If you're interested in the current state of the art, read this article from the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (April 2013). It describes the hardware and software used by the Pan-STARRS team to detect asteroids automatically in data taken with their 1.8-meter telescope on Hawaii and its 1.4-gigapixel CCD camera.
I wrote up a short summary of the observational details for one of my classes -- you can find it at
You can also follow a nice summary of the latest results by following Don Alexander's thread on the Cosmoquest forum:
Oh, rats. I've been working on measurements of SN 2011fe for too long and I had "type Ia" on the brain. You're right, this is a type II. My bad.
It's still too far away to produce detectable gravitational waves or neutrinos, though.
First, this is a type Ia supernova, which produces fewer neutrinos and a much smaller gravitational wave signal than a core-collapse supernova.
Second, any supernova in a galaxy beyond the Local Group (the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, and some smaller companions) is too far to produce enough neutrinos or gravitational waves to be detected by our current instruments.
The "expensive AV stuff" is 2 projectors per room (we need to project onto opposite walls because students sitting at tables aren't all facing in the same direction), times 7 workshop rooms. 14 projectors cost a lot to maintain.
Yes, we've completely eliminated traditional labs from the introductory physics sequence.
There is a small amount of data on how students did on the FCI before and after the switch, but not enough to be significant. I don't think that the FCI is a very good way to measure the knowledge of a student in physics, by the way.
When I said "move away from the median student", I mean "teach at a level which is far from that appropriate for the median student." In a lecture, one can choose to go faster or deeper, knowing that one may leave most of the class behind; the lack of feedback makes it easy. In a workshop, because one is so close to the students, one sees the effect and it's hard to ignore it. The question of "should one teach to the level of the median student" is a big one, of course, and I can't address it here.
... and it's okay.
At RIT, we switched from the traditional lecture + lab approach to the "workshop" approach about six years ago. The students meet in a room with small tables and maximum class size of 42, three times a week for two hours each. The room has equipment at all the tables, so that students can quickly set up small experiments which may not take the entire 2-hour meeting.
I taught in the traditional manner for about seven years, and in this manner for an equal duration. Does the workshop have advantages? Sure: students are less likely to fall asleep because they are often working examples, and because they are in a small, well-lit room. I can walk around and talk to individual students for a minute or two at a time, so I can find those who are having problems and try to help them. It's easy to introduce a concept, give one simple example, then ask the students to do another example, within a span of 20 or 40 minutes. In some cases, this cycle of introduction - observation - action may help students to understand or remember the material.
But there are disadvantages, too: in a workshop, it's difficult to move away from the median student. I can't go too much faster or deeper, because it's clear that many students are not getting it; so some students are held back. I can't slow down for the slowest learners, either, because it becomes obvious that the majority of the class is bored. This approach is MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE than the traditional one, because we need to offer 10 or 15 sections of the class each quarter; that means a lot more faculty time. The rooms can't be used for any other classes, and the AV requirements are pretty steep -- we need to spend around $10K just on projectors each year. We need more equipment than we would have in traditional labs, and that stuff isn't cheap.
It's not clear that this approach causes students to learn any better; some are helped, some are hurt. It's difficult to compare student achievement in workshops vs. lectures, because at the same time that workshops were introduced, we changed the content of our classes as well.
My summary, after years of experience: not a silver bullet, a lot more fun to teach, more expensive overall.
I teach at a large university. My university is pushing for faculty to sign up for on-line courses. My guess is that they see two economic incentives: they can appeal to a larger customer base -- students who can't attend in person -- and they can cut costs by increasing the number of students enrolled relative to the number of professors.
What's in it for me? What do I gain by agreeing to teach on-line? I lose the give-and-take relationship with my students; how can I see if my explanation of a new concept is working if I can't see the expressions of the students as I try to explain it? I contribute to putting myself and my colleagues out of a job. I implicitly support the idea that the best way to teach is to give students videos to watch.
Actually, all of my course materials ARE on-line already. See http://spiff.rit.edu/classes. Anyone who wants to use these materials to teach himself -- go for it! So I'm not lazy, and I'm not trying to keep knowledge secret. I just think that teaching college students in person is better than doing so via web pages and videos.
Alas, we shouldn't expect any neutrinos to be detected from this event. I am an astronomer who studies supernovae, and the Type Ia events --- those due to a runaway thermonuclear reaction inside a white dwarf --- do _not_ produce the same sort of giant burst of neutrinos as core-collapse events.
In addition, this supernova is much, much farther away than SN 1987A. This event, in M101, is about 6400 kpc away, while SN 1987A was only about 50 kpc away. So, in very rough terms, the new SN is about 100 times farther away
Yes, yes, today's neutrino detectors are larger than the ones operating in 1987. However, I don't think they could make up this sort of difference. And remember, a Type Ia supernova doesn't produce as many neutrinos to start with.
But this should be a good object for people to see through telescopes or (possibly) binoculars!
We're in a job search right now for two tenure-track professors in a Physics Department. None of the five candidates interviewed so far has mentioned Wikipedia. I'm pretty sure that if one did, he wouldn't gain any credit by doing so.
Our department made recommendations for a tenure decision earlier this year. No mention of Wikipedia in the supporting materials for that candidate, nor have I ever seen such a mention. I am pretty sure that neither my colleagues nor the administrators involved in granting tenure would give any credit for editing Wikpedia.
The Voyagers were launched in 1977 (I remember the hoopla), so that makes their current age around 33 years. They are wonderful devices, but they can't warp time
I teach astronomy courses to university students. The best object by far to look at is the Moon, as others have said.
- it's big and bright, so you can't miss it
- students can compare the view through the telescope to the view with their naked eyes
- students can compare the view through the telescope to the view through binoculars
I've written a number of outdoor lab exercises for introductory astro students which would be perfectly appropriate for your students. You can read one on the Moon, in particular. Or you can look at the lists of exercises in this class or this other class for more ideas.
I'd recommend the "Limiting Magnitude" exercise as one which you can do when the Moon isn't up. It will help if you have several pairs of binoculars in addition to the telescope.
Here's the way things work right now in my field, astrophysics: a scientist has an idea. He writes a grant proposal to the NSF and receives money. He uses the money to (hire a grad student, travel to telescope, build an instrument, etc.). He writes a paper on the results. In order to have the paper published in one of the big journals -- which is necessary to gain credit for tenure, promotion, reputation among peers -- he PAYS THE JOURNAL ~$110 PER PAGE. The journal makes the information available only to subscribers, who pay around $50-$100 for individuals or $1500-$3000 for institutions.
If you don't publish in the big peer-reviewed journals, you don't get recognition.
So, suppose that the government changes things: now the journals must make government-funded research available to the public without charge. The journals will lose money from their subscriber base; after all, who would bother to pay for the articles when they are free? Where do the journals make up the money? My guess: they increase the page charges. Now it might cost $200 or $250 per page to publish an article in a journal. Whence comes that extra money? From the government grant.
Result: the scientific papers are now available freely to the public, but scientists must ask for more money from the NSF in order to pay the higher page charges.
Disclaimer: I teach physics at an American university.
When you switch from a big lecture class to small, "workshop" rooms which use computer-based sensors, you raise the cost of the class by factors of many.
- it now takes six professors to teach the class instead of one
- the computers and sensors are now used almost every day, instead of once a week or so, which means that if they break, they halt a class dead in the water. That means you need more spares, and you need to upgrade computers more frequently.
Smaller classes are good -- of course. I am much more effective in smaller classes than in a big lecture. But do students want to pay 4-7 times more for the privilege of having small classes?
I'm teaching a "workshop" class in which I can't depend on the computers at all. It doesn't bother me -- I have exercises which use metersticks and stopwatches. But it does cause problems for professors who have become used to using the nice computer-based sensors. Our department/university just can't afford to replace the computers right now.
I'm just trying to point out that changing the way some courses are taught may lead to increased costs. That's all.