Phy 121 Earth, Light, and Sky

Spring Semester - 2012

(link to course schedule)
Donald F. Collins - Spidel 205 (link to Office Hours).  771-3702 (office), 298-4131 (home),


Earth, Light, and Sky is a survey course introducing the student to scientific methodologies through physics, earth science, optics, astronomy, and meteorology.  Students will learn through hands-on laboratory activities, text readings, and Internet sources and simulations, and a research project.  The student clientele include non-science majors, elementary education majors, and those students wishing to obtain a degree in secondary science teaching who need a second course in physics as well as a background in earth science.

Expected Learning Outcomes


Forces and motion (Laws of Newton)
Energy, conservation of energy (physical law), and energy conservation (economics)
Magnetism - both electro magnetics and geo-magnetism
Electricity and circuits
Properties of light, color, spectra

Earth Science
Newtonian Gravitation
Solar System Science
Meteorology - applications from physics
Geology and geologic processes

Locations and identification of celestial bodies
Scale of the universe
Physics of stars from the study of light, gravitation, and relativity
Astro photography

Course Organization

The class will be centered around experiments: both demonstrations and student conducted experiments.  Textbook material will be assigned daily.  About 9-10 experiments will be written as reports.  Many activities and experimental demonstrations in class will not have a report, but students will work together in class to write answers to "lecture tutorial" questions that are posted on line.  Many of the exam questions will pertain to material learned for the demonstrations and lecture tutorials.

Each student will be expected to complete one reading mini research project to study a topic not covered in the regular course as well as one experimental project.

The evaluation for the course will be calculated from:

Required Textbook and Materials

Exams - 35%

Four exams will be given on the following dates:
  1. Friday, Feb. 10, 2012
  2. Friday, Mar.  9, 2012 (note: this is the last day of Term III.  Please make your travel plans to accommodate this exam date)
  3. Friday, Apr. 13, 2012
  4. Tuesday Mat 8, 2012.

Lab Reports - 30%

Experiments, activities, and demonstrations will be conducted almost each day of class.  About 10 experiments will require laboratory reports. The course schedule will indicate clearly the due dates and the required reports.  Reports will always be due on Tuesdays at class times.  The early reports will consist of "fill-in-the-blanks" on a template specific for that experiment.  The student is expected to complete the report with template using a word processor.  Diagrams and drawings may be completed by hand.  However, computer skills will soon be developed so that the computer can draw the graphs for inclusion in the reports.  The most important part of each report - also the most interesting portion to read as well as the most challenging portion to write - is the discussion section.  The discussion section should answer the questions: "So, what?".  "Why do this experiment?"  "What did I (we) learn from this experiment?"  What is the significance of the results?"  Maybe the experiment was a failure - what will be done if there were another opportunity to improve?

Reading Mini Project - 10%

Each student is expected to conduct a reading mini-project.  The research project will involve reading research - obtaining and interpreting literature from three types of sources:  books, journals, and the Internet.  For Internet sources, the student will be expected to evaluate the reliability of the source from credentials and corraborative information.  This skill is necessary on account of the freedom of anyone to publish anything on the Internet.

The mini-project report will be word-processed, contain references to all three types of information storage (books, periodicals, and Internet), and consist of 4-6 pages of double-spaced typing.  Possible topics are listed below:  (for topics not listed, please consult with Dr. Collins).

Black Holes
Radio Astronomy
Star birth
Red shift
Big Bang and creation
Cataclysmic variable stars
Satellites for weather observation
Nuclear power
Global warming
Greenhouse gases
Wind Power
Renewable energy
Ice storm
El Nino, La Nina
Ozone depletion and CFC's
Earthquake hazards

Creative project - student may compose a song, poem, short story or painting/pastel depicting some aspect of one of these topics.  A creative project must cite references as a source of information.

Due date: Friday of Week 6 (Feb. 24, 2012).  Students may submit an optional draft of the mini-project by Tuesday, Week 5 (Feb. 14, 2012).  All references should be included in the mini-project; references should come from three types of sources: books, periodicals, and Internet; and Internet resources should be evaluated for reliability.  (Include reliability in the bibliographic listing).

Experimental mini project - 10%

Each student will conduct an experimental project over the span of about 4 weeks.  These projects will involve experiments or photography that are not a part of the regular class experiments.  They serve to give the students confidence in an open-ended project so they will be eager to pursue similar projects in later life.  We will begin work on the experimental mini-projects in Week 8 - just before Spring Break - so some students who travel will be able to take advantage of the travel.  A list of possible projects is shown below.  Please consult Dr. Collins for approval of any project not on the list.

  • Time lapse photography of moon rising or setting (requires own digital camera and tripod)
  • Time lapse photography of cumulus clouds (requires own digital camera and tripod)
  • Star and constellation photos (may use physics department's camera at evening sessions)
  • Star trails time exposures (film camera or digital camera)
  • Lunar telescope photos (may use physics department's camera during observation sessions)
  • Measure circumference of Earth - must be done in conjunction of travel during spring break
  • Construct a rain gauge, calibrate it, and measure rainfall for several weeks (funnel and test tube)
  • Measure temperature in attic for week (data logger)
  • Videograph falling slinky - show apparent levitation

  • Time lapse image of Sun's path throughout day (requires physics dept. camera and tripod) for two widely-separated days.
  • Sun tracking (month after experiment done in class)
  • Sighting (photographic) of setting Sun throughout the term
  • Appliance power consumption
  • Power consumption of RC appliances
  • Propagation of a weather system from satellite photos
  • Atmospheric circulation around storm systems - Satellite time lapse.  See Collins
  • Barometric pressure and temperature vs. altitude (requires car and Physics barometer)
  • Measure erosion of grave stones
  • Variable star studies (photograph and process).  Requires one Monday or Wednesday evening for extensive time.
  • Measure temperature in refrigerator for week (data logger)
  • Solar Energy Flux (data logger).  Compare March and April.
  • Calculate the tension forces on the cables for the Big Swing (requires digital photos and trigonometry)
  • Photograph a rainbow and measure the angle of the arc
  • Photograph a sun halo or lunar halo and measure the angle
  • Photograph moon throughout one night to detect parallax
  • Photograph moon about once a week to detect libration.  Requires digital photo alignments with astronomy software.  Better to photograph through telescope.
  • Photograph convection cells
  • Photograph elem. particle tracks in cloud chamber
  • Photograph laser light propogation
  • Videograph falling coffee filter (falling with friction)
Class time will be spent in Week 8 counseling on the projects - letting students know where to find resources, equipment, and to schedule conferences.  Some projects may be started earlier in the semester - especially astro-photo projects.

The experimental mini project will be completed in two parts: data (due Thursday, April 7), and final report (due Tuesday,  May 3.  No lab report due that week.)

The bulk of the research project grade will be assessed on the final paper.  However, a student will lose 10 % of the research project for missing data report, and 5 %  if the data report is late.  No intermediate reports will be read after one week beyond their due dates.  Exceptions will be made for extended illness or family emergencies.

The final report should consist of the following parts:

Creative Project Alternative:  As a slight alternative to an experimental project, a student may do a creative project - painting, poem, short story, dance, ... - that depicts an aspect of earth science, astronomy, or physics.  The creative project should accurately depict the physics and an application of physics in a creative way.  A creative project is more akin to a reading research project in which the student is expected to include a bibliography, and a written paper pertaining to the creative work, complete with references.

Observation/Photo sessions (5%)

Twice a week evening observation/astro photography sessions will be held from 7:30 - 9:30 on most Mondays and Wednesdays (weather permitting).  These sessions will give the students opportunities to become familiar with the sky and planisphere, make astronomical observations,  and a chance for office support when bad weather precludes observations.  Each student is expected to attend at least 2 observation/photo sessions.  These will also be sessions where students can perform variable star observations or astronomical photography for projects.  Students choosing those projects are encouraged to begin the projects in the beginning weeks of the course.  To accommodate schedule time for evening photo sessions, one daily clas are canceled (Thursday, May 10 class).  If a student's schedule prevents him/her from attending on a Monday, or Wednesday evening, occasional weekend sessions will be held.  When good weather breaks out on the weekend (Friday or Saturday night, an e-mail will be sent to the class and either a deep sky object will be photographed or variable star photographed.  Monday and Wednesday evening sessions will be held on a sign-up basis.  If a student is signed-up and doesn't show up, the student will be expected to attend 3 sessions (rather than 2) in order to make the 5% portion of the grade.  If a student informs professor before 4:30 (written note delivered to office: Spidel 205, or e-mail time-stamped before 4:30) on the day of the observation session or bad weather percludes observation, then no penalty will be applied.  If every enrolled student has  completed both observation sessions by April 4, a second daily class session will be canceled.

Attendance Policy

Regular attendance at class is required and expected.  3 absences are allowed for occasional illness, field trip committments, etc.  Absences will be recorded regardless of "excuse".  For every absence over the limit, a full percentage point will be subtracted from the grade up to a maximum of 10 points.  Special arrangements will be made to accommodate extended illness or family emergency.  If the student is late in arrival to class (after the roll is taken) the lateness will count as half an absence.  If the professor is late, then every student present before the professor's arrival will receive and "Early" which will cancel a lateness or half an absence.  Students arriving between the professor and the end of the roll call will be considered "on time".

If a student misses an exam due to sickness or family emergency, then with the presentation of adequate documentation, the student will allowed to make-up the missed exam for full credit.  If the missed test results from an alarm clock failure, oversleeping, attending a cousin’s wedding and a delayed flight, then the student will be allowed to make-up the missed exam for 50% maximum credit.  Attending a relative’s wedding, participating in athletic event, or other planned event should be pre-arranged with the instructor, especially if there is a chance of transportation delays.

Students are expected to arrive on time and stay in class until the class period ends.  If a student knows in advance that she/he will need to leave early, she/he should notify the instructor before the class period begins.  Students are expected to treat the instructor and fellow students with respect.  For example, students must not disrupt class by leaving and reentering during class, blatantly falling asleep in class, or by eating during class.

Special Needs  A student with a diagnosed learning handicap may request special arrangements such as additional time for exams, taping class sessions, taping exam answers, using classmates’ notes, etc. To request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Deborah Braden, Educational Access Coordinator at ext. 3791 or  Office location is lower level, Dodge House. Students are encouraged to develop ways of coping with special learning needs, but special requests for accommodations for special needs must be made at the beginning of the semester with the Educational Access Coordinator.  Do not make requests to the professor until the special needs have been documented.  A learning-handicapped student is still responsible for learning the material in the course.  The methods of testing and evaluation may be varied to accommodate the handicapped student.

Academic Honesty

Students are expected to turn-in their own work on all written assignments and reports.  Students are encouraged to work together on assignments, but the reports should be written in the students' own words.  Any verbatim copying, or nearly verbatim duplication between one students' report and another will result in zero credit for each student involved.  On the rare times that this has happened, the learning has been "short-circuited", the professor feels a waste to read two identical reports, and the students are guilty of fraud.  Any falsifying of data will result in a similar zero credit.  The recent news about scientists falsifying cloning studies is a deliberate fraud to the medical research community with very serious consequences.

The second offense of any academic cheating will result in failure or suspension from the course.

Donald F. Collins
January, 2012.  Spidel Office 205; Phone: 771-3702 (O), 298-4131 (H), (remove the "-nospam").