Just the facts, ma’am Syllabus


Quarks, Spacetime, and the Big Bang (QS&BB) is an unusual course designed to be informative for students who have not taken a physics course as well as for those who have. The content is roughly divided into 4 distinct parts:

  1. Foundations. In order to appreciate the more esoteric material that QS&BB is really about, we need to all be at the same level about some basic physics concepts. Velocity, acceleration, force, momentum, energy, gravitation, electricity and magnetism, and waves are all “classical” physics concepts and a regular physics course would spend almost an entire year covering them in depth. We don’t need to do this and so this first section is brief and focused only on the parts that inform the latter content. There is algebra, but it’s really minimal.
  2. Relativity and Cosmology. Einstein’s two theories of relativity, Special Relativity and General Relativity (which came later and encompasses the Special Theory) are crucial to QS&BB. These are amazing topics and when done in their full-mathematical glory they’re suitable only for advanced physics undergraduate and graduate students. Our trip through Relativity will be mostly conceptual but still challenging. You’ll learn a lot about these earth-shattering theories.
  3. Quantum Mechanics. The other side of QS&BB is the science of the very tiniest bits of matter and energy. Quantum Mechanics is perplexing and we’ll go gently through the high-points, again, in a largely conceptual way. Nobody really understands quantum mechanics! But those of us who use it for a living…we’re really good quantum mechanics. Sounds scary, but it won’t be. Just amazing.
  4. Modern Cosmology. Mix Einstein’s General Theory together with some consequences of his theory that even he didn’t appreciate along with some remarkable discoveries and stir the whole thing in a broth of relativity & quantum mechanics and you’ve got our modern theory of how the universe began and what we believe were the conditions at The Beginning. This is where we end QS&BB: with the problems and research topics that occupy thousands of us in our scientific lives right now.

BTW: Are you an Honors Student registered in Section 2? Please read the note at the very bottom of this syllabus.

When & Where

Spacetime Coordinates


  • Space: 1415 Biological and Physical Sciences Building


  • Class time: 10:20-11:40 Tuesdays and Thursdays

  • Final exam time: …wait for it…07:30AM – 09:30AM, Thursday, May 5

Office Hours

Professor Brock: 3210 BPS Building, Tuesdays noon-1:45PM, or by arrangement

brock AT

Teaching Assistant, Daniel Coulter: 3208 BPS Building, Wednesdays 10-noon, or by arrangement

coulte35 AT

How You Gather Information and Become Smart

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, 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. (If you’ve got a Snapchat, Instagram, or Twitter surgical implant, then I guess I can’t do anything about that.) I’m a Jedi Master with my laser pointer and I’ll zap your computer if I see it. Not a pretty sight. 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 flip ISP220 into a hybrid version: content on the web and different activities in class.

2017: I’ve started the process of “flipping” QS&BB. When I’m done, all of the content will be available to students on-line and course time will be devoted to different activities. But I’m not done converting everything to video, so this is a transition semester and we’ll do things both ways:

  • The first 4-5 weeks will be in this flipped format (see below)
  • The rest of the semester will be in the time-honored, regular lecture format

The Flipped Weeks of QS&BB

Video Content Delivery.

I have completed video lectures for about the first 1/4 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 videos seriously. If you do, you’ll be ready for the more complicated topics. I guarantee it.

Most videos have “regular” powerpoint-like content and “tablet” real-time hand-written content merged together into a single, bite-sized streamed movie of about 15-30 minutes each.

  • The “Regular content.” Think of these clips as easy-to-watch, conversational and hopefully entertaining stories.
  • The “Tablet content.” These clips are actual hand-written segments recorded on a tablet. These require your concentration. I need you to literally copy what you watch. There’s huge cognitive benefit to this. Said another way: you cannot “read” physics. It has to be an active process.

When you 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 watching videos of me waving my arms, we’ll have a lighter in-class experience: we will only meet on Thursdays 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:

  • Questions/Housekeeping
  • Biography …I love scientific biography, and I’ll briefly talk to you about the lives of some of the Greats responsible for that week’s lessons. No charge. It’s free. You’re welcome.
  • Demonstrations …I’ll do some demonstrations that elucidate some of the concepts from the video lessons.
  • Hand-in work and/or quiz Sometimes I’ll ask you to turn in your notes from the tablet content in the videos that you should have watched before that class. Or, there will be a short, simple quiz either a “real,” or an “attendance” quiz. The “real” quiz just tells me that you watched the videos. Nothing serious. You know, motivational. The attendance quiz will be silly and just tag your presence.
  • Worksheets …I may have some useful worksheets for you to do in class which you can do in groups of 4 collaboratively. On those days when you arrive, I’ll have a way to randomly divide you into quartets. You can work in the lecture hall or the atrium. Just bring your finished work to the desk before 11:40.

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.

Next Year?

If this isn’t a complete disaster, then in 2018 the whole of ISP220 will be flipped.

How: Books

There are 3 books that I’ll dip into, one of which is available at the book stores and the others, you can find inexpensively on-line.

Required and at the bookstores:

  • Physics, Concepts and Connections, Hobson, 5th edition

Required, buy on-line…we’ll start using them in about 6 weeks:

  • The Theory of Almost Everything, Oerter. This is a book on particle physics for the non-specialist.

  • The Particle Garden, Kane. This is another take on particle physics.

Free to you as an electronic textbook (along with MasteringAstronomy):

  • The Cosmic Perspective, Bennet, Donahue, Schneider, and Voit. (Donahue and Voit are MSU faculty)

Maybe helpful…free textbooks from the OpenStax program. I won’t assign reading from these. But hey, they’re free thanks to Bill and Melinda Gates and friends.

  • College Physics, Dirks and Sharma.

  • Astronomy, Fraknoi,Morrison, and Wolff.

My in-progress Manuscript:

  • Quarks, Spacetime, and the Big Bang, Brock. Yes. I’m trying to write a book for this course. It has places for you to do some working-out of the story. You’ll see. I’ll give you links to the chapters that I’ve got ready. We’ll affectionately call this labor of love “QS&BB.” You’ll find the chapters at

Here are the chapters of my manuscript that I’ve uploaded to

Quarks, Spacetime, and the Big Bang, the unfinished manuscript

Chapter number Title File Name Description
Prefaceman_preface_2.pdfPreface to the book
2.Everyone Needs Toolsman_tools_2Mathematical Refresher, A Little Math
3.Motion, Getting Aroundman_motion_upGalileo and motion
4Momentum and Force, The Big Moman_newton_upMomentum, Newton’s Laws of Motion, and rotational motion
5.Collisions, Smashing Things Togetherman_collisions_upOne and two dimensional collisions
6.Energy, A Long Time Comingman_energy_upKinetic and Potential energy
7.Diagrammatica, Space, Spacetime, and Momentum Diagramsman_collisionsDiagrammatica_upRote description of every kind of collision
8.Cosmology, The Old Way, Round 1: Wrestling With the Universeman_Cosmology1_upCopernicus, Tycho, and Kepler
9.Newtonian Gravitation, The Lion Roarsman_Cosmology2_upGalileo and the Telescope, Newton’s Universal Gravitational Law
10.Charges and Magnets, Charge It!man_charges_upGilbert and Coulomb’s contributions
11.Faraday’s Lines of Force, Modern Physics Beginsman_faraday_upMichael Faraday’s work in electromagnetism
12.Special Relativity, 1905; space and time aren’t what they used to beman_relativity1_upThe principles of relativity
13.Light, doin’ the waveman_waves_upNewton’s ideas about light and Young’s ideas…and wave motion
15.Quantum Theory, now for something completely differentman_quantum1_upPlanck and Einstein and the quantum theory of radiation
16.Antimatter, Paul Dirac’s Second Big Scoreman_antimatter_upPaul Dirac and antimatter
16.Quantum Mechanics Grows Up, Paul Dirac’s First Big Scoreman_rqft_upPaul Dirac and relativistic quantum fields…beta version draft
16.Special Relativity, 1905, ConsequencesSpecial Relativity, Consequences; rough draftConsequences of mostly the second postulate…beta version draft

Cyberspace Coordinates

How: 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 66 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.

Lecture Slide Garage:

Video Garage

(you can collapse the table of contents with the little carrot in the upper right corner)

How: 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.

How: 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 2017 MasteringPhysics CourseID = BROCK79583.

How: 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.


ISP220 Totals

Sourcemax #pts pertotal possible
“Core” Topics
homework 15 30 450
exams 2 60 120
book review 1 20 20
Feynman Diagram Final 1 20 20
random quizzes 4 10 40
random attendance 6 5 30
notes 4 5 20
Total "Core"   700
Additional Topics
additional book 1 20 20
poster 1 15 15
fakefacebook bio 1 20 20
blog following 2 15 30
Total Additional  85


Grade Breakpoints

Total Points Grade % of total core
570 4.0 about 80%
530 3.5 about 75%
500 3.0 about 70%
450 2.5 about 60%
400 2.0 about 55%!
350 1.5 about 50%!!
300 1.0 about 40%!!!

For example, a 3.5 student might be someone who: got 75% on the homework, skipped one of the midterms (I can hear your father: “WHAT? You skipped a midterm?”) and got an 80% on the other one, got only 50% on the random quizzes, and 50% in the attendance, half of the notes, skipped the Big Questions Blog, half-heartedly read and reported on a book for 80%, and got 70% of the Feynman Diagram part of the final (“FD”). That’s not very good, as it only adds to 460 points, or barely a grade of 2.5.

But, that person decided to read a second book for 20, reported on a blog for 5, and did a biography for another 20. That’s an additional 45 points, for a total of 505, or a 3.0 grade.

Get it? Your mileage may vary.


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.