PHYS 280 :: Physics Illinois :: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Course Description

Physics/Global Studies 280 is a non-technical course about the development of nuclear weapons and attempts to control them. The course will enable you, whatever your background, (1) to gain a basic understanding of the nature of nuclear weapons, the threat they pose to humankind, and possible ways to reduce and eventually eliminate this threat and (2) to improve your writing skills.

Physics/Global Studies 280 is also an Advanced Composition course. At UIUC, Advanced Composition courses are "writing-intensive"; i.e., required to assign 20–30 pages of original writing (i.e., prior to revision), emphasize the writing process (drafting-reviewing-revising-reflecting), and give attention to writing through instruction and/or discussion. The course builds on the academic writing and research skills developed in Composition I, but focuses on writing and conducting research in a discipline (in our case, in the interdisciplinary area of nuclear weapons and arms control). You will "locate, gather, and evaluate data, primary sources, secondary sources, and other evidence by employing discipline-specific research methods." You will also "produce a variety of written compositions...for specialist and/or non-specialist audiences" and, in your work, "analyze and synthesize relevant information from multiple primary and secondary sources" (Advanced Composition Learning Outcomes, 9/11/20).

Learning Objectives  

Subject Matter: You will learn how to

Writing: You will use writing to
Identity: You will foster a professional identity in the field of nuclear weapons and arms control by

Course Origins

Motivated by their concern about the dangers of nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear war, a group of Illinois astronomy, nuclear engineering, and physics faculty volunteered to create this course in the spring of 1982 as a public service. The faculty involved were Larry L. Smarr (Astronomy and Physics), Arthur B. Chilton (Nuclear Engineering), and Gordon A. Baym, Gary E. Gladding, John B. Kogut, Frederick K. Lamb, Christopher J. Pethick, Michael Stone, Jeremiah D. Sullivan, Jon J. Thaler, Albert Wattenberg, and Michael Wortis (Physics). The course was approved as a regular Physics course the next year and has been taught by Physics faculty every year since.

Course Topics

Course Organization

Writing Labs (Mondays): Once each week, you will meet for a writing lab in which your TA will return the previous week’s writing assignment and explain the next writing assignment. During writing lab, you will (1) review course concepts and the current events presented during lecture-discussion, (2) practice reasoning and writing about these, and (3) discuss the writing process and specific techniques for improving your writing. Writing lab attendance is required.Your active contributions will count toward your course participation grade.

Lecture-Discussions (Tuesdays and Thursdays): Twice each week, you will attend course lectures that introduce and explore essential topics. Although course slides will be available on the course website, lecture attendance is strongly encouraged. 

In lecture/discussion, you will 

You will get the most from lectures when you come prepared, having done any readings for the day and reviewed your notes from previous sessions. We will use TopHat for lecture slides and clicker questions (TopHat will prompt you with a request to register for PHYS/GLBL 280).

Graded Work: Your course progress will be assessed through an exam component and a writing component, tracked in a secure, online gradebook (scores will be posted as soon as they are available—those in the gradebook are considered “official”). If you have any questions about how your work has been assessed, please make an appointment to visit with your assigned teaching assistant soon after your work has been returned. The professor regularly confers with the instructional staff about course grading practices and standards, as well as particular assignment responses. See the Course Grading page for more information.

Reading / Course Texts

Content Texts: Required

Students should purchase the following book:

Richardson, Louise. What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat. NY: Penguin Random House, 2007. Paperback ISBN: 9780812975444.

Other required content readings are provided at no additional expense (links to selections are located under Reading Assignments). These include:

Allison, Graham. Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe. NY: Holt Paperbacks, 2005.

Bunn, George, and Christopher F. Chyba, Eds. U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy: Confronting Today’s Threats. Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2006.

Content Texts: Recommended

Lynn, John A., II. Another Kind of War: The Nature and History of Terrorism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019.

Writing Texts: Recommended

The texts listed below will help with independent, guided learning to improve your writing throughout the course. n.b.: The edition is not important in either case; please use whatever edition you find most convenient.

Alred, Gerald J., Oliu, Walter E., and Brusaw, Charles T. The Handbook of Technical Writing, 12th edition. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2018.

Booth, Wayne C., Colomb, Gregory G., Williams, Joseph M., Bizup, Joseph, and FitzGerald, William T. The Craft of Research, 4th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Course Community

Physics Illinois is committed to a culture of open collaboration that embraces the principles of professionalism, academic freedom, equity, and inclusion. Through our interactions with one another this term, we ask you to join us in creating a positive learning community.