MPS 402 (Senior Seminar in Mathematical and Physical Sciences) Fall 2012
Scott Heinekamp ( Stratton 302 ext 3361

What are the Goals and Objectives of this Capstone Experience? MPS 402 is the planning phase of your senior thesis. You will identify possible areas of inquiry for a thesis, based on what you have already learned and on what you want to learn more about. This course (along with MPS403) is required of all MPS majors. You'll learn how to formulate a question, to utilize resources (printed, electronic, human), to uncover what's already been done in your subject area -- and to seek what is worth pursuing further. Perhaps most importantly, this first part of the capstone experience should help you to bring together all the threads in your MPS major, setting the stage for the researching and writing of your senior thesis. Along the way, we will develop skills in critical thinking, oral and written communication, and project planning and design. In the end, along with various smaller assignments, you will write a proposal for your senior thesis, and will give an oral presentation to an audience of students and faculty. If all goes well, you will have in hand a compelling (to both you and others) research topic that you are vigorously researching, and you'll be well-prepared to move into MPS403 for completion of your senior thesis.

If your project is sufficiently compelling, we can discuss taking your work to the NCUR (National Conference of Undergraduate Research) in the spring of next year. This will require a clearly written application by mid-fall!

What Kind of Project Might I Undertake? Settling on a topic area is not as hard as it sounds. As often as not, the "title" of the thesis will only be clear once the work is complete, next spring! Much of this fall's work in 402 will be taken up with the processes of identifying and refining your topic. At all times: Follow your own strengths and interests!!

Here is the schedule for the course. You'll find assignments and links to other assignments there.

An excellent way to begin the process is to see what's been done before. Here are electronic versions of the final MPS402 proposals of previous Wells graduates: Past MPS402 proposals. And to see the final MPS403 theses, again in various electronic formats: Past MPS403 theses.

Please expect to have multiple worthy ideas as you go. As you follow up on your preliminary digging in journals and other sources, promising threads of inquiry will emerge. Some threads will lead "backward" (downward?), getting at the historical underpinnings of your subject. Others will go "upward" toward newer developments. Some will be dead ends . . . By gathering feedback from the other students in the class and in collaboration with me and other MPS faculty, and by your own brainstorming, you will close in on proposal topic.

Do I Have to Do "Original Research"? At this stage (MPS402), you most likely won't do that (not to say you won't learn plenty of new things, because you will). Most of your research will be learning what is already known about your subject area, as you refine the topic. In MPS403, your eventual thesis will be something completely new, to you and your fellow MPS students. You might set up a physics experiment and take data: your thesis would be presentation and interpretation of the data, along with a thorough review of the physics/mathematics theory behind your experiment. You might take on an investigation into some knotty mathematical area; in your thesis, then, you would clearly present what is already known, and what you've learned. If you are interested in computer science, your research may become development of some kind of computer software application, possibly internet-based. We have also had successful thesis projects devoted to study of education and teaching in the MPS concentration areas.

What is the Role of Other MPS Faculty? Essential. Make use of our expertise (and not only MPS faculty's: build relationships with, for example, social scientists, education faculty, and other scientists at Wells and elsewhere!). You will be expected to collaborate, on an on-going basis, with at least one other MPS faculty member.

What Will Determine My Grade?
Homework and other Assignments (25%): A variety of tasks are included here: work devoted to learning research methods, some small writing assignments which may or may not show up in your final proposal product, and perhaps other short assignments
Class Participation (20%): Attendance is expected, along with active participation
Presentation (25%): Near the end of the semester, you will give a ~15-minute oral presentation of the proposal
Proposal Process (30%): Includes not only the final document, but various steps toward its creation.
This syllabus (web address, is the course's home page.