8.06 | Spring 2018 | Undergraduate
Quantum Physics III

Term Paper

Project Summary

Everyone in this course will be expected to research, write and “publish” a short paper on a topic related to the content of 8.05 Quantum Physics II or 8.06 Quantum Physics III. The paper can explain a physical effect or further explicate ideas or problems covered in the courses. It can be based on the student’s own calculations and/or library research. The paper should be written in the style and format of a brief journal article and should aim at an audience of 8.06 students.

Writing, editing, revising and “publishing” skills are an integral part of the project. Each of you will ask another student to edit your draft and will then prepare a final draft on the basis of the suggestions of your “peer editor.” We will supply templates for the RevTeX version of LaTeX (used by the Journal Physical Review) so that you can prepare your paper in a finished, publishable, form. In there is sufficient demand, we can also arrange a LaTeX tutorial.

You will submit your first draft marked up with editorial comments by your peer editor. This first draft will then be critiqued by a “writing assistant” (see below) and returned to you. Two weeks after the first draft is due, you will submit your final draft. Your papers will be graded on the intellectual quality of your work, the effectiveness of your presentation and the success of your prose style. A part of your grade will also be determined by how carefully and constructively you edited the draft of the paper for which you were the peer editor. The grade you earn for your paper will count 25% towards your final grade.

Because 8.06 is a CI-M Subject (Communication Intensive in the Major), in order to pass you must obtain a grade of C or better on your term paper. If you do not succeed in this, you will get a grade of “Incomplete” until you revise your term paper sufficiently to earn at least a C, and only at that time you will be assigned a final grade, again with your term paper grade counting 25%.

A practicing physicist writing a research paper often asks a few colleagues to comment on a first draft. The final draft is then reviewed anonymously by one or several peers before it is accepted by a journal like the Physical Review. The goal of this informal and formal peer review process is to push authors to write papers which successfully communicate ideas among a community of peers. Your goal is to write a paper which presents a phenomenon or problem in quantum physics in a way which communicates your ideas clearly and effectively to your fellow 8.06 students, namely to your peers. If your peers cannot understand what you write, you have not succeeded. Note that writing for your peers is a much higher standard than writing for the faculty. Presenting a topic sufficiently clearly and logically that one of your peers new to this topic can learn about it requires clarity of thought and depth of understanding. These are the prerequisites for an effective written (or, for that matter, verbal) presentation.

We have “writing assistants” who can help you with writing, editing and preparing the paper. Each of you will be contacted by email by one of the writing assistants during the 8th week of the course. You should arrange to meet soon thereafter, and should seek their assistance from then on as you need it. They will critique the proposal and outline for your paper, and will also critique the first draft which you submit after it has been peer edited. In between, you may also ask them to help you with parts of your paper as you write them. Think of your writing assistant as a coach. They are there to help you, and are good at it.

By the time you turn in your final paper, it will have been edited by one of your peers and you will also have had time to implement the suggestions of one of the writing assistants. Past 8.06 students have found that their papers improve enormously through this process. Based on experience from previous years, by the time you turn in your finished paper, very many of you will have produced an account of a piece of physics written to a very high standard. It would be a shame if these papers were not “published.” We shall have as our goal the “publication” of a journal consisting of all your papers. Note that for publication it is important that you submit your paper electronically, using the LaTeX template provided. Subject to these caveats, we hope to produce a compilation of all of your papers. We will circulate this “journal” to all of you, so that you can, in the end, read the work of all your peers.

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Spring 2018
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