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Phys 600 / 1 Credit Option
Faculty supervisor: R. J. Wilkes, wilkes@u.washington.edu
 
An independent study short-course for MS students who want to add 1 credit
 
Study a topic of your choice from the list below.
 
Write a brief term paper (5 pages max) summarizing what you have learned.
 
At the beginning of the term, submit a proposal outlining the resources you will use, the goals for your study. Specify milestone dates for submitting an outline of your paper, a list of sources you will use, and a rough draft of your paper. At least 2 of your information sources must be NOT be websites.
 
Submit your term paper no later than the last day of classes.
 
Suggested topics:
 
All the following have abundant information sources available in the library and/or on the web.
 
You are not limited to these topics! They are just intended to suggest the type of report desired; feel free to pursue your own interests. Requirement: your topic must have some significant connection to physics.
 
- One of Albert Einstein's major contributions - choose from the following:
  • Special relativity ('absolutes' don't make sense)
  • Brownian motion (atoms are really there)
  • Photoelectric effect (quanta are real too)
  • General relativity (the shape of space)
  • Paradoxes of quantum theory (does God play dice?)
Your paper can be about the science itself, or about the context of Einstein's work (connections to other peoples' work.
Examples of the latter could be to explore influence of Mileva Maric or Michele Besso on Einstein, or describe the work of Mach, Poincare or Lorentz that impacted his ideas.
 
- Modern (20th C. and later) models of the Universe: compare the steady-state universe (which Einstein thought he had to accomodate when building General Relativity), the expanding universe (which caused Einstein to think his cosmological constant was his 'greatest blunder'), and the current Dark Energy concept (which in effect restored the cosmological constant).
 
- Pseudo-science: alas, many topics! for example
  • Fraudulent "medical physics" devices
  • "Refutations" of basic scientific principles (usually relativity or quantum theory)
  • perpetual motion / cost-free energy: burn water instead of oil, etc.
- Take a recent significant science-based news item and look into the details that don't get mentioned in the 10 second sound bite on TV news or the 1-paragraph maximum allowed for such dull topics in most newspapers. Was the overall impression given viewers/readers accurate or misleading, and in what ways?
 
- Science in public policy, politics, and law
  • Global warming: summarize the scientific basis for this hypothesis
  • Consider a public policy question where an interest group uses a scientific issue to press their special agenda. Investigate the details, and analyze the accuracy of arguments and facts presented (and their careful editing). How can an earnest and unbiased citizen get at The Truth? (does The Truth exist?)
  • Realities of electrical power generation: current status and alternative futures. Many topics here. What fraction of US power is produced by fossil fuel, nuclear, hydro, and solar/wind power plants? What amounts of atmospheric pollutants and nuclear waste are produced? How is the cost of this waste currently covered? How does US compare to similar economically-developed nations (France, Japan, Germany) and large developing nations - China, India, Brazil? How many oil or coal fired power plants are needed to supply current US demand? What would total pollutant emissions be if all power plants were fossil fueled? Same questions for nuclear power: how many plants needed to supply all power? what amount of waste per year would have to be dealt with?
  • How safe are alternative fuels and energy sources? Investigate safety issues regarding proposed methods for supplying our energy needs from non-fossil sources such as wind, waves, tides, solar power.
  • France and Japan depend upon nuclear power and are much less dependent on foreign sources of petroleum than the USA. Why does nuclear power work for them? How do they deal with the safety issues (both public safety and nuclear proliferation security) and waste management issues that have tied up the US nuclear industry for 25 years? Related topics: investigate the CANDU nuclear reactor (Canadian reactor design, using deuterium - of which Canada happens to have the world's biggest supply), which is claimed to be very safe and benign.
  • How practical are proposed mass-market energy sources right now? Is solar power practical at any scale, as of today, or soon? What about wind power (eg in California)? Tidal power (eg in Britain)? 'Practical' here means 'reasonably competitive in cost relative to fossil fuels, and ready to replace fossil-fuel generators on a large scale '.
Contact the instructor at: wilkes@u.washington.edu