Dots and smears of orange and blue light against the blackness of space represents the farthest view of our universe.

COOL CLASSES: “Explaining the Universe: An Astrophysics Writing Seminar”

This first-year writing seminar explores the biggest questions in the Universe, along with other recent developments in astrophysics via a series of writing assignments.

Course Title: “Explaining the Universe: An Astrophysics Writing Seminar”

Taught By: Professor of Physics and Astronomy Karen Masters

Says Masters:

This class is part of the first-year writing seminar selection, just with an astronomical theme. Twelve first-year students were placed in the class based on their admissions essays and with the usual algorithm for placing students in the writing seminars. I hope that students get to practice their writing, both formal and informal, using topics in astronomy that they are interested in. I hope that they take away an enduring interest in astronomical topics, as well as an appreciation for the importance of good writing in science subject areas. We’re covering some of the biggest questions in the Universe. These are some of the questions I get asked over and over again by people I talk to like: “What is a black hole?” “How did the Universe begin?”, “Is there extraterrestrial life?”There’s also a bit of space for student interest topics later in the semester. 

It’s a class I have wanted to teach for a while at Haverford. When I was a graduate student, I was a teaching assistant in the “Writing in the Majors” class at Cornell University, and that experience has left me with an appreciation of the use of topics of interest to teach writing. I also just really like writing about astronomy. I find the paper writing part of scientific research one of the most rewarding parts—to the delight of many of my collaborators—and I enjoy writing for a popular audience. I’ve been part of writing two popular science books, and I hope to do more. So teaching this class is fun for me as I get to explore my own interests and scholarship around writing. Some of the things we are learning about I can see already helping me think about my own writing in a different way. 

This is the only writing class we have in the Physics and Astronomy Department, and one of a small number of STEM-related first-year writing seminars that have ever been offered at Haverford. So it’s unusual in several ways. It’s exciting to see how we have growing enrollments in STEM classes, across pretty much all of the STEM departments at Haverford, but it does make for challenges offering these smaller classes, and classes which don’t count directly towards our majors, but are part of a nice rounded education at a liberal arts college. Of course, astronomy was one of the original liberal arts.

Learn more about other seminars offered by the Writing Program

Cool Classes

A series highlighting interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford College experience.