Discovering Black Holes

Discovering Black Holes / 2003
Astrophysics tutorials and scientific calculators

Black holes have long fascinated science fiction enthusiasts and astronomers alike, and are a specialty of astronomy professor Charles Bailyn. Drawing upon his expertise, Professor Bailyn partnered with the CMI2 to develop an online course that would appeal to a general audience interested in learning more about current research in astrophysics. The course was offered through AllLearn, the online distance education initiative, and materials developed for the course have also enriched the learning of on-campus students at Yale.

Each week of "Discovering Black Holes" began with a short video introduction by Professor Bailyn, covering the topics that were explored through readings, problem sets, and group discussion. Because the field of astrophysics is currently changing, printed text books have limited value, so a set of six updatable web-based tutorials was created with custom animations and diagrams. The tutorials provided students with the background necessary to understand the nature and formation of black holes, telescopes and other instruments used to detect astral phenomena, the type of data scientists collect to "see" these invisible giants, and future directions in black holes research.

The tutorials also included exercises, several of which used online scientific calculators developed especially for the class. The calculators helped students determine whether or not an object fits the definition of a black hole, while eliminating the need to calculate complex math solutions.

Although the tutorials were initially created for "Discovering Black Holes," Professor Bailyn designed them for parallel use in his Yale College teaching. This developmental approach is strongly encouraged by the CMI, which aspires to create versatile educational materials that have the potential to be used by a variety of learning audiences. The Yale College edition of the tutorial set is integrated into Professor Bailyn's course ASTR 140, "Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics," a popular introductory-level course for non-majors which has recently become a component of Open Yale Courses.

Given that the course is geared toward current research, my hope is that these tutorials will provide a solid basis which the students would otherwise get from a book. Charles Bailyn