Just the facts, ma’am

Useful links

I know that there are lots of moving parts. Here’s a summary of where you’ll need to go throughout the semester. These links are also embedded in the day-to-day instructions and daily class posts.

Sites where you’ll need to log-in:

Sites where information and content is provided:

Some projects require topic reservations

These links are in the Class Reservations subfolder of the Projects folder in LON-CAPA, but are repeated here. They are all embedded MSU Google pages that you can edit.

  • You collectively sign up for Book reservations
Book 1 reservations Book 2 reservations
  • You collectively sign up for scientists if you do the FakeFacebook project
FakeFacebook scientist reservations
  • You collectively sign up for poster topics
Poster reservations


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 3, 2019 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, Katie Schram: 3208 BPS Building, Mondays and Fridays 4:10-6:00pm, or by arrangement
schramk4 AT


There are some initialization tasks which you can find in the PROJECTS tab and the LECTURES/READINGS/HOMEWORK tab. 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 are three guaranteed ways to make learning in QS&BB hard:
1) Read passively without writing anything down.
  • I can’t absorb physics without a pencil in my hand and neither can you. Take notes while you read. Copy some of what you read. Trust me. I’m a doctor.
  • You need to form the words and symbols by hand to get them into your brain.
2) Listen to videos or lectures without writing any notations.
  • Listening to a lecture is different because it can go fast. So try not to write everything down but write what confuses you or the page number to go back to. I guarantee that it’s impossible to take notes in this class on a computer.
    • 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.
2) Don’t come to see me when you’ve not understood something!
  • We can clear up anything that’s confusing you!
  • Anything.

QS&BB is Unusual, it’s split into two distinct pieces

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:
  • The first 5-6 weeks will be in a blended format, because that’s as far as I’ve written so far.
  • The rest of the semester will be in the time-honored, regular lecture format. You know. Like the 13th century.

The Blended Weeks of QS&BB until about mid-February

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. Many lessons are 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. It may not use the entire 10:20-11:40 time slot. The assignments for each day in the LECTURES/READINGS/HOMEWORK tab will tell you what to read before each class and I’ll assume that you’ve done so. The reading questions embedded in the lesson are due with the completed readings. Then when we meet, each class will have the same agenda:
  • A quiz on the readings (called “early quizzes in the points discussion below). It can be open-notebook. That notebook that you bought and are writing in.
  • Some questions discussed among all of us.
  • Demonstrations that I’ll try not to ruin.
  • An in-class, collaborative project you’ll do in groups if you’d like.

Lecture Weeks of QS&BB from mid-February through the end

Once we’ve used up the written content, we’ll switch into lecture mode. This will happen just about the time that we reach Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Content delivery will be live and my slides will be available immediately after class.


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.
beta testing a chapter
I have a publisher (Great River Learning) who creates on-line textbooks and they have persuaded me to test their product on one of my chapters (what I call Lessons). To access Lesson 5, you’ll go to [waiting for GRL link](some url) with a code that I’ll provide. It will look similar and you’ll work the reading questions there and GRL will absorb the results and I’ll get them to you. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee for your help and inconvenience. Then you’ll go back to my site for the rest of the lessons.
  1. There is also a free, on-line text that you can refer to: OpenStax AP Physics (pdf, html, ibook, kindle)

  2. I appreciate a non-mathematical text which you can rent, buy new or used on Amazon: Physics-Concepts-Connections, Hobson (not required). I’ll provide pdfs for some of the chapters.

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.
  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

  • CHIP. that’s my 68 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

Slides from any class will be posted in:

Course Projects

There are multiple projects that you can choose to do. There are web-based pages for each project already prepared and waiting for your content on the ISP220 LON-CAPA site. They are all documents that you’ll prepare, some just words and some involving figures. You can write in the site, or prepared in Microsoft Word off-line and paste in. It will preserve formatting. You’ll need to join LON-CAPA and I’ll provide instructions. It already knows that you’re registered in ISP220. Project descriptions can be found within the PROJECTS tab.

Homework With Pearson MasteringPhysics Site

The homework is all inside of Pearson’s MasteringPhysics which you purchase and MasteringAstronomy, which is free. * 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. * You’ll need to log in to MasteringAstronomy with a code that I’ll provide after classes begin. 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. Ignore that, click “continue.”) You’ll find that you need the CourseID, which is:
For MasteringAstronomy, the CourseID is:
added 3.12.19, Code that will get you MA for free: WSSPCT-BLIDA-INANE-TOGUE-RIGOT-UNRWA

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 I don’t want to either! 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 friend any of you after the semester.
  • One of the projects you might choose to do will be periodically announced in Facebook.

  • Katie 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. The two phases of the course lead to two different modes of point accumulation.

The Blended Phase, Foundation Phase: Before roughly February 15

Reading Questions.

I have embedded questions throughout the on-line text. They’re links that take you to separate page in LON-CAPA. You’ll add your credentials for the first question and then each successive question will remember you. These are called “Reading Questions” in the point table below and they are due with the reading due-date: the class day on which those subjects are discussed. Going along with reading questions are Reading Notes (below). You’ll see that there are lightly colored text areas. When you see that, you should be writing in your notebook. I’ll give you credit if you take a picture of one of your pages and email it to the class email address: Put “Reading Notes Lesson X” in the title, where X is the obvious.


Every two weeks there will be homework assigned from MasteringPhysics. This will happen three times during the Blended Phase and relatively light since you’re also answering questions in the text. These are called “Homework” in the point table.


There will be a reading quiz every class period during the Blended Phase. These are called “Early Quizzes” in the point total below. Remember, open notebook!

In-class projects.

You’ll work in groups on projects during every class period. These are called “In-class projects” in the point table.

The Relativity, Particles, and Cosmology Phase: After roughly February 15


Homework will now be every week and will come from both MasteringPhysics and MasteringAstronomy.


There will be random quizzes, content-specific and sneaky attendance quizzes. If attendance lags, these latter quizzes may become more frequent and miraculously be worth many points.


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.


There will be a final exam session and it consists of four parts.
  1. 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.

  2. The second part is to work out some reactions of particle collisions at the Large Hadron Collider and the Fermilab Tevatron You’ll know how to do this by that point.

  3. The second midterm will be due during finals week.

  4. 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…)


You determine your own grade by what you do. Mix quizzes, exams, and projects to accumulate a specific total number of points. I divide points in two categories:
  • Core. These are basically all points without any projects included. I created the grade cutoffs based on Core.

  • Extra. These are the projects that you can do.


p>Here are the details.

Core Base Points

Source max # pts per total possible
homework: during Part 1 3 30 90
homework: rest of semester 10 30 300
exams 2 60 120
reading questions: during Part 1 9 30 270
book review 1 20 20
Feynman Diagram Final 1 20 20
in-class projects: during Part 1 5 15 75
early quizzes: during Part 1 5 5 25
random quizzes 4 10 40
random attendance 2 5 10
Total 970

Extra Credit Points Available

Source max # pts per total possible
another book review 1 20 20
reading notes 5 10 50
Big Questions 2 10 20
fakefacebook bio 1 20 20
final day poster 1 20 20
Total extra 130


This is approximate:

Total Points Grade % of total core
850 4.0 about 90%
780 3.5 about 80%
700 3.0 about 70%
630 2.5 about 65%
540 2.0 about 55%!
480 1.5 about 50%!!
430 1.0 about 45%!!!

These are created in order to make it hard to badly in ISP220.

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.

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