The yearlong senior thesis project, or senior Independent Study (I.S.), allows you to experience the beauty and cohesiveness of physics by working on an extended project closely with a faculty advisor. There are few projects, even though narrow in scope, that do not require a breadth of understanding and a dependence on the lecture and laboratory material covered in the major courses. Thus, the senior I.S. is an integral part of your education. It can provide a stimulating climax to your college career while, at the same time, it can be a defining introduction to your profession.
This guide is written to clarify past questions and is not intended to dampen any of your enthusiasm for I.S. It does assume that you will do I.S. during successive Fall and Spring Semesters. The Physics Department reserves the right to update the guide at any time.
The Physics Department encourages you to choose your I.S. topic in the Spring Semester of your Junior year (or no later than the summer before your Senior year). Topics may be extensions of course work or summer research, they may extend existing research in the department, or they may be self-designed. Some limitations do exist with regard to equipment and faculty expertise. However, the physics faculty can provide guidance in the following broad areas of physics: Mechanics, Optics, Electricity and Magnetism, Nonlinear Dynamics, Thermodynamics, Particle Physics, Condensed Matter, Biophysics, Astrophysics and Chemical Physics. Specific topics in these or other areas of physics are determined by the department chair after consulting with physics seniors and faculty members and after considering the available resources.
Some limitations are necessary for thesis topics.
Explicitly prohibited are projects whose sole intent is the construction of an object (for example, a radio) or projects which are tutorial courses (for example, solving a set of problems from a particular textbook). Interdepartmental projects are possible and will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Although we do not expect you to embark on a project unaided by an advisor, you should not expect your advisor to do the work for you (conduct the library search, construct the apparatus, develop the simulation, take the data, and (re)write the thesis). Advisors advise and guide while you do the work.
You must keep a complete, written record of the project, in ink, in a bound notebook, which your advisor (or others) may read to learn the details of your work. Your notebook is a scientific diary. It should be kept current each day and contain all relevant information for future researchers to duplicate your work. Upon completion of your I.S., your advisor will keep your notebook.
The following timetable provides only a general guide and will vary from project to project.
* Complete in the semester indicated or risk an NC for that semester.
** Failure to have a thesis topic finalized by the 4th week of the 1st semester will automatically result in an NC for that semester.
† Your adviser is not expected to read or comment on a draft submitted after this date.
†† Failure to meet the deadline set by the Registrar could result in an N.C. Refer to the Handbook for Independent Study, Section 3 of the Faculty Handbook, for College policy.
‡ A poster session will be held the last week of class. You will prepare a poster describing your research according to our poster guidelines. The poster will remain in the department.
The purpose of the thesis to to summarize and communicate your research to your student and faculty colleagues. To do so with integrity and clarity will document your work for future investigators while providing perspective for yourself.
The thesis should be complete but not verbose, be well illustrated including drawings or photographs of relevant equipment, and contain appropriate references to the literature. Below are some guidelines toward the construction of a scientific thesis manuscript.
The oral exam will be scheduled at a mutually convenient time for you, your first reader (advisor) and your second reader during the period in the Spring Semester allotted by the Registrar. The only visitors allowed in this exam will be departmental faculty. Exceptions can be made by agreement of all those present, or if the thesis is interdepartmental.
You will be expected to present an uninterrupted 20 minute overview of your project followed by questions on the thesis by the faculty committee. The presentation will be interrupted if it exceeds the 20 minute limit. The questions can be expected to turn to a general nature by the end of the exam.
The department considers the project, method, notebook, library research, completeness of analysis, knowledge of subject, written thesis, and performance in the oral exam. These considerations are then translated into one of the following grades:
Additional College regulations regarding I.S. are sent to seniors and will apply.
For more details, consult the College Handbook for Independent Study, Section 3 of the Faculty Handbook.
Understanding the science in your project is extremely important and time should be taken to reflect on its meaning. This might mean, for example, that a last data run might not be taken so you can understand the meaning of the other data runs.