PHY 3101 - Modern Physics - Fall 2015

Research Project

Current research projects (updated Nov. 23, 2015)

The research project takes the place of a final exam and is due Dec. 10 (day after classes end). I believe very strongly in the teaching power of semester research projects and have found that students get tremendous rewards in pursuing a significant project over a period of time. Projects will be graded on content (75%), and appearance/grammar/spelling (25%).

I will provide a Word template to use for the project, if you wish. The writeup must use the following formatting features:

  • Use Word, OpenOffice, Mac Pages or LaTex
  • Margins of 1" on all sides, top and bottom
  • Text should have 1.5 spacing and there should be 6pt spacing between each paragraph.
  • Pages in the description must be numbered starting at 1. You don't need page numbers anywhere else.
  • The main font must be similar to Times or Times New Roman 12pt, Garamond 12pt,or Calibiri 12pt. Other fonts must be cleared with me. Headings should not be larger than 14pt for main heading and 12pt for subheadings.

The project consists of (in order):

  1. A Cover Page with the project title, your name, the name of the class and the semester and year. Do not put your UFID on the cover. You should also add a picture or graphic or diagram for added effect.
  2. An Abstract consisting of approximately 1/2 page (~2 paragraphs) summarizing the project.
  3. A Table of Contents listing the major parts of the research project.
  4. The Project Description (minimum 15 pages).
  5. Bibliography with at least four references, two of which should not be solely internet sites. TED talks, videos and the course texbook are not valid references. Note that 4 is a minimal number. Good projects will have more. Please provide web address (URL) for references that exist in hardcopy and on the web. The refereces should be numbered so that citations in the text can be used (see next item).
  6. Citations: Every item in the biobliography must be cited in the text at least once, but typically several times. Most papers will have 20-30 citations in the description.

Please follow the following rules and timeline for the project:

  • Sep. 21 (Monday) The project subject should be picked out and the title and a 3-4 description turned in using this Word document. For examples, I have some projects in my office for a Particle Physics course I taught for several years.
  • Oct. 26 (Monday) A project outline, including title page, abstract, table of contents and annotated bibliography should be completed. This means everything except the actual project description. Every reference should include an annotation describing what this reference item brings to the paper. Only a paper copy of the outline should be turned in. Please do not email it to me.
  • Dec. 10 (Thursday: 4PM) The research project, both hardcopy and pdf file emailed to phy3101@phys.ufl.ed, will be turned in on this date/time. You may show me a version of it ahead of time to get early feedback. The project will not be considered to be turned in until I received both hardcopy and pdf file.

You should turn in the hardcopy bound inside a plastic folder. If you use an opaque folder, please print the contents of the title page on the cover (the title page should still appear on the inside) so I don't have to open it to find out what it's about.

Guidelines for papers

The following guidelines should be of some help to you in preparing your project. Don't regard them as absolute in the sense that I want you to write a report containing the answer to every question I pose. They merely indicate the sorts of things you should be thinking about as you write the report.

  • I will grade on both substance and style; poorly written projects will receive low grades, regardless of technical proficiency. I have samples of projects from previous semesters in my office.
  • The report should be self contained (i.e., not refer to the textbook for equations), make references to any outside material you consult, unless you are stating well known or obvious facts, and be written in such a way that a physicist would be able to understand it. You are writing from the standpoint of an undergraduate taking a somewhat advanced course and your audience is presumed to be at the same level. Your paper should not be a popular account meant for a general audience.
  • Your discussion should be detailed and quantitative in the sense that it should contain more than a mere English description. On the other hand, I do not want to get a jumble of equations and numbers with little explanatory text. Please do not follow the English paper methodology of extensively quoting sources (unless such a quote advances your thesis) since that is not an acceptable way of presenting scientific arguments. When possible, don't just quote estimates from sources; show the physical reasoning that led to the values. Use numerical values with numerical measurement uncertainties rather than vague descriptions (e.g., "large") of size or quantity.
  • The report should be science-based and the topic should fall somewhere in the area that could be considered modern physics (possible topics are listed below, but this is not an exhaustive list). Please avoid overly speculative topics that have little science to support them and aren't easily explored quantitatively. A detailed description of a famous physics experiment is acceptable providing it quantitatively explores the details and background.
  • Your paper should not be purely theoretical; it must discuss experimental reasons for the idea and how predicted effects might be observed. Are there difficulties in observing the effects? Are existing experimental observations unambiguous or can they be the result of random fluctuations of background or due to other effects? Are there newer experiments still in the planning stages? If so, why do they differ from previous experiments and how will they improve the current knowledge on the subject?
  • You should begin by discussing the background behind your topic. Where did the idea or discovery originate? Are there key individuals who developed it? What is the history and why was the concept introduced? What outstanding problems does it attempt to solve, if any?
  • I will also accept a writeup of an experiment that you performed during the semester, provided that it is in modem physics and includes sufficient background information about the experiment and the physics behind it. I have had two students perform fracto-fusion experiments for their projects. For those among you who are computer literate, I will also accept computer simulations in some cases. Years ago, for example, a student did a computer simulation of how relativistic moving balls would really appear to a stationary observer, taking into account the origin of light rays which strike his eye simultaneously.


There are many places you can find information on physics topics. Local bookstores are not common anymore, but you can still check out the Florida Book Store or the Union for some easy to read books which can give you a good start on a topic. The local library and UF Science library also have information. Magazines are another good place to look, although their level of detail may be too high or too low. Good places to start are Scientific American, American Scientist, Science, Physics Today and Nature. For many topics it may not be useful trying to find an entire book on a topic, since often it is aimed at specialists. If this is the case, look for books which might have your topic as a chapter. For example, most books on free electron lasers will be too technical at this stage of your education, but they might be discussed briefly in books on particle accelerators or lasers.

Today of course the web is the best source of information on a given topic. One can follow information on all sorts of topics very easily. However, a lot of information is scattered and not consistently presented. While Wikipedia is a good place to read information, it is not considered a real source for a bibliography for a paper, unless you are quoting basic facts.

Ideas for projects

These are just some possible ideas for projects. Many more are possible.

  • Experimental tests of special relativity (several subtopics here)
  • Experimental tests of general relativity
  • Gravitational lensing ofdistant galaxies
  • Gravitational wave detectors
  • Space travel to the stars
  • Black holes
  • Supernova explosions
  • Pulsars and neutron stars
  • Magnetars (stars with ultra-high magnetic fields)
  • Stellar nucleosynthesis
  • Life cycles of stars
  • Large scale structure of the universe
  • Models of the universe (big bang, inflationary models, etc.)
  • Expansion of the universe (from Hubble to acceleration, etc)
  • The age of the universe (including history of this research)
  • Galaxy formation and dark matter
  • Dark matter detection experiments
  • Origin of life in the universe and modes of spreading
  • Communications with extraterrestrial civilizations
  • Fusion as a source of energy
  • Muon catalyzed cold fusion (not the other kind)
  • Standard Model (quarks, leptons, gluons, etc.) Many possible topics here.
  • Beyond the Standard Model (e.g., Supersymmetry, grand unified theories, superstrings)
  • High energy physics experiments, detection methods
  • Particle accelerators
  • Quantum Hall effect
  • Superconductivity
  • High temperature superconductors
  • Free electron lasers and their applications
  • Radioactive dating and its applications
  • Material science of new materials
  • Carbon nanotubes and their applications
  • Solar cells
  • Lasers
  • Laser traps
  • Galactic magnetic fields
  • Ultra-high energy cosmic rays
  • Ultra-high energy neutrinos from the sky
  • Tests of Quantum Mechanics (nonlocality, Bell's theorem, etc)
  • High accuracy time standards
  • Physics and history of precise standards (length, time, mass, temperature, charge, etc)