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Freshman Seminars

FS 2. Freshman Seminar: The Origins of Ideas. 6 units (2-0-4); second term. Why do we have 60 minutes in an hour? Why do we use a fork or chopsticks when we eat? Why do we have music? Why do we have sports? The goal of the class is to learn how to enjoy ignorance, be curious and try and discover the origin and the evolutionary processes that led to the ideas and artifacts that are a part of our life. The class is collaborative and interactive: You will teach as much as you will learn - you will learn as much as you will teach. Most importantly, you will realize the fun in discovery and the joy of human interaction. Freshmen only; limited enrollment. Not offered 2017–18.

FS/Ay 3. Freshman Seminar: Automating Discovering the Universe. 6 units (2-0-4); second term. Powerful new instruments enable astronomers to collect huge volumes of data on billions of objects. As a result, astronomy is changing dramatically: by the end of this decade, most astronomers will probably be analysing data collected in large surveys, and only a few will still be visiting observatories to collect their own data. The tool chest of future astronomers will involve facility with “big data”, developing clever queries, algorithms (some based on machine learning) and statistics, and combining multiple databases. This course will introduce students to some of these tools. After “recovering” known objects, students will be unleashed to make their own astronomical discoveries in new data sets. Limited enrollment. Not offered 2017–18.

FS/Ph 4. Freshman Seminar: Astrophysics and Cosmology with Open Data. 6 units (3-0-3); first term. Astrophysics and cosmology are in the midst of a golden age of science-rich observations from incredibly powerful telescopes of various kinds. The data from these instruments are often freely available on the web. Anyone can do things like study x-rays from pulsars in our galaxy or gamma rays from distant galaxies using data from Swift and Fermi; discover planets eclipsing nearby stars using data from Kepler; measure the expansion of the universe using supernovae data; study the cosmic microwave background with data from Planck; find gravitational waves from binary black hole mergers using data from LIGO; and study the clustering of galaxies using Hubble data. We will explore some of these data sets and the science than can be extracted from them. A primary goal of this class is to develop skills in scientific computing and visualization - bring your laptop! Not offered 2017–18. 

FS/Ph 9. Freshman Seminar: The Science of Music. 6 units (2-0-4); first term. This course will focus on the physics of sound, how musical instruments make it, and how we hear it, including readings, discussions, demonstrations, and student observations using sound analysis software. In parallel we will consider what differentiates music from other sounds, and its role psychically and culturally. Students will do a final project of their choice and design, with possibilities including a book review, analysis of recordings of actual musical instruments, or instrument construction and analysis. Freshmen only; limited enrollment. Instructor: Politzer.

FS/Ph 11 abc. Freshman Seminar: Research Tutorial. 6 units (2-0-4); second, third terms of freshman year and first term of sophomore year. A small number of students will be offered the opportunity to enroll in this tutorial, the purpose of which is to demonstrate how research ideas arise, and are evaluated and tested, and how those ideas that survive are developed, This is accomplished by doing individual, original projects. There will be weekly group meetings and individual tutorial meetings with the instructor. Support for summer research at Caltech between freshman and sophomore years will be automatic for those students making satisfactory progress. Graded pass/fail. Freshmen only; limited enrollment. Instructor: Phillips.

FS/Ma 12. Freshman Seminar: The Mathematics of Enzyme Kinetics. 6 units (2-0-4); third term. Prerequisites: Ma 1a, b. Enzymes are at the heart of biochemistry. We will begin with a down to earth discussion of how, as catalysts, they are used to convert substrate to product. Then we will model their activity by using explicit equations. Under ideal conditions, their dynamics are described by a system of first order differential equations. The difficulty will be seen to stem from them being non-linear. However, under a steady state hypothesis, they reduce to a simpler equation, whose solution can describe the late time behavior. The students will apply it to some specially chosen, real examples. Not offered 2017–18.

FS/Bi 13. Freshman Seminar: In Search of Memory. 6 units (2-0-4); first term. An exploration of brain function based on weekly readings in an autobiographical account by a Nobel Prize-winning neurobiologist. No lectures. Each week there will be reading from chapters of the book plus relevant research papers, discussing trail-blazing neuroscience experiments. Instructor: Pine.

FS/Ph 15. Freshman Seminar: Dance of the Photons. 6 units (2-0-4); second term. An exploration of experimental Quantum Mechanics from the beginnings to the future, based on weekly readings and class discussion from the book “Dance of the Photons” by Anton Zeilinger, plus other supplementary sources. No lectures. Interferometers, entanglement, teleportation, quantum computation, and other mysteries will be explored. Not offered 2017–18.

FS/Ge 16. Freshman Seminar: Earthquakes. 6 units (2-0-4); first term. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions constitute some of the world’s major natural hazards. What is the science behind prediction and/or rapid response to these events? We will review the current understanding of the science, the efforts that have been made in earthquake and volcano forecasting, and real-time response to these events. We will learn about advances in earthquake preparation in Southern California, and volcanic eruption forecasting and hazard mitigation elsewhere. There is a required field trip to visit faults and volcanoes somewhere in southern California. Freshmen only; limited enrollment. Instructor: Stock. 

FS 17. Freshman Seminar: The Business Side of Sports. 6 units (2-0-4); second term. Ken Lewis’s Moneyball (2003) attributes the remarkable success of the low-budget Oakland A’s in competing against teams with much larger payrolls to their ability to exploit market failure. The purpose of this course is to evaluate the central claims of the Moneyball thesis. Students will read Moneyball, many of the classic essays published by Bill James in the Baseball Abstract, and some of the classic works in decision theory. The course will necessarily focus on the way baseball executives evaluate both highly quantitative and highly subjective information. Freshmen only; limited enrollment. Not offered 2017–18.