|EPSS 264: Order of Magnitude Earth and Planetary Sciences ("OOMPS")|
UCLA SPRING Term, 2017.
NOTE: The feedback from previous participants in this class
may be found
NOTE: The feedback from previous participants in this class may be found here
Many people have had little practice in making rough estimates or order of magnitude assessments of physical problems, and even less practice at "talking through" a problem with others. The reasons for this are no doubt many and varied, but a key problem is the tendency for rote memorization to take precedence over understanding, presumably because it seems "easier" in a narrow-minded way. All TAs and lecturers know about this problem with undergraduates but, amazingly, the same thing extends all the way to graduate level classes and, perhaps, beyond. The problem with this is that it leaves you with a diminished capacity for understanding new things, or any things that have not already been presented in a pre-packaged, class format. I don't like that.
The objectives in teaching OOMPS are
The principal targets are pre-qualifying exam EPSS graduate students. No great mathematical sophistication is needed for this class: we are interested mostly in reasoning, not mathematical devices. Not coincidentally, the things we will do in OOMPS may be of value in your qualifying exam, where basic understanding, simple calculations and broad knowledge are the main things tested. It's also fine for post-exam students to take this class.
The format of the class will probably change as we go along, depending on your needs and interests. Here are my current ideas:
What We Will Do
In the first (and largest) part, we will discuss basic problems from an OOM perspective. We will focus on problems appropriate to EPSS, but not exclusively. The aim here is less the particular brand of science than the style of thinking about science. The purpose is to inculcate physically-based reasoning and also to promote effective on-your-feet communication.
In this way, I hope to encourage your critical listening skills, as well as provoke your judgement about the speaker's style and content.
In the third part, we will address scientific speaking and writing directly.
What You Should Do Now
OOM thinking won't work without a platform of basic numbers that you should carry in your head. Over the xmas vacation, you should have made sure that your brain carries the fundamental physical constants. I use MKS units (kg m s) for everything.
Primary = TBD
Backup = TBD