Just the facts, ma’am


Me: I’ve been a particle physicist for 40 years doing experiments at laboratories in the US and Europe.

You: I hope you’re interested in learning how “the universe” works and some of the people who’ve made amazing discoveries.


Quarks, Spacetime, and the Big Bang (QS&BB) is an unusual course designed for students who have not taken physics as well as those who have. The content is divided into 3 parts:

  1. Foundations: Enough mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and waves in order to appreciate the modern physics of the 20th and 21st centuries.
  2. Relativity and Cosmology: Einstein’s two theories of relativity, Special Relativity and General Relativity are covered in detail.
  3. Particle Physics and the Early Universe: Quantum mechanics mixed with Special Relativity encircle modern particle physics as probed in modern particle accelerators and which populated the early universe. This forms the capstone topic of QS&BB

BTW: If you’re an honors student enrolled in Section 2 of ISP220, see the note at the bottom of this page.

When and Where

Spacetime Coordinates


1415 Biological and Physical Sciences Building


10:20-11:40 Tuesdays and Thursdays

Final Exam Time:

…wait for it…Friday, May 4 2018 7:45am – 9:45am in 1415 Biomedical & Physical Sciences

Office Hours

Professor Brock: 3210 BPS Building, Tuesdays noon-1:00PM, or by arrangement

brock AT

Teaching Assistant, Daniel Coulter: 3243 BPS Building, TBD by doodle, or by arrangement

coulte35 AT


There are many ways to learn things in ISP220. All of them involve you maintaining a notebook for in-class notes and on-line content notes.

  • Buy a notebook, use it when you read, and bring it to class.

Here’s how to not be smart in physics:

  • listen passively (videos or lectures) without writing anything down. I can’t do it and absorb physics and neither can you. Trust me. I’m a doctor.
  • take notes on your computer. You need to form the words and symbols_ by hand_ to get them into your brain. To enforce that really important point, you may not have a computer open during class…and of course, you may not have your phone out. Your attention and your notebook are your input devices in this class.

Times they are a-changing:

ISP220 has traditionally been a lecture course, which is okay for some but I’ve learned over the years that you’d do better if you could “run me” at your own speed, “repeat me,” or make me go faster. So I’ve been working to blend ISP220 into a hybrid version: content on the web, supported by video review, and participate different activities in class.

  • The first 5-6 weeks will be in a blended format
  • The rest of the semester will be in the time-honored, regular lecture format

The Flipped Weeks of QS&BB

I have written a text (see below) for about the first 1/3 of the class. This covers the Foundations material, Part 1 from above. If you’ve had physics before you can go quickly. If you’ve not had physics before then I urge you to take the text and accompanying videos seriously. If you do, you’ll be ready for the more complicated topics. I guarantee it. Each lesson is backed up by videos that summarize and supplement the written material. If you learn by reading, then the text will be good. If you learn by watching and listening, then the videos will help.

In the video supplements you’ll sometimes see me head into “tablet mode,” I expect you to have your pencil out and to write along with me_ in that notebook_ that you keep for this purpose.

In Class Activities.

Since outside of class you’re busy reading and watching me waving my arms on video, we’ll have a lighter in-class experience: we will only meet on Tuesdays during this period.

The assignments for each day in the LECTURES/READINGS/HOMEWORK tab will tell you what videos to watch before each class and I’ll assume that you’ve done so. Then when we meet, each class will have the same agenda:

  • A quiz on the readings.
  • Some questions discussed among all of us.
  • Demonstrations that I’ll try not to break.
  • An in-class, collaborative project you’ll do in groups.

Lecture Weeks of QS&BB

Once we’ve used up the video content, we’ll switch into lecture mode. Content delivery will be live and my slides will be available immediately after class. Quizzes will continue in the same either/or format described above. Still making videos, so at this “writing,” I don’t quite know when that will be! Stay tuned and watch the calendar.


Part 1: Foundations Texts

The primary text for Part 1 is my on-line text. You can find the individual lessons here:

  1. QS&BB Text along with the coordinated Videos.

  2. There is also a free, on-line text that you can refer to: OpenStax AP Physics (pdf, html, ibook, kindle)

  3. I appreciate a non-mathematical text which you can rent, buy new or used on Amazon: Physics-Concepts-Connections, Hobson (not required).

Part 2: Relativity and Early Cosmology

  1. We’ll use Pearson’s MasteringAstronomy for free access to The Cosmic Perspective, Bennet, Donahue, Schneider, and Voit. (Donahue and Voit are MSU faculty)
  2. You’ll find OpenStax AP Physics useful.
  3. Also Physics-Concepts-Connections, Hobson might help.

Part 3: Particle Physics and the Early Universe

  1. A nice book that I’ll need you to get on Amazon: The Theory of Almost Everything, Oerter.
    1. We’ll use Pearson’s MasteringAstronomy for free access to The Cosmic Perspective, Bennet, Donahue, Schneider, and Voit. (Donahue and Voit are MSU faculty)
  2. You’ll find OpenStax AP Physics useful.
  3. Also Physics-Concepts-Connections, Hobson might help.

    Course Site:

Here you’ll find a blog, where I’ll post little essays occasionally and then links:

  • HOME. which is…well, home for ISP220.

  • SYLLABUS. this page.

  • INTRODUCTION. a graphical, more descriptive, warm and fuzzy introduction to ISP220.

  • CALENDAR. the official calendar of ISP220: due dates and items of interest

  • LECTURES/READING/HOMEWORK. readings for each lecture, the slides from every class, and the homework for each week will be all posted or linked from here.

  • PROJECTS. each projects is introduced and linked to any off-site instructions.

  • FACTS. a growing collection of facts that you’ll use.

  • GLOSSARY. there are lots of specialized words in this business. the important ones are here.

  • BANNERS. you’ll see in lecture that I’ll highlight jargon, particle names, laboratories, detectors, particle beams, and fundamental physical constants. they’re all collected here in the “banner” format that you’ll see in the slides

  • WIKI. see below.

  • CHIP. that’s my 67 year-long nick-name. this is my personal website.

  • Finally, the blog part. Here you’ll post in response to a project that I’ll describe below.

Video Garage:

Video Supplements

Lecture Slide Garage

Lecture Slides

Course Wiki

There are multiple projects that you can choose to do and many of them are worked out in the ISP220 wiki. If you’ve not used a wiki before, think of it as an on-line notebook where you can write, post figures, and make outlines exactly like in a word processor, only instantly on-line. It’s at

You’ll need to join this and I’ll provide instructions.

Homework With Pearson MasteringPhysics Site

The homework is all inside of Pearson’s MasteringPhysics which you purchase (and later in the semester, MasteringAstronomy, no charge). You’ll need to log into MasteringPhysics and pay the fee (see below for what you receive in exchange). This is not available at the bookstores…only on-line.

Go to

and you’ll be presented with a landing page with a Register Now and below that, Student. Click into the system. (On macs it may complain about your Safari version. It complains for me and I have Safari 10.02 which is the most recent. So ignore it.) You’ll find that you need the CourseID, which is:

  • ISP220 Spring 2018 MasteringPhysics CourseID = MPBROCK06798

Facebook Group

I maintain a private Facebook Group for ISP220. I know that students don’t want to friend faculty (!) and I’m sure that I’ll just be up all night fretting about you if we were to friend…so this group is by invitation only and we’ll maintain a businesslike distance. Go to

and request to join the group. I’ll approve you. I’m happy to actually friend any of you after the semester.

  • One of the projects you might choose to do will be periodically announced in Facebook.

  • Daniel and I can be asked questions about anything in Facebook and we’ll respond.

  • You can help each other with homework. I encourage you to do this.

  • I’ll sometimes post things that might be of interest to you about our subject matter because there are lots of scientist Facebook users, actual individuals and worldwide laboratories, who regularly provide interesting content. I’ll filter out the cat videos and sometimes point you to something one of my colleagues or someone else posted.

  • I’ll also use Facebook to warn you of things that I’ve uploaded and/or things that are due.

How I Gather Information and Reward You

There are many ways for you to acquire points toward your final grade: homework, midterms, a final, and many projects you can choose from. Everything is optional! You construct your own ISP220 grade.


There will be homework every week on-line at MasteringPhysics and MasteringAstronomy (and some that will be separately on-line from me). You’ll be alerted on the LECTURES/READINGS/HOMEWORK tab. Every student in the Mastering series gets unique questions.


There will be two midterms, one in the …middle of the term… and the other the week before finals week. Both are on-line, but with reduced retries compared to the homework.

Final Exam

There will be a final exam session and it consists of three parts.

  • We’ll have a poster session. For those of you who choose to do so, you can create a poster just like from a real scientific conference. They will be spread around the room and the atrium and you man your station and answer questions. You make a poster and defend it, you’ll get points. If you ask good questions of a poster-author, you’ll get points.

  • The second part is to work out some reactions of particle collisions at the Large Hadron Collider and the Fermilab Tevatron. You’ll draw the Feynman Diagrams and given the accelerator characteristics and the probability of your reaction, you can calculate how many events of the type you’re given that we would see in our experiments going on now or our experiments from the past. You’ll know how to do this by that point.

  • Bagels are involved.


Each project is described for you in the PROJECTS tab of this site. As you’ll see in the next section, you can dial up your own grade by doing the work you choose to do. Do none of them, do them all, or pick and choose among projects, homework, and exams. It’s up to you. Everything is available now so plan your semester early! (And then pace yourself…)

How: Grading

You determine your own grade by what you do. Mix quizzes, exams, and projects to accumulate a specific total number of points. Here are the details.

Core Base Points

Source max # pts per total possible
homework 13 30 390
exams 2 60 120
book review 1 20 20
Feynman Diagram Final 1 20 20
in-class projects 5 15 75
regular quizzes [1] 5 5 25
random quizzes 4 10 40
random attendance 2 5 10
Total 700

[1] during the blended, Part 1 Tuesday portion

Extra Credit Points Available

Source max # pts per total possible
another book review 1 20 20
fakefacebook bio 1 20 20
final day poster 1 20 20
total extra 3 60 60


This is approximate:

Total Points Grade % of total core
640 4.0 about 90%
575 3.5 about 80%
495 3.0 about 70%
430 2.5 about 60%
360 2.0 about 50%!
325 1.5 about 45%!!
280 1.0 about 40%!!!


Well, three reasons.

  • First, I’ve found that most people find particle physics and cosmology to be interesting subjects. They’re current. They go to the most basic questions that humans have asked about their (our!) world.

  • Second, as you’ll read in the Introductory chapter in QS&BB, you’re taking part in a uniquely American version of higher education. The mantra is more than a century old and comes from the President of Harvard College. To paraphrase, a well-educated college student should learn one thing in great depth and many things broadly. Even if you’re not a science major – and most of you aren’t – you’ll be faced with issues that are scientific in their nature. You’ll get satisfaction from learning about future discoveries, but also hopefully you’ll be a well-informed citizen who appreciates how this enterprise works. It’s hard to find any public challenge that doesn’t have some scientific angle to it. Certainly the raging controversy about what is or what isn’t science should be easier to navigate for US college students who’ve taken science courses from practicing scientists.

  • You and your parents support academic and laboratory basic science and we are grateful for it through your federal taxes as we’re all funded by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, or NASA. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at the huge effort that goes into basic (and applied) scientific research and we’ll visit many labs in the course of the semester. But also when you attend a “Research 1” university like Michigan State, you can take courses from scientists who are actively engaged in research themselves. I work in a group of 30 people who do particle physics experiments in Switzerland, Illinois, Mexico, Japan, and Antartica, but our department is involved in much more than particle physics. We and all of the scientists at MSU compete for Federal funding (no university funds its scientific research programs). The people in my group receive their salaries from 6 different grants, all from the National Science Foundation.

    • Your taxes make that possible. So, ISP220 is my way of saying “thanks” for the support for my research at MSU for nearly 35 years.

Honors Students

Section 2 students: your Honors Credit will come from doing an analysis of real LHC data in which you’ll search for the Higgs Boson in real LHC data and write a project report. Instructions will be available in February on how to build the tool on your computer that allows you to do this.

This is real: If you’re in Section 2, you must do the project to get the grade you deserve in ISP220. If you choose not to do the Honors Project, your grade will be on full point lower than your point total in the “regular” course inputs. This is at the request of the Dean of the Honors College and I agree.