Your Cosmic Context

Todd Duncan / Craig Tyler  
Total pages
January 2008
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Designed for a one-term general education course in cosmology, Your Cosmic Context : An Introduction to Modern Cosmology provides a framework for exploring the nature and history of our universe.Equally well-suited for independent reading and study, the book is intended as a guide to the key insights of scientific cosmology, which also serves as one of the best available illustrations of the scientific method in action.


  • Questions precede answers and observations precede theory. Students journey through the book in the same way a scientist would approach science, experiencing the same observations and asking the same questions a scientist would before learning the answers. The necessary physics is then explained so that the relevance is clear.
  • A spiral staircase structure presents concepts in a progressively more complex context, building on what has been previously covered at a higher level each time. This format enables students to recognize and use core ideas rather than merely memorize them.
  • The process of science is emphasized throughout the text. This key theme addresses how we know what we know and how science provides an effective, credible process for asking questions and building a body of knowledge that successfully answers them. History Segments tied into the main text give science a historical context.
  • Cosmology presented in a personal context helps students place themselves within the framework of cosmic history. The authors continually make connections in the text to the students' daily lives helping them feel more directly connected to the broader universe, and able to see how their awareness of those connections can filter into their daily decisions.
  • Equations explained in words help students to understand equations and cater to those who are intimidated by numbers and scientific notation.
  • Reflective Essays at the end of each chapter invite students to ponder the meaning of what they've learned and serve as a catalyst for in-class discussions.
  • Crossword Puzzles at the end of each chapter help to reinforce familiarity with relevant vocabulary while making it fun for students to start their homework.
  • Crossword Puzzle Solutions are available for online download though the Instructor Resource Center.
  • Further Exploration Questions provide a platform for exploring a concept on a deeper level. The questions allow instructors to customize emphasis and to suit their tastes (philosophical, mathematical, etc.).

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Starting Points

Chapter 2: The Sky We See

Chapter 3: The Universe We Discover Through Heat and Light

Chapter 4: The Universe We Discover Through Motion and Gravity

Chapter 5: Clues About the Cosmos

Chapter 6: The Fabric of Spacetime

Chapter 7: An Expanding Universe

Chapter 8: Photons and Electrons

Chapter 9: The Nuclear Realm

Chapter 10: The Big Bang Theory

Chapter 11: History, Density, and Destiny

Chapter 12: The Story of Structure

Chapter 13: The Emergence of Complex Life

Chapter 14: What Does It Mean to You?


Dr. Todd Duncan is an Assistant Professor of Physics at Pacific University. Todd combines a research background in physics and astronomy with experience teaching science concepts to a wide range of audiences. He holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Chicago and physics degrees from Cambridge University and the University of Illinois. Todd has taught interdisciplinary science courses ranging from elementary school to graduate level, and is currently on the physics faculty at Pacific University, president of the non-profit Science Integration Institute, and adjunct faculty in the Center for Science Education at Portland State University.


Dr. Craig Tyler is on the physics faculty at Fort Lewis College. He holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Chicago, and bachelor of science degrees in mechanical engineering and entrepreneurial management from the University of Pennsylvania. Craig's research and professional interests include dark matter, black holes, and recent advances in physics and astronomy education. Craig is the affiliate director at Fort Lewis for the NASA/Colorado Space Grant Consortium, and has received the college's New Faculty Teaching Award.

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