These proceedings are based on a series of lectures given at the XVth Special Courses of the National Observatory of Rio de Janeiro, the overall goal of which is to provide a crash course in star formation for beginning graduate students or advanced undergraduates. Because this text is meant to be pedagogic, it is generally much more explicit about the algebra and methods behind calculations than a standard journal article. Due to limits of space, these notes are necessarily incomplete, and they are biased in places by the author's opinions (both about what is interesting and about what is correct). Caveat lector. For a more comprehensive overview of the field, the best source is the recent review by McKee & Ostriker . A much more extensive pedagogic introduction, which is unfortunately also fairly dated at this point, may be found in the textbook by Stahler & Palla . Some of the material included in these lectures also covers basics of radiative transfer and fluid dynamics, and students looking for more information on these topics may consult standard textbooks such as Rybicki & Lightman (for radiation) and Shu (for both fluid dynamics and radiation).
In these proceedings, each section corresponds to a single lecture. The first section discusses how we observe star-forming clouds, also known as molecular clouds (at least in the Milky Way) and determine their properties. The second begins to investigate the physical processes that govern the behavior of the clouds. In the third we discuss why molecular clouds collapse and what happens when they do, including the critical problems of how energy, angular momentum, and magnetic flux are transported. Finally, the fourth section focuses on perhaps the two major unsolved problems of star formation: the star formation rate and the initial mass function. It is in this section that the reader should be particularly aware of author biases, since the material in the first three sections is generally (though not always) non-controversial, while the material in the final section is far from it.