This semester (Fall 2017), the Honors Physics Section will explore what it would take to visit an extra-solar planet - a world beyond our own solar system, with its own independent sun. Students in Honors Physics will learn about the physics of space exploration and the mathematics of alien worlds. You will develop your own independent team project to send a probe to an alien world - those of the TRAPPIST-1 star system. I am very excited about our theme, and I look forward to working with all of you.

-- Stephen Sekula, Associate Professor of Physics

Fondren Science 127 or Fondren Science 60 - Tuesdays, 6:15PM - 7:30PM

Instructor Information

Prof. Steve Sekula
Christopher Milke

Open Office Hours

  • Fondren Science 39: Thursdays from 1:30-2:30pm and Fridays from 2:30-3:30pm.

General Information

The Honors Physics Section is intended to provide honors students with additional activities, information, and challenges to allow them to broaden and deepen their physics knowledge while concurrently taking the introductory physics course sequence. The framework of this syllabus is intended to allow honors students to go above and beyond the normal classroom environment without creating a huge additional burden on the students. Honors students should be looking to go a little further than non-honors students, and this syllabus reflects that.

Participants in the Honors Physics Section will engage in the following activities each semester:

  • They will use class time to engage in learning exercises that synthesize information from the 130X introductory physics courses, allowing them to find more breadth and depth in the subject of physics.
  • They will have access to expertise from outside the classroom environment, including faculty, staff, and students from SMU and other institutions, as well as individuals with a physics background working in private industry. The goal here is to enrich their learning environment by giving them direct access to experts at various levels of the field.
  • They will engage in a coherent, semester-long project. Preparing for, and delivering, this project will be the focus of various activities throughout the semester. Honors students will be expected to learn to present their work to an audience, including (but not limited to) their peers in the Honors Physics Section.
  • Students will pass or fail the section based on an assessment of their work and participation, to be determined by the instructor.
  • Students earn the HONORS designation on their transcript by passing this section, having a GPA of 3.0 or better and earning a grade of a B or higher in the course corresponding to this honors section.

Course Materials

Recommended Reading and Viewing

The resources below are picked for you to help inspire your thinking for this semester's project. Send a probe to any distant astronomical body is not easy, but can be very rewarding, since we never know what we might learn. These will help inspire you, but also temper your thinking.

  • NASA website on the TRAPPIST-1 system, with tons of information about what is known and unknown.
  • "Death Dive into Saturn": a PBS NOVA documentary on the last days of the Cassini Mission to Saturn, which ended on September 15, 2017 with a spectacular dive of the probe into Saturn's atmosphere. Learn more about the moons Titan and Enceladus and, of course, the mighty planet Saturn.
  • "Destination: Titan": Documentary on the "Cassini" Mission to Saturn and the parallel "Huygens" Mission to Titan, Saturn's mysterious moon.
  • "This weird moon of Saturn has some essential ingredients for life": Washington Post article on new chemical findings on Titan and why they are indicators of the possibility for life, as we know it, to form.
  • "Chasing Pluto": PBS NOVA Documentary on the "New Horizons" Mission to Pluto.
  • "Breakthrough Starshot: getting to Proxima Centauri b – Science Weekly podcast": Podcast from "The Guardian Science Weekly" on the "Breakthrough Starshot Prize" for sending a probe to Proxima Centauri B, the closest known exoplanet. This was inspiration for this semester's project.
  • "Voyager": NASA website on the Voyager 1 and 2 probes, the farthest communicating objects humankind has ever launched into space. Pay close attention to how fast they are moving, how long they have traveled, and how far they have gone in 40 years.
  • "Mars: Dead or Alive": a PBS NOVA documentary taking a very in-depth look at the Spirit mission, very soon after Spirit landed on Mars.
  • Exoplanets Orbiting TRAPPIST-1 and the Search for Life: a Guardian Science Weekly Podcast that explores the ideas at the core of hunting for life on remote alien worlds.
  • "Welcome to Mars": A PBS NOVA documentary about robotic missions, Spirit and Opportunity, to the fourth planet from the Sun.

Select a trailer to play: Trailer 1 Trailer 2