In order to register for this course, in the Campus Location menu in the registrar pages, you should check the box marked “Rutgers Online Courses”

However, in the course schedule planner pages, you may need to select "New Brunswick". (Go figure!)


Physics 120 -  Philosophy

SocratesScience is not about what we know.  It is about extending what we know into the realm of the unexplored.  This can be exciting, certainly; to be able to sneak a peak at the universe at its strange, awesome, cosmic best.  But it is very different from your run-of-the-mill standard “textbook” idea of science.  Because of school’s burdensome reliance on assessment to judge reality, science has become, for the most part, a collection of dead facts and a boring compendium of theories. Under this guise, only a right answer or a wrong answer is possible, and your task becomes not discovery or exploration, but to ascertain what the correct response is to a meaningless question. This standard approach is death to the learning process, and is the predominant reason why our educational system is in such a sorry state, producing robots instead of nurturing a life of the mind.  A debilitating system of grading that pits student against student has obviously failed, reducing true reform to a laughable “renormalization” of SAT scores.  This reliance on grades that require more failure or mediocrity than success is a symptom of a system that is terrified of uncertainty, which is precisely what science is about and wrestles with on a daily basis.  We obviously need to do something different.

            As human beings, we crave authenticity.  We have seen the trappings of society, we act as if we have mastered technology, and yet we know that something is lacking.  We have succumbed to the lure of Ebay, Facebook and Amazon (at least, I know I have!), and yet we remain unsatisfied.  It’s time to peel away the layers of glitzy imagery and use our machines to penetrate to the ultimate purpose of their existence: to process large amounts of data with instructions that we provide, in order to test our ideas about how the Universe seems to behave.  In short, to do Science.

         And for the first time, it is possible for the interested student (and we are all students, especially those that have any claim to be considered “learned”) to have this experience on-line.  This is what I hope your experience with Physics 120 will be all about.



Why an On-line Course?


As a professor with over 30 years experience in the classroom, it is not at all obvious why the standard approach to education (however one wishes to define it) should be forsaken for a radical change to the so-called impersonal methodology of on-line instruction.  Admittedly, I was quite hesitant to commit to this form of presentation. 

But it becomes apparent, when considered in depth, that an on-line course has certain advantages that the classroom cannot provide, especially in courses with content such as envisaged here.  To my mind, there are three overwhelming advantages of the on-line approach.

First, there is power of the written word.  How many times have you been in a lecture or recitation, and missed a real “pearl” from the instructor.  The transitory nature of the lecture, which does have its undeniably human appeal, is also the source of many missed details that can spell the difference between understanding and incomprehension, especially in a courses with scientific and mathematical content.  On-line, you can ponder an esoteric idea over and over, exploring your own reaction to it over a considerable period of time, if you so desire.  On-line material has a permanence that the lecture hall lacks.

Secondly, it is the nature of scientific exploration that requires the use of computers in a fundamental way.  In the second part of the course, you will be exposed to science the way that scientists do it, using data just received from NASA satellites, analyzed with the same programs and software packages that professional scientists use.  So to travel from course material to scientific analysis is just a mouse-click away; a seamless integration of formal course material with data exploration using DS9 and FTOOLS.  Only with on-line material will this be as easy to explore; everything will be there in front of you.  Your computer will become your textbook, and your textbook will be your computer.  Indeed, the only way to provide a truly authentic scientific experience is for you to do the data analysis in front of your eyes; no canned, ideal data created artificially for “student” consumption. You will be seeing the real thing.

Thirdly, there is the "intimidation" factor.  Often, in a classroom, it is very difficult to summons the courage to raise your hand and speak out.  Thus, many good ideas from many good students are never even brought to light.  In the on-line environment, it is much easier to put your thoughts "on paper" and mull them over before posting.  So hopefully, we will get more cogent and informative feedback from you than we might have expected in a formal classroom.


The subject matter for this course will be divided into two components: the first is a general introduction to the physics and astronomy information you will need to understand basic phenomena that occur in the realm of x-ray astrophysics; the second is the presentation of authentic satellite data from various exciting types of x-ray sources, which you will analyze to better understand the working of the high-energy Universe in which we live. There are no prerequistes for this course, other than high-school mathematics (algebra and trigonometry), although pre-calc might be helpful. It is a 3-credit hour course, and appears as a "regular" course on your transcript, with a standard grade. Material and assignments will be given on a weekly basis, and you can work on the class at any time. You will have no conflicts with any courses on your schedule! If you have any questions, you can e-mail me at:

If you want to see a syllabus, you can find one here.


NOTE: In order to register for this course, in the Campus Location menu, you should check the box marked “Rutgers Online Courses”

However, in the course schedule planner pages, you may need to select "New Brunswick".