The Energy Crisis (ESCI/PHYS 385)

Timothy H. Heaton,
The University of South Dakota


Broad survey of energy fundamentals, renewable and nonrenewable energy options, environmental impacts, and politics. In addition to lectures there are many demonstrations, students must bring energy-related current events to class for discussion, each student must write a term paper related to energy, and there are several class field trips.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is an introductory course on energy and has no prerequisites. It counts as an upper-level elective course for both the Earth Science and the Physics major. It attracts majors from both programs plus a variety of non-majors.

Course Content:

The course begins with basic concepts of types of energy, energy units, energy transfers, and the laws of thermodynamics. Then we cover the energy alternatives from the heavily used (fossil fuels, hydroelectric, nuclear) to the more speculative (solar, wind, wave, OTEC, etc.). The geology of fossil fuels, geothermal energy, etc. are covered in detail. We take field trips to relevant power plants in the area. Then we cover environmental impacts of energy, energy conservation strategies, energy distribution systems, and energy politics.

Course Goals:

The primary goal is for students to be educated about the pros and cons of each energy alternative as well as other energy-related issues that are discussed in the media.

Course Features:

In addition to basic instruction, each student is required to bring several media articles about energy to class and present a summary and what they perceive as the truths/errors and the advantages/disadvantages of the content. This forces them to apply what they are learning to the expected outcome of the course.

Course Philosophy:

Energy is far from my research specialty, but it is a personal interest that I enjoy teaching. Many students want to consider a career related to energy, and this course is designed to give them a broad foundation to work from. It is also meant to be practical in that it covers ways to conserve energy at home and when traveling.


Assessment is done with exams, assignments, media presentations, field trip reports, and a term paper on energy.


Syllabus for ESCI/PHYS 385 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 20kB May5 09)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Energy: Its Use and the Environment, 4th ed., by Roger A. Hinrichs and Merlin Kleinbach