H163: Essay Assignment

In a slight change from the syllabus, the essay assignment will be due on Monday, December 9, instead of the last day of class (i.e., you get an extra two days in which to do it). It should be turned in to my mailbox in 4055 McPherson Lab (or to me in my office) by 5 p.m.

The assignment is to choose a topic in cosmology or relativity that is an area of current scientific research, learn about it using the World Wide Web or other sources, and write a 5-7 page essay (typed, double-spaced) on what you find. You have a lot of latitude in choice of topic and style, but I will be looking for an indication that you have taken on something challenging and thought about the information you come across in some depth. As a specific suggestion, I suggest you consider picking a particular project or set of projects (e.g., cosmic microwave background experiments, dark matter searches, the SNAP satellite, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey) and writing about its scientific goals (what questions does it or will it address?) and its technical design (how will it achieve these goals?). But that's only a suggestion. The one topic I want to strongly discourage is black holes, because in many years of giving similar assignments, I have found that essays on black holes tend to be ``gee whiz'' with not much science content.

To help you get started, I have collected a lot of links to relativity and cosmology topics, which you can get to from the course web page. This is probably your best source of ideas for the essay, though class discussions, The Light at the Edge of the Universe, other articles or books you have read, and so forth, are all fair game.

Once you have an idea for a topic, let me know before or after class, so that I can give you advice on whether it is a good topic and on places you might look for information.

By Monday, December 2 (first day of the last week of class), you should give me a sheet of paper with your planned topic and a list of sources that you have found (web sites, articles, chapters from the books we have read, etc.). That way I can give you feedback on the topic and perhaps suggest other sources by the end of that week. If you give me a draft by Monday, December 2, I will return it to you with comments by the end of the week, which will improve your final essay.

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Updated: 2002 November 14[dhw]