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College Preparation Program: IN FOCUS Seminar

Modern Cosmology: The Story of the Universe

The story of astronomy is the story of science itself! Scientific methods developed in parallel with discoveries in the heavens from the enlightenment era to modern day. In this dynamic course, learn how the laws of the heavens and the laws of the Earth were unified, changing the course of human history.

Discoveries of modern astrophysics draw from several diverse fields including physics, chemistry and geology. See the world through different eyes and learn about the mysteries revealed by X-rays, radio waves and other “invisible” wavelengths. Explore the lives and deaths of stars as we uncover the most astounding fact about the universe. Take a tour of the dark side as we explore dark matter, dark energy, and black holes. Travel virtually back in time 99.997% of the way to the Big Bang itself to see a baby picture of the universe. From its origin to its ultimate destiny, we will explore the scientific story of our universe - what we know and how we know it.

In-class demonstrations will be used to elucidate concepts. Guided excursions will include expert-led trips to the Northwestern Dearborn Observatory and the Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.

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  • Dates: June 19 - 30, 2017
  • Instructor: Professor Andrew J. Rivers, PhD, Distinguished Senior Lecturer, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
  • Enrollment Capacity: 24


Lectures, group discussions and interactive exercises will be combined to develop a deeper understanding of the universe and how we know what we know about it. Students are expected to come prepared to each class by completing the readings and by participating in on-line discussion boards.


  • Develop understanding of scientific theories about the universe and their foundations built on observation, predictions and testing.
  • Analyze levels of certainty in the fundamental theories (Big Bang theory, etc.) compared to alternative ideas.
  • Develop familiarity with observational and experimental methods of astrophysics and how the science is connected to other fields.
  • Apply fundamental concepts in astronomy to current research results.


This seminar is appropriate for high school students who have passion for science, whether or not they plan to pursue undergraduate majors in scientific disciplines. No special expertise is required, but some background in algebra is helpful.

A Typical Classroom Session

The seminar will be a mixture of half days and full days. On the full days, there will be field trips or other seminar activities that will require attendance beyond the typical classroom schedule.

9:30–10:15 a.m.:

Lecture with interactive demonstrations

10:15–11:00 a.m.:

Interactive guided exploration with software and web applications

11:00–11:15 a.m.:



Small group discussion on a scientific debate (e.g. the nature of dark matter)

Noon–12:15 p.m.:

Class-wide conversation based on small group discussions.

12:15–12:45 p.m.:

Introduction of next day’s topic

Field trips and afternoon activities

Resources and Materials

Scientific concepts will be supported by on-line readings and interactives, organized via Northwestern’s Canvas Learning Management System. Discussion boards on Canvas will set the stage for in-class conversations.