SMU Physics Honors Section – Fall 2019


The Grand Challenge Problem

The focal event of each semester is the solving of a “Grand Challenge” problem. This is a physics problem with no textbook solution. Rather, you will draw upon your own creativity, informed by the principles of physics you are learning in PHYS 130X, to address the question in as detailed a manner as possible. You will be assessed on:



This is not purely a storytelling process; rather, you will engage in a mathematical and physical exercise where the math speaks, and you will describe what it says. The Grand Challenge process and solution will build gradually over the semester, woven into the fabric of the Honors Physics Section.


The Grand Challenge will be a team exercise1. You will be randomly assembled into teams at the beginning of the semester. Your team will be expected to meet at least once a week outside of class to discuss the Grand Challenge and, in particular, how what you have learned that week might be used to explore a consequence of the theme of the Grand Challenge. Your team will report the status of your work (each individual presenting a brief, 5-minute overview of their status) at the “Honors Collaboration Meetings” - periods of in-class time (see schedule) devoted entirely to a public airing of progress. Members of other teams are free to ask questions and offer suggestions or criticism of presented work. In addition, one of our week's will be devoted to in-depth discussions on the physics principles and details; these discussions will happen outside of class time (instead of class period) between each team and the instructors. This entire exercise is to model how real, collaborative, scientific work, as well as peer review, operates in the real world.


A separate and detailed explanation of the entire Grand Challenge exercise will be made available by the instructor.




1 Depending on the number of students in the Honors Physics Section, we will revisit this aspect of the Grand Challenge Problem.