PHYS 3344 Term Paper Information

There are 2 term papers required for this course. The topics are not overly technical, are designed to hone your physics expository skills, and are actually interesting to learn about. The papers' mechanical requirements are simple:

  1. Only subjects approved by me will be read.
  2. Papers are typed in 12 pt font. No bigger, no smaller.
  3. Papers are doubled spaced.
  4. Figures can be machine-made or hand drawn.
  5. Length should be 5-10 pages long, single-sided.
  6. I need a paper copy from you.
  7. Also, e-mail me your paper in electronic format (MS word.doc)
The papers are graded according to technical merit, style, grammar and punctuation. You need to know what you are talking about and how to communicate it. The precise topics are deliberately left vague to encourage your imagination and judgement. I recommend that you write in a style that is similar to any of your physics texts. Your modern physics text is a particularly good model. Stretching the paper length by using empty prose is not a good idea. Instead, concentrate on making every word count and use figures when your prose becomes too clumsy. Having someone else read and try to understand your paper is a useful diagnostic for detecting flatulent prose. Finally, late papers are not accepted: turn it what you have at the deadline.

Topic 1

Describe what the ancient Greeks knew about astronomy that is consistent with modern observation. By "ancient Greeks," I mean those people who lived 2,000 years or so ago in the vicinity of modern Greece. You need not to be overly concerned with precise dates and nationalities. Describe how these ancients knew the shape and approximate size of the Earth, how they determined the approximate distance between Earth and Moon, and between Earth and Sun. To appreciate their observations, compare ancient observations with modern values. Other interesting tidbits relevant to the topic will increase the appeal of your paper.

Topic 2

How does a sun dial work? Clearly explain the details, including the relevance of the latitude of the working location of the dial. Since a dial tells time, i.e., gives you a number, your explanation should be quantitative, and not merely descriptive. You may consider building one and seeing how well it works. Be sure to include the data in your paper! Are vertical and horizontal dials constructed in the same way? Additionally, or alternatively to constructing a dial, you might want to explain how the real direction of "north" is determined. (It has nothing to do, by the way, with compass needles and magnets, or even with the star Polaris.) Why stop there? You could even describe how local noon is determined and then compare your observations with your watch. Even though Texas is in the Central time zone, is it actually the case that noon occurs at exactly the same time, as determined by your watch, throughout the Lone Star state? What is this business about "daylight saving" time?

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