Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Physics in the 21st Century


This course provides an in-depth examination of frontiers of physics research, including fundamental physics, cosmology, and physics of the future. Questions such as: What is the universe made of? What is the nature of space, time, and matter? What can we learn about the history of the universe and what does it tell us about its future? A large part of 20th century was defined by revolutions in physics--everyday applications of electromagnetism, relativity, and quantum mechanics. What other revolutions can physics bring to human civilization in the 21st century? What is quantum computing? What can physics say about consciousness? What does it take to visit other parts of the solar system, or even other stars?

We will also learn to convey these complex topics in engaging and diverse terms to the general public through writing and reading assignments, oral presentations, and multimedia projects. No prior knowledge of physics is necessary; all voices are welcome to contribute to the discussion about these big ideas. By the end of the quarter you will be able to explain the major questions that drive physics research to your friends and peers. You will understand how scientists study the impossibly small and impossibly large and be able to convey this knowledge in clear and concise terms.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Chao-Lin Kuo

"How did the universe begin? My group seeks to answer this profound question by studying the most ancient light, the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation, emitted when the universe was in its infancy. The polarization in the CMB contains information on the birth of the universe (big bang/inflation), as well as its subsequent evolution. I am involved in both cosmological interpretation and instrumentation/technology development. Our group frequently adopts advanced experimental techniques, such as cryogenics, superconductivity, and micromachining, to maximize detector sensitivity to the faint CMB signal. My group’s ongoing projects are all CMB polarization experiments based at the South Pole."