Physics 110, Spring 2018

Course Information:

Prof. Matthew Buckley (office: Serin W329,

Lectures: Monday/Thursday 9:50-11:10, Scott-135 (College Ave)

Office Hours: Fridays 2-3pm (Serin W329) or by appointment. 

Course Description

This course describes the properties of gravity, light, stars and galaxies, and the past, present and future of the Universe. There are no college-level prerequisites, but typical high school algebra and science preparation are assumed. The companion course, PHY109, covers the historical foundations of astronomy, the tools and techniques used by modern astronomers, the planets, moons, and minor bodies of our solar system, and the processes by which they formed. The two courses are independent; if you wish to take both, they can be taken in either order or concurrently.

Note that this course is intended for non-science majors. Students with two semesters each of physics and calculus should consider taking PHY341 and/or PHY342, instead. Those courses cover much of the same material as PHY110 and PHY109, but at a more advanced level.

Public observing nights at the Schommer Observatory (on the roof of Serin) take place on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Thursdays of each month, weather permitting.

The textbook we will use is The Cosmic Perspective: Fundamentals (2nd edition, 2015, Pearson) by Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, and Voit. The course is tightly integrated with this textbook, including lectures, reading assignments, and in-class quizzes, so the textbook is required. This is the same textbook currently used in PHY109. The first edition of the book (from 2009) is also acceptable.

We will also be doing in-class quizzes using the iClicker classroom response system. You may use either the original iClicker, iClicker+, or the second generation iClicker 2; we will not use any of the new features. You may also use the REEF Polling app with your mobile device. Once you acquire your iClicker, you should register it on Sakai.


Your final grade will be calculated from the midterm exam (1/3), final exam (1/3), and in-class quizzes/workshop (1/3). A final grade of 90% or higher will guarantee you an A for the class.

Note that the maximum score you can get from the exams alone is 67%. Therefore it is impossible to get a good final grade without attending lectures and taking the in-class quizzes.

  • Homework will be assigned for each lecture, in the form of reading ahead of the lecture and answering several homework questions. Homework will not be collected or graded, but reading and homework quizzes will be given at the beginning of each lecture. If you do the reading and homework problems, you should find these quizzes easy. The quiz problems will be similar - but not identical - to the assigned homework problems, so memorizing the answer will not help you, but understanding the problems will! 

    Completing the homework assignments is essential if you wish to get a good grade in the course, for three reasons:

    1) Personal response participation, which includes the reading and homework quizzes, counts for one third of the final grade for the course.

    2) It is easier to get a high score on the reading and homework quizzes than on the exams.

    3) Doing the homework will prepare you for the exams: most of the exam questions will test the material covered in the homework.

  • We will also have in-class conceptual quizzes throughout the lecture, so attendance at lectures is required. I will drop the equivalent of three lectures' points in determining your in-class quiz grade. Any absences beyond three must be excused, via a dean's note.

  • There will be a midterm exam (March 5) during the regular class period. The final exam covers the second half of the course and is scheduled by the University (exact time and place to be announced). 

    There will be make-up exams for those who have an excused absence for either the midterm exam or the final exam. Only those people who are unable to attend the regular exams because of a class conflict, a medical/family emergency (which must be documented with a dean's note), or other serious and unforeseen event (which must be documented with a dean's note) will be allowed to take the make-up exam. To take the make-up exam, you must have a valid conflict and get permission from me the week before the exam.

    All exams will be multiple choice, computer graded, and closed book. Calculators are not required, though I will provide one if you need it.

    Important: During the midterm and final exams, you will be asked to present the appropriate identification: i.e., a valid Rutgers student ID card. Students lacking the appropriate identification may not be allowed to take the exam!

Student Accommodations

If you require special accommodation in the course, please speak with me as early in the semester as possible. Visit this link for information on Rutgers policies.

How to Succeed in this Course

  • Read the appropriate text sections before each class so that you get the maximum benefit from the lectures. Focus on concepts rather than memorization.
  • After reading the material, try several of the mathematical questions at the end of each chapter and check your answers against the solutions in the back of the book.
  • Do all of the assigned homework problems and make sure you understand the answers.
  • Attend all lectures with your iClicker. Come prepared with questions on the material.
  • If you have any questions/concerns about the material, please talk to me during office hours or immediately after the lectures.
  • Most importantly, have fun! Astronomy is a beautiful subject and the Universe we live in is amazing! Don't forget that you picked this course because you thought it would be interesting - make the most of your time!

Course Schedule

Jan 18 (Thu)
course introduction
Jan 22 (Mon)
astronomy basics; algebra recap
iClicker practice
Appendix C
read: 1.1, 1.2, Appx C
do: Q1-11, 19
Jan 25 (Thu)
seasons and constellations
do: Chapter 1 Q18
read: 2.1, do: Q1-5 introduce yourself on Sakai
Jan 29 (Mon)
phases of the moon; eclipses
read: 2.2, 2.3
do: Q6-12
Feb 1 (Thu)
planetary motion
read: 3.1
do Q: 1-8
Feb 5 (Mon)
theory of gravity
read: 3.2, 3.3
read: Tools of Science p.97
do Chapter 3: Q9-12, 22
Feb 8 (Thu)
the nature of light
read: Tools of Science
p. 43, 80, 184, 132, 116
memorize: EM spectrum
in wavelength order
Feb 12 (Mon)
the Sun, our Star
read: 8.1
do Q: 1-6, 21
Feb 15 (Thu)
telescopes, stars, and starlight
read: 8.2, 8.3
do Q: 7-12, 22
Feb 19 (Mon)
classification of stars;
the H-R diagram
re-read: 8.2, 8.3
study H-R diagram
Feb 22 (Thu)
star lives
read: 9.1, 9.2
do Q: 1-6
Feb 26 (Mon)
star deaths
read: 9.2, 9.3
do Q: 7-12
13 Mar 1 (Thu) midterm review   come with questions
Mar 5 (Mon)
midterm exam
covers Ch. 1-3, 8-9
Mar 8 (Thu)
white dwarfs and neutron stars
read: 10.1
do Q: 1, 2, 5, 6
Mar 15 (Thu)
Spring Break
Mar 12 (Mon)
Spring Break
Mar 19 (Mon)
neutron stars and black holes
read: 10.2
do Q: 3, 4, 7, 10
Mar 22 (Thu)
relativity and black holes
read: 10.3
do Q: 8, 9, 11, 12, 18
Mar 26 (Mon)
the Milky Way
read: 11.1
do Q: 1-6
Mar 29 (Thu)
read: 11.2, 11.3
do Q: 7-12
Apr 2 (Mon)
cosmic distances
read: 12.1
do Q: 1-7
Apr 5 (Thu)
the expanding Universe;
galaxy evolution
read: 12.2, 12.3
do Q: 8-12
Apr 9 (Mon)
the age of the Universe
in-class workshop
bring laptop if you can
Apr 12 (Thu)
the Big Bang
read: 13.1
do Q: 2, 3, 5-8
Apr 16 (Mon)
the cosmic microwave
background; inflation
read: 13.2, 13.3
do Q: 1, 4, 9-12
memorize eras of the Universe in order
Apr 19 (Thu)
dark matter; large-scale structure
read: 14.1, 14.2
do Q: 1-8
Apr 23 (Mon)
dark energy; the accelerating Universe
read: 14.3
do Q: 9-12
Apr 26 (Thu)
life in the Universe; final exam review
read: 15
do Q: 1-12
Apr 30 (Mon)
Last Day of Class: TBA
Final Exam
covers Ch. 10-15