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 target ASTR 3740 Relativity & Cosmology Spring 2021: Syllabus


This is an upper division course intended to introduce science students to special and general relativity, to black holes, and to cosmology. This course is an elective for the APS major and APS minor.

We will spend 4½ weeks on Special Relativity, 6 weeks on General Relativity and Black Holes, and 5 weeks on Cosmology. For more details, see the Timetable.

The course will combine visualization, physical understanding, and mathematics. I will assume that you are comfortable with matrices (necessary for understanding Lorentz transformations) and with calculus (necessary for understanding metrics). The mathematics will not be fearsome (we will not be doing tensors or anything like that), but I will assume that you are the kind of person for whom mathematics helps rather than hinders understanding. If you do not fall into this category, you should consider taking one of the lower division courses ASTR 2030 Black Holes or ASTR 2010 Modern Cosmology, both of which are being taught this semester, Spring 2021.

COVID-19 considerations

You have already signed on to take this class either in person or remotely. In accordance with CU instructions, all classes will be remote until Fri Feb 12. In-person classes are scheduled to resume Mon Feb 15. If you have chosen the in-person option and wish to change, please let me know so that we can open your slot to someone else.

In class, please wear a mask, and respect social distancing. You are encouraged to use the wipes provided to keep your space in class clean.

Classes will run synchronously on Zoom. The Zoom ID can be found on canvas. If you join on Zoom, please keep your video unmuted (bandwith willing), so as to maintain maximum participation with the class. Every student, in person or remote, is welcome to interrupt to ask questions or offer comments at any time. Hopefully one of you will be able to monitor the chat box and hand-raised icon in Zoom, and interrupt the class if appropriate.

Classes will be recorded automatically in Zoom. It sometimes takes a while to process and edit the recording, but my intention is to have the recording posted to canvas on the same day as the lecture. The canvas recordings are behind the CU firewall, accessible only to people in the class. By participating in the class, either in person or remotely, you agree to have your participation (image and audio) recorded.

CU rules prohibit you from recording the class separately.

Problem sets

There will be several (seven are planned) problem sets, which will be handed out in class, and which will also be downloadable from Problems. You are welcome, indeed encouraged, to collaborate with each other on problem sets, but what you submit for grade must be your own work. You should upload your answers to canvas.

There will be a tendency for problem sets to be more mathematical than exams or group projects.

Only the best 6 of 7 problem sets will count for grade.

In class group Projects

There will be three in-class group Projects, as scheduled on the Timetable. The projects are intended to engender thought and discussion, and to exercise your powers of logic. They are not designed to be chug-and-plug exercises.

Projects will be done in Breakout Rooms within Zoom. Each project will take place during a full class period. For the project, you will assemble into groups of 3 or 4. You should immediately assign one of your group to be the “Scribe”. The group should discuss and solve the project together.

It is the Scribe's responsibility to write up the results obtained by the group, and to upload them to canvas at the end of class. I will accept only one submission from each group. The write-up must include the name of the Scribe, and the names of all the other members of the group.

Only the best 2 of 3 projects will count to your project grade. This is so that you can be unavailable for any one project without penalty. There are no project make-ups, since the whole idea of projects is to work in teams.


There will be two midterms and one final, as scheduled on the Timetable. All exams will be take-home and timed. You will do the exam over a consecutive period of your choice during a several-day window. You have two hours for each of the midterms, and four hours for the final. You will download the exam from canvas (canvas will record the time), and subsequently upload your completed exam to canvas (canvas will again record the time).

The exams will cover material discussed in class, and will consist largely of short answer or short essay questions. The two midterms will cover material covered in the previous 4½ and 6 weeks respectively. The final will cover all material covered cumulatively during the semester, with an emphasis on the final 5 weeks.

There will be summary sessions prior to each exam.


Grading will be weighted as follows:


We will be using iClickers. If you choose not to use an iClicker, then it will not affect your grade, but if you choose to use an iClicker, I will use the best 3/4 of your iClicker scores to replace the worst 1/8 of your score: (a) worst two Problem Sets, or (b) Projects, or (c) worst Midterm, or (d) half the Final.

To have your iClicker scores counted, you must Set up a free iClicker Reef Student Account. Use iClicker Reef to record your iClicker responses remotely from your cellphone or laptop. iClicker Reef will request your institution, which is University of Colorado Boulder, and the course name, which is Relativity and Cosmology. The instructor name is Andrew Hamilton. To use an iClicker remote in class (when in-person classes resume), you should Add an iClicker Remote ID to a Reef Student Account.

Clicker questions will generally be of two kinds:

You win clicker points as follows:

It is strictly forbidden to operate someone else's clicker for them. If you are discovered doing this, then both you and the person whose clicker you operated will receive an F. If you see a classmate operating two or more clickers, please bring it immediately to my attention.

Students with Disabilities

The law requires us to make reasonable accommodations to students with learning or physical disabilities. If you need such accommodations, then you should tell me about them in a timely manner. Your first step is to contact Disability Services, who will assess your needs and let me know what accommodations I should provide.

If you have a temporary medical condition or injury, see Temporary Medical Conditions, and discuss your needs with me.


Please consider the CU required syllabus statements as part of this syllabus.

Common Courtesy

I expect you:

You may expect me:


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Updated 2021 Jan 13