Where to begin. Before registering for this class, I was confused by Culpa reviews that seemed pretty positive until a few years ago, then a dramatic change to horrific reviews. Let me tell you- heed the latter's warning. This class was the ultimate shit show. The workload is absolutely obscene- be expected to get hammered with time consuming homework requiring extensive outside research on things intentionally not covered in class and something like 1000 pages of reading a week if you were to attempt to complete it. Do NOT believe the description, the entire first month of the class is pure straight physics at a break-neck pace. The majority of us are non science majors (aka as the fucking class says its supposed to be friendly to) and were drowning in rapid fire quantum physics, thermodynamics, etc. Marka is. a really likable guy but his sense of humor veils the fact that he doesn't really care about this class. The man was part of the LIGO discovery of gravitational waves and is clearly given massive amounts of research $ here and forced to teach this class. He hardly uploads lectures, sometimes just before the exam and has a general ambivalence that anyone is taking any other class besides his, as reflected by the workload. Our TA (1 TA for over 100 people and wasn't appointed until a month into the class) spoke to us like we are all complete morons, basically barring anyone from getting help. The exams were not reflections of understanding material, instead blatant traps with questions on specific names of random missiles or my personal favorite from a footnote (!!!) of a reading, a 'retarc' which is a fancy name for a cavity blown up in the ground from a nuke test. We didn't get homework or exams back until months later. Basically. DO NOT TAKE THIS CLASS. Its a shame because the material is fascinating. We had a guest lecture from former CIA consultant Chuck Hailey and he was awesome. Wish he taught the class. Until then DONT DO IT. Hours upon hours upon hours in tears on a class that is in no way related to my major just to fill the core. For God's sake and your sanity just don't. Literal dumpster fire of a class.
Perhaps to another student this class is good. But I am not that student. Indeed at times it feels as though I was put on this earth specifically to prevent people from taking this class. Apparently at one point this class was an easy A for nonscience majors needing a science credit, but it is certainly not easy or simple anymore. For starters, Professor Marka is clearly a knowledgeable human being and knows his stuff, but his lectures are long and border on the incoherent at times, with long stretches of tangents and other points where it's unclear how one would even take notes on what he's talking about. The lectures themselves have little to no visual supplements, which could be fine if the content of the lecture was more substantial, but unfortunately it leaves one wondering what exactly he's talking about halfway through the class. It also makes it nigh impossible to study later. The homework packets assigned are apparently designed to be unrelated to the class, and you are encouraged to do your own research on the Internet. The result is an insane amount of busywork, along with required reading of at least one large nonfiction book per packet as well as other supplemental reading that needs to be logged. None of this will help you when the midterm arrives. Often it seems as though the lectures, the homework, and the midterms are all from three different classes. Normally I would give the professor the benefit of the doubt in this sort of situation. After all, I'll freely admit that I haven't gone to the optional recitation sections. But the simple fact that after emailing him five times asking for him to actually do what he promised in class and upload the topics of the midterm, he still did not answer back until two days before the midterm itself, I cannot have any sort of sympathy for him. One can only sit through so many youtube videos that appear almost completely unrelated to the class material before they lose all patience. As of right now, the midterm that we took nearly a month ago is still being "interpreted", meaning we don't know if it's curved, or what the curved grades are. When questioned, he admitted that he was guilty of not doing that, despite promising to have it done the weekend after it was returned, and said something to the effect of "only delaying happiness". This class has delayed my happiness. There's a paper as well, which as a minor pet peeve, is marked on the syllabus as 4 pages, but is in fact 8 pages due to the formatting needed. I feel like he should've mentioned this, but maybe that's just me. This professor is a great guy. When I had to turn in an assignment late, he was super chill. He makes jokes, and appears to have genuine passion for the subject. But none of that can make up for the fact that this is one of the worst classes I've ever taken. Throughout the class one of the jokes Professor Marka would make repeatedly was to ask us, a bored and ever-shrinking audience, whether we were appropriately scared or horrified by what he was describing, which was usually some form of catastrophic disaster caused by a nuclear weapon. I confess that sitting in that lecture hall, I did feel an extreme sense of pain, anger, and existential hopelessness. But not for the reasons he said.
Don't take this class if you aren't good at math or physics. This used to be an 'easy' class but the syllabus is SO misleading. We only cover history/societal consequences of WMD's in a few homework questions and the term paper, but EVERYTHING ELSE is solid physics. In week 2 we were doing thermodynamics and nuclear fission. Also, Marka is funny and all, but after about 4 minutes he stops being endearing.
I took this because (1) I took Professor Marka's "Physics for Poets" class and loved/aced it; and (2) I'd heard from friends that it was the easiest class they'd ever taken. THIS CLASS IS NO LONGER EASY (if you don't know Physics and Math). I think Professor Marka has had to crack down due to all the A's his students were getting, ha. First off: Professor Marka is AMAZING. He is hilarious, humble, kind, and so enthusiastic. Everyone adores this guy. AND-- he is THE genius who was recently on the front page of the New York Times for having confirmed Einstein's theory of general relativity by studying gravitational waves in space. He is truly one of the coolest professors at Columbia. This class is not what it used to be, however. Apparently (before the alleged crackdown) you could coast in this class. That is no longer the case -- this class, although easy and completely manageable if you put work into it, is not intuitive by any means. Class attendance is no longer optional if you want to get a decent grade. Much of what is discussed in class (guest speakers, etc.) is not Google-able and will be asked on the exam. Do the homework (answers are ALL Google-able, but they sometimes take a while to find) and write a decent term paper -- these are the only easy A's in this course. For the final exams, make sure you GO TO RECITATION. The team goes over what will be covered on the exam and will show you how to do the equations. The exams are still a bit tricky, though. Thankfully, I took this course with a group of 6 friends, and if any of us missed class, we would fill each other in on what was covered. **TL; DR -- Professor Marka is the coolest, nicest professor ever, but this class is NO LONGER easy (if you don't know Physics and Math) and takes a lot of work. Do really well on the homework and term papers (only easy A's in this course), and study/go to recitation for the exams.
Professor Marka was without question the nicest, most enthusiastic, most sincere guy I've ever met, let alone Columbia professor. He is BRILLIANT, immensely warm and understanding. He has a bit of a thick accent, but, at least for me, that made him all the more endearing. He asks very little of you for this class (not even that you show up most of the time), but if you do give him even a little bit of energy and/or curiosity, you will be rewarded in spades. Not only is he more than willing to give you a good grade for relatively little work, but he teaches amongst the most interesting and under-discussed courses at CU. WMDs is simply fascinating, and his enthusiasm is infectious. Don't worry about not being a scientist! He doesn't give the greatest explanations in the world of the complex scientific phenomena covered in this class, but they are serviceable, and you really don't need to understand it all--just get the essentials of how whatever he is describing works and you'll be fine (his explanations should be more than clear enough for you to do this). Moreover, though the class opens with some technical, dry explanations of nuclear reactions, it quickly moves on to a broader discussion of nuclear technologies that will appeal to anyone from political scientists, historians, and human rights majors to environmental scientists and engineers. I really cannot say enough nice things about this class and Professor Marka. This class was the most interesting class and (surprisingly because there is no work) amongst the most informative classes I've taken at Columbia. If ever a professor deserved a gold-nugget, it is Marka. He is simply the best. Definitely do yourself a favor and take WMDs.
this class was god-awful. richards is a very clever man but a rubbish teacher. he has no patience for questions and zero interest in meeting with you to discuss the material. his lectures are utterly soperific. please, don't take this class - you will regret it.