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Student and tutor module reviews

The relativistic Universe

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  • Points: 30
  • Code: S383
  • Level: 3

Student reviews

I completed S382 the year previously, and decided to give S383 a go, the two courses being somewhat companion pieces to each other. As others have said, the course is based around 3 books which form the basis for study. Book one (Relativity, Gravitation and Cosmology) gets a bit tricky towards the end with tensor notation and calculations, but with some extra reading around the subject (there's a few books you can buy to further aid understanding) it can all become clearer. Book 2 (Observational Cosmology) is a fair bit harder, but fortunately this book is not examined, rather it's assessed in a long TMA which makes up a 1/3 of the marks for the course. I found this part of the course the most interesting, and the more cutting edge subjects this part of the course covered were really fascinating, plus the authors enthusiasm really shone through. The final book (Extreme Environment Astrophysics) was a fair bit easier going, and was a bit more like the S382 books which was nice after Observational Cosmology! Without wanting to repeat other reviewers, the tutorials were very good, as were the ICMAs and TMAs which really helped consolidate learning, and the tutors were great. I actually found this course a fair bit harder than S382, but possibly even more rewarding as it pushes the boundaries a bit further. Bar the tensors, the mathematical content wasn't too stretching, but it's worth brushing up your calculus for the more tricky bits, or using the maths screencasts which were actually really handy. Finally, the exam was quite tough, so the best advice in my opinion is to purchase as many past papers as you can and work through them all vs the clock. Anyway, if you are up for a challenge this course is highly recommended!

Leon John Somerset Macey

Course starting: October 2014

Review posted: June 2016

I registered for S383 after completing the related module S382 the previous year and I found it provided a fascinating account of relativistic astrophysics and modern cosmology.

Book 1 discusses both special and general relativity in mathematical form and tensors in particular are the main focus of this book. This was the most difficult part of the course and some of the chapters were particularly heavy going. There are countless derivations and formulas to follow, but overall it was an interesting read.

Book 2 provides a comprehensive overview of modern cosmology and is well illustrated. In my opinion it was the most interesting part of the course, but the book should be treated as a reader for reference rather than a standard OU step by step learning text. The author's Elluminate tutorial was beneficial in consolidating the key points due to its content and presentation. The associated EC1 assignment contributes 33% to the final module result and upon initial inspection appears to be quite brief. However, it does require a considerable amount of time and effort to complete.

Book 3 focuses on the extreme astrophysical conditions leading to the formation of accretion discs and their emissions. It is relatively straightforward in comparison to the other two books and the illustrations it contains are especially well thought out. The book follows on nicely from Stellar Evolution and Nucleosynthesis of S382 and its text discussing degenerate stellar cores is of relevance here.

To assist with the learning process there were numerous Elluminate tutorials which were very informative and the tutors were knowledgeable. There are a total of 12 TMAs and iCMAs available and you are required to complete at least 9 of them to successfully meet the criteria for completing the course. They don't contribute to the end of module result however.

There is a three hour exam for books 1 and 3 where good time management is necessary to ensure the required number of questions are completed. It contributes 67% towards the end of module result and thorough revision of all the chapters is needed to secure a positive outcome.

To conclude, I have nothing to criticise about S383 it was excellent and I have a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that I have completed it. If you are searching for one of the most interesting and challenging undergraduate physical science modules then look no further.

Ian Jebb

Course starting: February 2013

Review posted: December 2013

This is a superb course that provides an accessible introduction to general relativity and cosmology, along with a study of accreting systems. It presents a diverse range of interesting topics and I found it to be constantly engaging.

The textbooks are typical OU - not assuming too much of the reader, and explaining things in a reasonably non-technical way. In the first, Bob Lambourne, as ever, demonstrates his talent for rendering complicated subjects with clarity and insight. The cosmology book was particularly engrossing and perhaps my favorite, touching on many facets of the latest discoveries. The self-contained third part of the course was a coherent account of some of the physics of accreting systems and jets.

The module team support was especially noteworthy. The hands-on input from the module director was a striking contrast to other courses I took. I was impressed by Dr Norton's frequent presence on the forums, fielding even elementary questions, as well as his recording of 6 hours of video solutions to the TMAs, specifically for our presentation.

The amount of maths required - especially for the purposes of assessment - is fairly minimal. The recommended prerequisites would be more than adequate prep. The emphasis on the qualitative ('explain', 'describe') over the quantitative ('calculate') was greater than I expected or liked, but the formative TMAs provided plenty of essay question practice. The TMAs were straightforward applications of book knowledge for the most part, although enough thought provoking questions were included to make them interesting. The workload (8-10 hours a week) was par for a 30-credit module.

A third of the mark is made up of what is essentially an extended TMA covering the 2nd book, and the rest is based on the final exam covering the 1st and 3rd books. It has to be said that of all the exams I took, this course exam had the lowest rate of A grades (5%) and highest E- rates. This probably accounts for some of the survey results. So, if you're looking for an easy option to inflate your academic record, this may not be the right course for you.

On the other hand, if you think education is less about obsessing over marks and more about taking the most exciting course offered in the curriculum, then challenge yourself, and learn one of the cornerstones of 20th century physics, as well as highlights of 21st century cosmology and astrophysics. This fun and fascinating course is recommended for you.

Nina Morishige

Course starting: February 2012

Review posted: December 2012

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Tutor reviews

Note that since the survey was completed on which the satisfaction statistics are based, we have changed the module structure. Now, the book which is perceived as 'more challenging' (Observational Cosmology) is assessed only in the mid-course EC1 (for 1/3 of the marks), whilst the other two books (Relativity, Gravitation and Cosmology & Extreme Environment Astrophysics) are assessed in the end-of-course exam (for 2/3 of the marks). We have also added Additional Exercises on each book (for extra practice) and a series of Maths toolkit Screencasts to provide further help.

Andrew Norton,
S383 Module Chair

Andrew Norton

Review posted: July 2012

Please note

Each of the views expressed above is an individual's very particular response, largely unedited, and should be viewed with that in mind. Since modules are subject to regular updating, some of the issues identified may have already been addressed. In some instances the faculty may have provided a response to a comment. If you have a query about a particular module, please contact your Regional Centre.

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