Course Syllabus


Prof. Jason Detwiler
206-543-4054 (CENPA office)
206-616-2875 (PAB office)

Class Meeting Time

Thursdays 11:30 am - 1:20 pm in PAB B042.

Office Hours

Tuesdays 2:00 - 3:00 pm in PAB B444, and other times by appointment.


Class Description

Welcome to PHYS 486 A (Senior Honors Seminar) and PHYS 495 A (Seminar on Current Problems in Physics). These courses are supervised, independent study of topics of current interest in physics. The aim of these courses is to provide you with an opportunity to learn in depth about a topic in experimental, observational, or theoretical physics, and at the same time gain experience in doing literature research and preparing a scientific presentation. This quarter writing credit is optional for this course; those students wishing to receive writing credit will be required to also write a research report. My role as instructor will be to help you choose an appropriate topic, to help answer questions that come up as you research your chosen topic, and to provide feedback on your presentation and, if applicable, your paper.


Course Structure

Topic selection
You are expected to select a research topic in experimental, observational, or theoretical physics and submit a short (1-3 paragraph) proposal in paper form by Jan 24. The topic you choose to pursue this quarter must not be related to topics that you have explored in previous seminar courses.

Literature research
After your proposal has been approved by the instructor, you will do literature research on your selected topic. In your research, you should try to achieve both breadth (getting the "big picture" of your topic) as well as depth (getting to the heart of your topic). The references for your topic must include journal publications. You are encouraged to meet with the instructor to discuss your topic and your research progress.

All students will give a 12-15 minute presentation in class, followed by 8-10 minutes for questions and discussion. You are expected to record a rehearsal of your talk using Tegrity and send it to the instructor by the class prior to your presentation date. The instructor will discuss the recorded talk with you during office hours the week before your talk.  The final version of the presentation must be uploaded to the class website prior to the start of class on the day of your presentation.

You are expected to attend the in-class presentations and participate in the ensuing discussions. You will also be required to give feedback to the speakers via web surveys following each class. 

Those students wishing to receive writing credit must write a five- to ten-page research paper on their chosen topic. The report can be a survey or review of the topic, or it can delve into specifics about a particular question or experiment. An abstract for the paper must be submitted by Jan 24, a three-page paper draft is due Feb 21, and the full paper, on which your writing grade will be based, is due on Mar 14. The paper should be "scientific" in style, with an abstract, introduction, body, conclusion, and references.


Grading Policy

Grades will be based on the following point system:

Proposal: 5

Literature Research
Breadth: 5
Depth: 5

Rehearsal: 5
Technical content: 20
Slide quality: 5
Delivery: 5
Questions and discussion: 10

In-class discussion: 20
Feedback to speakers: 20

Students submitting research papers will also be graded on the following:

Abstract: 5
Draft: 5
Technical content: 20
Structure: 5
Writing quality: 5

75% corresponds to a grade of 3.5. A grade of 0.0 will be given to anyone who does not complete the in-class presentation. There is no final exam.


Research Topics

You may essentially choose any current topic in physics that interests you. Here are some ideas to help you pick:

Recent important results and discoveries
High-profile recent discoveries
Things your parents / friends (might) ask you questions about
Subjects of recent Nobel Prizes and other awards

Current research efforts
Research being carried out here at UW
Topics studied by a research group you are thinking of joining at a prospective graduate school
Research related to a potential future employer's area of technical expertise
Topics from recent colloquia and seminars that have caught your interest

Physics and society
Challenges and research in physics education
Scientific literacy, outreach, and public support for physics research
Applications of physics in problems of social, economic, and political import
Physics controversies, pseudoscience, and fringe science


Suggested Resources

Best-of-2012 lists
Physics World 

Science news and periodicals
Nature News & Comment 
Science News 
APS Physics 
Physics Today 
Inside Science 
New Scientist 
Scientific American 
ΣΠΣ's Radiations 

Featured journal articles and preprints
PRL Editor's Suggestions 
Nature featured articles 
Science top articles 
arXiv blog 

Research listings at academic institutions, labs, and user facilities

Topics identified as important by advisory committees and funding agencies
HEPAP Reports 
DOE Office of Science programs 

Physics colloquia and seminar listings
UW physics colloquia 
ABC seminars 
CENPA seminars 


Course Summary:

Date Details