Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Required Textbooks

Amazon logo Weinberg, Steven. The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe. 2nd updated ed. New York: Basic Books, 1993. ISBN: 9780465024377. (Paperback)

Amazon logo Ryden, Barbara. Introduction to Cosmology. New York: Addison-Wesley, 2002. ISBN: 9780805389128.

Recommended Books

Amazon logo Carrigan, R. A., Jr., and W. P. Trower, eds. Particle Physics in the Cosmos: A collection of readings from Scientific American magazine. New York: W. H. Freeman, 1989. ISBN: 9780716719199.

Amazon logo Guth, Alan H. The Inflationary Universe. New York: Perseus Books, 1997. ISBN: 9780201149425. (I know him, I think)

Amazon logo Rowan-Robinson, Michael. Cosmology. 3rd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. ISBN: 9780198518846. (Paperback)

Amazon logo Silk, Joseph. The Big Bang. New York: W. H. Freeman & Co., 2000. ISBN: 9780716738787.

Lecture Notes and Other Reading (Prof. Guth's lecture notes are not currently available to OCW users. Please see extensive review notes in the exams and study materials sections.)

There is no textbook that I know of that is really appropriate for the intended content of this course, although Barbara Ryden's new book, Introduction to Cosmology, comes much closer than any book I have seen previously. Steven Weinberg's The First Three Minutes is a superbly written book which gives an excellent description of the synthesis of the light chemical elements, but it does not describe the mathematical details. It has a mathematical appendix, but the description there is very sketchy. Weinberg's book has been required reading for this course since the first time it was taught, in 1986. Before 2000 I used Joseph Silk's The Big Bang as a second required book in this course, and in 2000 and 2002 we used Rowan-Robinson's Cosmology instead.

In previous years the textbooks by Silk or Rowan-Robinson provided a more observationally oriented perspective on cosmology than my own lecture notes. Ryden's book will serve this purpose to some extent, but the emphasis of this book is much closer to that of my lecture notes. The book will therefore be more useful in helping to clarify and reinforce the topics covered in the lecture notes, but a little less useful in opening windows on topics that are not covered.

For the first part of the course (classical cosmology), the lectures will describe the subject at a level of detail that is much more mathematical than Weinberg's book, and a little beyond the level of Ryden's book. For the second part of the course (modern particle physics and its recent impact on cosmology), we will rely mostly on the lecture notes, although Ryden does have a good chapter on inflation. You will also be asked to read several articles from Scientific American. Most of these articles will be contained in the reprint volume listed above. I recommend that you buy this book, because it contains a number of interesting articles, but I will try to make available copies of the assigned articles for those of you who choose not to buy the book. (Incidentally, you might wonder why I am recommending a book of Scientific American reprints that is roughly 15 years old. The reason is that the volume contains a number of excellent articles that are still relevant, still accurate, and have not been surpassed. For example, there are articles by Howard Georgi on grand unified theories, by Gerard 't Hooft on the structure of gauge theories, by Steve Weinberg on grand unified theories and proton decay, and by Frank Wilczek on the cosmic asymmetry between matter and antimatter.)


75% of the course grade will be based on quizzes, which will be given in class during the normal lecture period. There will be three of these quizzes, and there will be no final exam. The remaining 25% of the grade will be based on problem sets. Problem sets will be assigned about once every two weeks, depending on the length of the problem sets and on the pacing of the material being covered.

Three Quizzes 75%
Problem Sets 25%

Special Relativity

In the old days I began this course with a unit on special relativity, which consisted of two sets of lecture notes and about four lectures. However, with the advent of Relativity (8.033) this seemed a bit redundant, so in 1996 I dropped relativity from the syllabus. Nonetheless, since the notes are written and the subject has some relevance to cosmology, I will still post the lecture notes on the MIT server. You will be required to read only the part about the Doppler shift. Except for these sections, there will be no homework and no quiz problems related to special relativity. There are just a few notions from special relativity that are really necessary for the rest of the course (such as E = mc2), and I will make sure to point them out and summarize them carefully as we go along.

Course Outline

  • Doppler Effect (and a little Special Relativity)
  • Kinematics of Newtonian Cosmology
  • Dynamics of Newtonian Cosmology
  • Introduction to Non-Euclidean Spaces
  • Black-Body Radiation and the Early History of the Universe
  • The Accelerating Universe and the Cosmological Constant
  • Big-Bang Nucleosynthesis
  • Problems of the Standard Cosmological Model
  • The Standard Model of Particle Physics
  • Grand Unified Theories and the Magnetic Monopole Problem
  • The Inflationary Universe Model

Homework Policy

In this course I regard the problem sets primarily as an educational experience, rather than a mechanism of evaluation. I have allocated 25% of the grade to problem sets in order to encourage you to do them, and to make it easier for students who find it difficult to do well on tests. You should feel free to work on these problems in groups, and I would encourage you to do so. However, it is important pedagogically that each student write up the solution independently. The simple copying of a friend's paper is not the kind of diligence that the grading is intended to encourage, and if discovered it will result in reduced credit for that assignment, possibly down to no credit at all. Solutions to many of the problems have been handed out in previous years, but I urge you for pedagogical reasons not to use these solutions - it is far better for you to figure out the answers, either on your own or with a group of friends. A homework paper which appears to be copied from a solution handed out in a previous term will also be given a reduced grade, possibly a zero.