The Big Questions


Are you searching for an elective course that will be informative, challenging, exciting, and just plain fascinating? Look no further.  The Big Questions course is offered in the fall term. Astronomy 2B03 is open for credit to  any undergraduate at Level II or higher, regardless of program or home Faculty.

The course is also cross-listed as Origins 2B03, and acts as the entry-level course to the Origins Specialization undergraduate program.

What is this course all about?

All of us spend our time focussed on the detailed work within our own programs: learning the tools, techniques, and specialized knowledge within our chosen fields. Why don't we ever go back to those big, sweeping questions that occur to everybody as children: Where did everything come from? What is life and how did it begin? What is in the whole universe? Did it have a beginning, and will it have an end? Is there life elsewhere?

At last, here is a course which is deliberately intended to tackle such questions head-on, with material drawn from deeply fascinating frontier issues in modern science. We present the topics in a concept-oriented, non-mathematical style. As well as a regular slate of specially designed lectures, we will also make extensive use of small tutorial periods to give everyone plenty of time for discussion, reflection, and group projects.


   * The nature of space and time

    * The history of our universe: in the beginning

    * The lives of stars: life histories, black holes, planetary systems

    * The formation of the elements

    * Life in the Universe

    * Will the universe end? a glimpse of the far future

For more information:  see the Course Outline or contact Dr. Parker at 


The outline sounds interesting, but will this be heavy math and physics stuff that only experts could understand anyway?

No. The material is drawn from astronomy, physics, and biology, but it is deliberately intended to appeal to students from any faculty or program on campus! We will concentrate on the ideas and the overall "story line" of the material, not the math. All you need to bring is (a) your basic interest and curiosity, (b) a willingness to hear something new and different every week, and (c) at least a year's experience on campus.

What will the style of the course be like? Conventional lectures-plus-term-tests?

The course will build from a base of lectures, but lots of discussion and self-directed learning takes place. Everyone will be assigned to a small (two dozen people) discussion group meeting once per week, where you can explore the material further, trade ideas, and generate inquiry projects of your own choosing. Every group will develop its own agenda, and does not have to go in the same direction as any other group or "finish" at the same place. Much of the course mark will be based on your independent project and on your participation.


"I was amazed by what I was learning and consistently thought about it afterward. Very well organized, nice to hear from array of profs on a variety of topics."

"This is an AWESOME course. I love the fact that it's packed full of interesting lectures and inquiry style assignments. It's by far my favourite course at Mac so far."

"The course was well thought out -- the class discussions were very exciting and required people to think for themselves. This course was so fun it almost seems wrong to call it school work!"

"I found this course to be very exciting because I learned answers to questions that I have been wondering, and even with some questions, where I got no answers I gained a greater understanding of the question. A great course, that I recommend to everybody I know. "

"Tutorial discussions provoked wonderful dialogue of ideas between students in an accepting environment.”