ASTR/PHYS 4080 Spring 2018: Introduction to Cosmology


As an upper-level undergraduate introduction to cosmology, this course will discuss the standard big bang theory of the universe and introduce the current scenario for the origin and growth of large-scale structures. After taking the course, students are expected to have a basic knowledge of modern cosmology and be prepared for further study.

As stated in the textbook, the course is intended to be taken primarily by juniors and seniors in physics and astronomy. It requires the students to have a good background in physics, with a basic understanding of electrodynamics, statistical mechanics, classical dynamics, and quantum physics. For mathematics, a good background in integral and differential calculus is necessary. No prior knowledge of general relativity is assumed, and we will introduce the minimal amount of materials as needed.

The course explores the theory and observational evidence of modern cosmology. The course will talk about basic equations describing the universe, the expansion and age of the universe, dark matter and dark energy, the thermal history of the universe, the origin of the light elements, and the blackbody spectra of the cosmic microwave background. The course will also briefly cover topics about the origin of structures in the universe, including growth of density perturbations and cosmological inflation.

The following sections detail the structure, requirements, and expectations of the course. The instructor reserves the right to modify any of the policies currently described here, but will endeavor to hew closely to the syllabus as outlined on the first day of class, and any subsequent changes will be communicated clearly to the class.

Course Schedule

  1. [Jan09, Jan11] Introduction/Fundamental Observations (Ch. 1 & 2)
  2. [Jan16, Jan18] Newton Versus Einstein (Ch. 3)
  3. [Jan23, Jan25] Cosmic Dynamics (Ch. 4)
  4. [Jan30, Feb01] Model Universes (Ch. 5)
  5. [Feb06, Feb08] Slippage, Review, Midterm 1
  6. [Feb13, Feb15] Measuring Cosmological Parameters (Ch. 6)
  7. [Feb20, Feb22] Dark Matter (Ch. 7)
  8. [Feb27, Mar01] The Cosmic Microwave Background (Ch. 8)
  9. [Mar06, Mar08] Nucleosynthesis and the Early Universe (Ch. 9)
  10. [Mar13, Mar15] Slippage, Review, Midterm 2
  11. [Mar20, Mar22] Spring Break, no class
  12. [Mar27, Mar29] Inflation and the Very Early Universe (Ch. 10)
  13. [Apr03, Apr05] Structure Formation: Gravitational Instability (Ch. 11)
  14. [Apr10, Apr12] Structure Formation: Baryons and Photons (Ch. 12)
  15. [Apr17, Apr19] Student Presentations
  16. [Apr24] Review, Bonus Material
  17. [May02] Final Exam 1-3pm in CSC 12

Reading Assignments / Discussion

Chapters from the textbook should be read prior to the week the topic is discussed. For example, Chapter 3 should be read before Jan. 16th and Chapter 2 read before Jan. 11th. Part of the final grade will include in-class participation via answering questions and involvement in discussions. Therefore, regular class attendance is expected, but 100% attendance is not necessary to receive full participation credit.


Problem sets covering material from the textbook and in class will be due every Thursday at the start of class (no later than 2:05pm) except for midterm exam days. Each assignment will be posted online by 2:05pm the previous Thursday if not before. There will be 11 total homework assignments; only 10 will count toward the final grade (with the lowest score dropped). Solutions will be posted or passed out, along with graded homeworks, on the following Tuesday (on a best-effort basis). One late assignment will be accepted if submitted by the start of the following Tuesday class, before solution sets are provided.


All exams will be open book/open note and cover all material up to that point in the course, although Midterm 2 will emphasize new material covered after Midterm 1. Both midterms will take place in the regular classroom from 2-3:20pm. The Final Exam will be comprehensive. For dates, see the Course Schedule above.

Student Presentations

Each student will choose a topic on observational constraints on cosmology, read relevant research papers, and give a presentation. The presentation topic for each students will be decided around early March. Details to be announced. A list of possible topics will be posted online.


Grades are determined from homework, class participation, exams, and student presentations according to the following weights: - Homework: 40% - Participation: 5% - Midterm 1: 10% - Midterm 2: 10% - Presentation: 10% - Final Exam: 25%

Ultimately, grades may be assigned on a curve, but only in a favorable direction from a baseline distribution. You may calculate your final grade based on past and extrapolated grades to estimate your minimum actual final grade. The magnitude/formula of the curve is determined at the discretion of the instructor. The baseline grade distribution will assume: - A: 90-100% - B: 80-90% - C: 70-80% - D: 60-70% - E: <60%

Cheating (including copying homework from any sources) will not be tolerated, and zero credit will be given on the assignment or exam for all parties involved.

University Policies

Addressing Sexual and Other Misconduct

Title IX makes it clear that violence and harassment based on sex and gender (which Includes sexual orientation and gender identity/expression) is a civil rights offense subject to the same kinds of accountability and the same kinds of support applied to offenses against other protected categories such as race, national origin, color, religion, age, status as a person with a disability, veteran’s status, or genetic information. If you or someone you know has been harassed or assaulted, you are encouraged to report it to the Title IX Coordinator in the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, 135 Park Building, 801-581-8365, or the Office of the Dean of Students, 270 Union Building, 801-581-7066. For support and confidential consultation, contact the Center for Student Wellness, 426 SSB, 801-581-7776. To report to the police, contact the Department of Public Safety, 801-585-2677 (5-COPS).

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Statement

The University of Utah seeks to provide equal access to its programs, services, and activities for people with disabilities. If you will need accommodations in this class, reasonable prior notice needs to be given to the Center for Disability Services, 162 Olpin Union Building, (801) 581-5020. CDS will work with you and the instructor to make arrangements for accommodations. All written information in this course can be made available in an alternative format with prior notification to the Center for Disability Services.

Wellness Statement

Personal concerns such as stress, anxiety, relationship difficulties, depression, cross-cultural difficulties, etc., can interfere with a student's ability to succeed and thrive at the University of Utah. For helpful resources, contact the Center for Student Wellness at, 426 SSB, or 801-581-7776.

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