our current knowledge of the Universe when he catalogued what are now known to be other galaxies. Building upon this history, this course also explores recent developments in European astronomical and astrophysical technology that allows a modern exploration of the deepest regions of the Universe using a wide range of telescopes.

Instructor(s): R. Kron     Terms Offered: Spring
Prerequisite(s): PHSC 12000 or consent of instructor, and enrollment in the Paris study abroad program
Note(s): This course is offered only in Paris in Spring Quarter.


PHSC 11902-12000 The Secret Lives of Stars; The Origin of the Universe and How We Know. Open only to first- and second-year students and first-year transfer students. Enrollment limited. Taking these courses in sequence is not required.

PHSC 11902. The Secret Lives of Stars. 100 Units.

This course will explore the mystery that is hidden inside the heart of stars, which we have only recently begun to understand. For example, it will examine the physical processes that make stars the only objects in the Universe that can synthesize heavy elements, like all the atoms in your body. It will explain why some stars have winds, and why some stars retire to an old age of relaxation and cooling down while some of them blow up in the most spectacular manner. In order to do this, we will take as our starting point the diagram made in the early 20th century by Hertzsprung and Russell, which plotted the color of stars as a function of their brightness, and, through lectures and discussions, follow the subsequent developments in physics that helped us to unlock the secrets encoded therein.

Instructor(s): F. Catteneo     Terms Offered: Summer
Note(s): This course fulfills the general education requirement in physical sciences for non-majors. In order to complete the general education requirement in physical sciences, PHSC 11902 must be paired with PHSC 12000. This course may not be combined with PHSC 11900.

PHSC 12000. The Origin of the Universe and How We Know. 100 Units.

The universe is made of galaxies, which are made of aggregates of stars. Stellar aggregates allow us to map the positions of the galaxies in the universe. Studies of galaxy motions and of supernovae allow us to explore the nature of space to the edge of the visible universe. Our description of space allows us to build falsifiable models of cosmology, the origin of all that exists. The course consists of exploring how we know what we know about cosmology and why our perceptions have gradually changed over 2000 years. The fundamental theories and observations on which our knowledge rests are explored in detail. This course also is offered to students in the Paris study abroad program in Spring Quarter.

Instructor(s): E. Kolb, Winter; S. Dodelson, Spring. L: P. Privitera, Winter; J. Carlstrom, Spring     Terms Offered: Winter, Spring
Prerequisite(s): PHSC 11900 or consent of instructor


PHSC 13400-13500. THE SCIENCE OF GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE. Open only to first- and second-year students and first-year transfer students. Enrollment limited. Taking these courses in sequence is not required.

PHSC 13400. Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast. 100 Units.

This course presents the science behind the forecast of global warming to enable the student to evaluate the likelihood and potential severity of anthropogenic climate change in the coming centuries. It includes an overview of the physics of the greenhouse effect, including comparisons with Venus and Mars; an overview of the carbon cycle in its role as a global thermostat; predictions and reliability of climate model forecasts of the greenhouse world. (L)

Instructor(s): D. Archer, D. MacAyeal     Terms Offered: Autumn, Spring
Prerequisite(s): MATH 10500, or placement in MATH 13100 or higher, or consent of instructor required; some knowledge of chemistry or physics helpful.
Equivalent Course(s): ENST 12300,GEOS 13400

PHSC 13500. Chemistry and the Atmosphere. 100 Units.

This course focuses on aspects of chemistry as they apply to the Earth's atmosphere. The first half considers atmospheric structure and fundamental chemical principles, while the second half presents examples of chemical systems that operate in the atmosphere. Topics include the chemical composition of the atmosphere, the structure of atoms and molecules, the nature of chemical reactions, the interaction of solar radiation with atmospheric gases, the properties of the water molecule, formation of an ozone layer, and the chemistry of urban air pollution.

Instructor(s): J. Frederick     Terms Offered: Autumn
Prerequisite(s): MATH 10500, or placement in MATH 13100 or higher, or consent of instructor
Equivalent Course(s): ENST 12100


PHSC 13400-13600. ENVIRONMENT AND SOCIETY. Open only to first- and second-year students and first-year transfer students. Enrollment limited. Taking these courses in sequence is not required.

PHSC 13400. Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast. 100 Units.

This course presents the science behind the forecast of global warming to enable the student to evaluate the likelihood and potential severity of anthropogenic climate change in the coming centuries. It includes an overview of the physics of the greenhouse effect, including comparisons with Venus and Mars; an overview of the carbon cycle in its role as a global thermostat; predictions and reliability of climate model forecasts of the greenhouse world. (L)

Instructor(s): D. Archer, D. MacAyeal     Terms Offered: Autumn, Spring
Prerequisite(s): MATH 10500, or placement in MATH 13100 or higher, or consent of instructor required; some knowledge of chemistry or physics helpful.
Equivalent Course(s): ENST 12300,GEOS 13400

PHSC 13600. Natural Hazards. 100 Units.

This course presents the current understanding of high-impact weather and geologic events and an introduction to risk assessment and mitigation. Topics include an overview of geography, statistics, and societal impacts of the world's natural hazards; physics and forecasts of hurricanes, extratropical cyclones, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, droughts, floods, wildfires, and landslides; climate change and weather events; quantifying risks; and successful examples of community- and national-level disaster prevention programs. (L)

Instructor(s): N. Nakamura     Terms Offered: Winter
Prerequisite(s): MATH 10500, or placement in MATH 13100 or higher, or consent of instructor


PHSC 13500-11000. THE EARTH'S CHEMICAL AND PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENTS. Open only to first- and second-year students and first-year transfer students. Taking these courses in sequence is not required. This sequence considers fundamental principles that determine the chemical composition of the Earth’s atmosphere (Autumn) and then proceeds to examine the evolution of the surface and interiors of the Earth over geologic history (Spring).

PHSC 13500. Chemistry and the Atmosphere. 100 Units.

This course focuses on aspects of chemistry as they apply to the Earth's atmosphere. The first half considers atmospheric structure and fundamental chemical principles, while the second half presents examples of chemical systems that operate in the atmosphere. Topics include the chemical composition of the atmosphere, the structure of atoms and molecules, the nature of chemical reactions, the interaction of solar radiation with atmospheric gases, the properties of the water molecule, formation of an ozone layer, and the chemistry of urban air pollution.

Instructor(s): J. Frederick     Terms Offered: Autumn
Prerequisite(s): MATH 10500, or placement in MATH 13100 or higher, or consent of instructor
Equivalent Course(s): ENST 12100

PHSC 11000. Environmental History of the Earth. 100 Units.

Topics emphasize how geologic history has determined the physical and biological environments we experience on Earth today. In other words, we learn how the long-term processes of Earth history have shaped the surface and interior of the Earth, and have determined the diversity of life on the planet as seen both in the present day and in the fossil record. (L)

Instructor(s): M. Webster; S. Kidwell     Terms Offered: Spring
Prerequisite(s): MATH 10500, or placement in MATH 13100 or higher

Elective Courses

Any of the following can be used only as a third course in physical sciences to meet the general education requirement (of six courses total in the biological, physical, and mathematical sciences).

PHSC 18100. The Milky Way. 100 Units.

In this course, students study what is known about our galaxy, the Milky Way. We discuss its size, shape, composition, location among its neighbors, motion, how it evolves, and where we are located within it, with an emphasis on how we know what we claim to know. L.

Instructor(s): R. Kron     Terms Offered: Autumn
Prerequisite(s): Any two-course 10000-level general education sequence in chemistry, geophysical sciences, physical sciences, or physics.
Equivalent Course(s): ASTR 18100

PHSC 18200. The Origin and Evolution of the Universe. 100 Units.

This course discusses how the laws of nature allow us to understand the origin, evolution, and large-scale structure of the universe. After a review of the history of cosmology, we see how discoveries in the twentieth century (i.e., the expansion of the universe and the cosmic background radiation) form the basis of the hot Big Bang model. Within the context of the Big Bang, we learn how our universe evolved from the primeval fireball.

Instructor(s): N. Gnedin     Terms Offered: Winter
Prerequisite(s): Any two-course 10000-level general education sequence in chemistry, geophysical sciences, physical sciences, or physics.
Equivalent Course(s): ASTR 18200

PHSC 18300. Searching Between the Stars. 100 Units.

With the advent of modern observational techniques (e.g., radio, satellite astronomy), it has become possible to study free atoms, molecules, and dust in the vast space between the stars. The observation of interstellar matter provides information on the physical and chemical conditions of space and on the formation and evolution of stars.

Instructor(s): D. Harper     Terms Offered: TBD
Prerequisite(s): Any two-course 10000-level general education sequence in chemistry, geophysical sciences, physical sciences, or physics.
Equivalent Course(s): ASTR 18300