FYS: Space, Time and the Cosmos

This is a page for a First Year Seminar which I taught for the first time in fall 2016. I am maintaining these pages as a useful collection of resources for interested students and members of the public, and adding material from time to time. I will next teach the seminar again in fall 2018 (three sections). The general format (and the book) will remain the same for 2018, but I have not yet scrutinized these pages to update any details.

For information on the UC Davis first year seminar program (including registration for my 2018 class) please look here: http://fys.ucdavis.edu/

REQUIRED TEXTBOOK: The required textbook for the course is The Fabric of the Cosmos. Here is a list of additional recommended (optional) books.


  1. I want to create an environment where students feel free to really open up and pursue their curiosity. I want them not to worry about grades or about who knows more or less than them.
  2. There are people from all walks of life who enjoy talking at length about deep questions about the cosmos. I want this seminar fundamentally to be a place where students can experience that joy, with the benefit of learning from an expert what science currently has to say about such questions.
  3. I want the seminar to be enjoyable for students who are non-science majors as well as science majors. I'll foster an environment where students of different backgrounds will enjoy collaborating together, even if they do not start out with good feelings about group work.
  4. Student responsibilities:
    1. Reading: I will select a suitable a popular level book, and assign one chapter of reading per week. As the course progresses I may (at the student's request) make alternative assignments to individuals or groups who wish to follow up on specific topics.
    2. Reflection/Participation: Students will have several options to document their reflections on the subject and to participate in class discussions. These will include journaling, participation in discussions online and in class. These will emphasize the student's personal explorations and discovery on the topics of the course, and are not expected to be technical in nature. No prior knowledge of the subject is expected. I will make a point of creating a welcoming environment where participation is fun for everyone, regardless of background.
  5. The course has an active web component where various discussions can continue online, including those stimulated by alternate readings. The Canvas system offers some interesting possibilities.
  6. Details about assignments, grading, etc are provided specifically to enrolled students through the Canvas pages.