1. The scale of things: The search for the operating system of the universe. Atomic and subatomic structure.
  2. Particle Physics: Subatomic particles as probes of the structure of matter. Physicist Periodic Table. Mass, spin, and force charges. Quarks and leptons. Bosons (force messengers) and fermions (matter). Electromagnetic, weak nuclear, strong nuclear, and gravitational forces. Antiparticles. Colour confinement. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and the Higgs boson.
  3. Newton's laws: Newton's laws of motion. Newton's theory of universal gravitation and its explanation of Kepler's laws of planetary motion. How astronomers detect extrasolar planets by watching recoiling wobbling stars. Flaws in Newton's theory. Einstein's Special Relativity. The speed of light as a limiting speed for massive objects.
  4. Einstein's refinements: Time dilation. The Twin Paradox. Maxwell's unification of Electricity with Magnetism. The electromagnetic spectrum: radio waves, microwaves, infrared light, visible light, ultraviolet light, X-rays and gamma rays. Redshift/blueshift of photons (particles of light). The Equivalence Principle: gravity versus acceleration. GPS.
  5. Black Holes: Einstein's General Relativity. Spacetime as geometry. Escape speed from gravitating objects. Anatomy of a black hole: event horizons and singularities. How astrophysical black holes form when big stars run out of gas. How astronomers see black holes with telescopes by looking at radiation from orbiting material. Gravitational radiation and LIGO.
  6. Quantum Physics 1: Seeing colours of light. Blackbody Radiation and the Ultraviolet Catastrophe. Photons as quantized (indivisible) lumps of energy. Photoelectric Effect and Einstein's Nobel-winning explanation for it. Why you should not fear cellphone radiation. Particle-like nature of quanta.
  7. Quantum Physics 2: Wavelike nature of quanta. Interference and Young's two-slit experiment. Diffraction and the Davisson-Germer experiment. Atomic and molecular spectra. De Broglie's bold formula for the wavelength of a quantum. Quantization of energy. Wavefunctions and probability. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
  8. Cosmology 1: Olbers' Paradox. Hubble's Law and causality. Energy budget of universe and how it is measured. Dark matter and dark energy. Experiments: cosmic microwave background radiation, Type Ia supernovae. Theories about the origin of our universe.
  9. Cosmology 2: Spontaneous symmetry breaking. ElectroWeak unification and the Higgs mechanism. A brief history of cosmological time: Planck scale, inflation, baryogenesis, electroweak symmetry breaking, colour confinement, big bang nucleosynthesis, matter domination, photon transparency, star formation.
  10. Theory of Everything 1: Quantum uncertainty and virtual particles. How the strengths of forces change with experiment energy. Why Einstein's gravity theory breaks down at high energies. Unification and quantum gravity.
  11. Theory of Everything 2. A brief introduction to the idea of strings as fundamental LEGO bricks of the universe. Modern superstring theory, duality, and extra dimensions of space.
  12. [Symposium of Oral Final Project Presentations by students on a variety of topics.]


Here are my full contact details plus some helpful tips. Brief version:-

Our First Year Foundations course has a maximum enrolment of 30, making it an unusually conducive environment for learning through discussion. In class, we do active learning, and each individual student is a valued and important participant. As the semester progresses, you will find yourself actively learning a lot from other students, as well as from the professor. Therefore, to help ensure the best educational experience for everyone, please aim to regularly attend and actively participate in class each week. Please be courteous and contact me to let me know in advance if you can't make it to class on time, or at all.


Assessment for this FYF course is carefully designed to foster gradual development of a range of skills, and the workload is spread out over time to help minimize suffering. All graded written work is to be submitted through Quercus in electronic format, either by filling in a text box (for work worth under 5%) or by uploading a .pdf, .rtf, .txt, .docx, ,xlsx, .pptx file (for work worth 5% and over). The primary things I focus on when grading are (a) physics accuracy and (b) how well you explain things. Components of assessment will be weighted as follows:-

10% Weekly Notes Summaries + Questions
Class always goes better if students do assigned reading before class. To encourage preparation, you can earn 1% per week (Weeks 2-11) by submitting a brief text summary of what you learned from reading the online lecture notes, along with 1-3 specific questions you would like answered in class, by 7pm the previous day (Tuesday). This will enable me to do a better job of teaching class each Wednesday. Any reasonable attempt will earn the 1%.
10% Basic Participation
These FYF courses are intended to foster interaction in the classroom. Please plan to attend class and participate at a basic level, in small-group and all-class discussions. Doing this will earn you another 1% per week during Weeks 2-11.
I work to be as non-judgey as possible in encouraging and assessing participation, both in class and in office hours.
10% Advanced Participation
You can earn up to 10% more over the semester for participation by actively engaging in class at a higher level, or by actively asking physics questions in office hours. I assign this part of the grade at the end of the semester, once I have a full sense of how fruitful your contributions have been. Showing off is not the goal here; fostering the learning of yourself and your fellow students is.
30% Essays
There will be three essays, each worth a total of 10%. For each essay, 1/4 of the marks will be awarded for turning in a draft outline one week before the due date, and the remaining 3/4 of the marks will be awarded for turning in the final version of the essay by the due date. The point of making you submit a draft outline for each essay is to help you combat procrastination and to give you useful feedback that will help you improve the final product. The three essays will be due by Oct.09, Oct.23, and Nov.27.
Here is my essay grading rubric. Note that spelling or grammar will not generally be corrected, because this is a Physics course, not an English course.
40% Final Project
The goal of this project is to research a modern physics topic not explicitly covered in lectures, and to produce a scientific Poster and a short Oral Presentation for the benefit of the whole class. I hope that students will either pick a modern physics topic to demystify (e.g. something in the news recently that you want to understand more deeply) or pick a common misconception involving modern physics and debunk it (e.g. why cellphones can't cause brain cancer). This will be group work, in small groups of 3 (+/- 1, if necessary).
2% of the total of 40% will be for deciding on your topic and outlining your plan by Sep.25. 20% will be for submitting full drafts of the Poster (10%) and Oral Presentation script (10%) by Nov.13. 10% will be for the final Poster and 8% for the Oral Presentation held on Dec.04.
When giving your Oral Presentation, I do not expect you to memorize anything. If everyone uses written notes, it helps make the playing field as level as possible for students with a wide range of spoken English abilities.
There will be no Final Exam. Woohoo!

I strongly recommend bookmarking this handy Calendar of Important Dates -- it is more detailed than the Calendar view on Quercus.

Accessibility Services, Deadlines and Extensions

Students with diverse learning styles and needs are welcome in this course. In particular, if you have a disability/health consideration that may require accommodations, please feel free to approach me as well as Accessibility Services. I am disabled myself, and very motivated to be decent to students managing physical and/or mental health disabilities.

Here are my accessibility accommodations, deadline and extension policies in detail. This is the brief version:-

Equity, diversity, and excellence

At the University of Toronto, we strive to be an equitable and inclusive community, rich with diversity, protecting the human rights of all persons, and based upon understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of every person. We seek to ensure to the greatest extent possible that all students enjoy the opportunity to participate as they see fit in the full range of activities that the University offers, and to achieve their full potential as members of the University community.

Our support for equity is grounded in an institution-wide commitment to achieving a working, teaching, and learning environment that is free of discrimination and harassment as defined in the Ontario Human Rights Code. In striving to become an equitable community, we will also work to eliminate, reduce or mitigate the adverse effects of any barriers to full participation in University life that we find, including physical, environmental, attitudinal, communication or technological.

Our teaching, scholarship and other activities take place in the context of a highly diverse society. Reflecting this diversity in our own community is uniquely valuable to the University as it contributes to the diversification of ideas and perspectives and thereby enriches our scholarship, teaching and other activities. We will proactively seek to increase diversity among our community members, and it is our aim to have a student body and teaching and administrative staffs that mirror the diversity of the pool of potential qualified applicants for those positions.

We believe that excellence flourishes in an environment that embraces the broadest range of people, that helps them to achieve their full potential, that facilitates the free expression of their diverse perspectives through respectful discourse, and in which high standards are maintained for students and staff alike. An equitable and inclusive learning environment creates the conditions for our student body to maximize their creativity and their contributions, thereby supporting excellence in all dimensions of the institution.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is fundamental to learning and scholarship at the University of Toronto. Participating honestly, respectfully, responsibly, and fairly in this academic community ensures that the U of T degree that you earn will be valued as a true indication of your individual academic achievement, and will continue to receive the respect and recognition it deserves.

Familiarize yourself with the University of Toronto's Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters. It is the rule book for academic behaviour at the U of T, and you are expected to know the rules. Potential offences include, but are not limited to:

In papers and assignments:

On tests and exams:


To remind you of these expectations, and help you avoid accidental offences, I will ask you to include a signed Academic Integrity Checklist with every assignment. If you do not include the statement, your work will not be graded.

The University of Toronto treats cases of academic misconduct very seriously. All suspected cases of academic dishonesty will be investigated following the procedures outlined in the Code. The consequences for academic misconduct can be severe, including a failure in the course and a notation on your transcript. If you have any questions about what is or is not permitted in this course, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you have questions about appropriate research and citation methods, seek out additional information from me, or from other available campus resources like the U of T Writing Website. If you are experiencing personal challenges that are having an impact on your academic work, please speak to me and/or seek the advice of your college Registrar.


Whenever you use sources for your academic work, you must be careful to properly cite them. Acknowledging the scholarly contributions of others is one of the key principles of universities. Please read the excellent UofT How Not to Plagiarize resource to learn how to do academic citation properly.

UofT provides the tool for reviewing textual similarity and detection of possible plagiarism. If you elect to use this option, you allow your essays to be included as source documents in the Turnitin reference database. The terms that apply to the University's use of the Turnitin service are described on the web site. If you do not wish to submit your work to Turnitin, you will need to provide alternative documentation to prove that your written work is your own. I require that you turn in copies of two drafts of your final essay in earlier stages of development, as well as the final product. Let me know in advance of the first pertinent due date whether you wish to exercise this second option.