Physics Senior I.S. Thesis

Visual Timeline of Senior I.S. Process

Past Senior I.S. projects.


  • Before Senior Year
    • Discuss possible self-designed topics with potential advisors before summer.
    • Choose topic in late summer.
    • Start reading background material.
  • Fall of Senior Year
    • Conduct literature search* and record search strategy in your notebook.
    • Apply for Copeland Funds for research equipment and travel.
    • Collect or build equipment, write code, or perform initial calculations.
    • Develop thesis outline and record in your notebook.
    • Obtain preliminary results.
    • Present oral progress report to faculty and majors in December.*
    • Write thesis draft including at least two substantial chapters.
    • Email thesis draft PDF to the Physics Administrative Coordinator by 5 p.m. the last day of classes.*
  • Spring of Senior Year
    • Collect final data or finish calculations.
    • Complete thesis manuscript.*
    • Deliver first complete draft of thesis to your advisor before Spring Break.†
    • Submit thesis copies to the Registrar by 5 p.m. the Monday after Spring Break.‡
      • Email a copy of the PDF to and carbon-copy your I.S. advisors
      • Upload a copy of the PDF to the OpenWorks repository
      • Print just the cover page of your Independent Study thesis
      • Bring the cover page to the Office of the Registrar in APEX (Gault Library) anytime during regular office hours
      • Receive your numbered I.S. button!
    • Present results at the Senior Research Symposium poster session.
    • Digitally archive corrected thesis manuscript PDF.
    • Celebrate!
    • Defend thesis orally before the physics faculty.*

* Complete in the semester indicated or risk an NC (No Credit) for that semester.
† Your adviser is not expected to read or comment on a draft submitted after this date.
‡ Failure to meet the deadline set by the Registrar could result in an NC (No Credit).


The yearlong senior thesis project, or senior Independent Study (I.S.), allows you to experience the beauty and cohesiveness of physics by working on an extended project closely with a faculty advisor. There are few projects, even though narrow in scope, that do not require a breadth of understanding and a dependence on the lecture and laboratory material covered in the major courses. Thus, the senior thesis is an integral part of your education. It can provide a stimulating climax to your college career while, at the same time, it can be a defining introduction to your profession. 

This guide is written to clarify past questions and is not intended to dampen any of your enthusiasm for your senior thesis project. It does assume that you will enrolled in Physics 451-452 during successive Fall and Spring Semesters. The Physics Department reserves the right to update the guide at any time.

We do not expect you to embark on a project unaided by an advisor, but you should not expect your advisor to do the work for you (conduct the library search, construct the apparatus, develop the simulation, perform the calculation, take the data, and (re)write the thesis). Advisors advise and guide while you do the work. 

Understanding the science in your project is extremely important and time should be taken to reflect on its meaning. This might mean, for example, not taking a last data run so you can understand the meaning of the previous data runs.

Thesis Topics

The Physics Department encourages you to consider your senior thesis topic early. During your junior year, the physics senior December talks and spring poster session can suggest multiple possibilities. You may test a topic during your Physics 401 self-designed project.

The most successful topics are often extensions of ongoing faculty research or take advantage of existing faculty expertise and available equipment. Self-designed projects are riskier, as you yourself are responsible for formulating the motivating scientific questions. Seniors considering a self-designed proposal must prepare a detailed project proposal, including a literature review, and convince a faculty member to advise the project. 

During the summer before your senior year, the physics chair will email you with possible projects suggested by the physics faculty and ask you to rank your top three choices. 

After receiving your preferences, the chair will then consult with the faculty to distribute advisors to seniors and report back to you, so you will know your project and advisor before the beginning of your senior year. Project limitations include:

  • Projects must extend our knowledge of physics using experiment or simulation or theory.
  • Explicitly prohibited are projects whose sole intent is the construction of an object (for example, a hovercraft) or projects which are tutorial courses (for example, solving a set of problems from a particular textbook).
  • Interdepartmental projects are possible for double majors and will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • The resources for the project must be either available or readily acquired. Copeland funds can be a great resource, but all Copeland applicants must clearly describe a back-up plan in case they are not funded.


You must keep a complete, written record of the project either in ink in a paper bound notebook or in a web-based electronic lab notebook like Lab Archives, which your advisor (or others) may read to learn the details of your work. Your notebook is a scientific diary. It should be kept current each day and contain all relevant information for future researchers to duplicate or extend your work. Upon completion of your senior thesis, your advisor will keep your notebook.

Oral Progress Report

Near the end of the first semester, you will give a 10-15 minute public slide-show lecture on your senior thesis progress. This public event will motivate you to early accomplishment, provide you with valuable feedback, and inspire younger students.

Thesis Manuscript

The thesis manuscript summarizes and communicates your research to your student and faculty colleagues. To do so with integrity and clarity will document your work for future investigators while providing perspective for yourself. 

The manuscript should be complete but not verbose, be well illustrated including drawings or photographs of relevant equipment, and contain appropriate references to the literature. Below are some guidelines toward the construction of a scientific thesis manuscript. 

  • Example Outline
    • Prologue
      Title page sample
      Table of Contents
      List of Tables
      List of Figures
      Acknowledgments (optional)
    • Body
      Introduction and Literature Review
      Procedure or Methodology
      Results and Analysis
      Comparison among Experiment, Computation, Theory
      Conclusion and Recommendations for Further Work
    • Epilogue
      References (see the Physical Review Style Guide for proper form)
      Appendices (optional – may contain computer programs, data sets, and so on)
  • Style
    • Multiple options for mathematical typesetting exist, including (but not limited to) LaTeX.
    • Each of the sections in the above outline should begin on a new page.
    • Pages should be numbered sequentially.
    • Figures and Tables should be numbered sequentially, have self-contained captions, and appear in the text following (but near to) the first reference to them.
    • All statements of fact which are not common knowledge must be referenced (see “Plagiarism” in the Code of Academic Integrity of the Scot’s Key). A thesis containing plagiarized material will result in an NC for 452. 
    • Good references for form and style include:
      The Physical Review Style Guide.
      The Technical Writer’s Handbook by Matt Young (2002).
  • Products
    • The manuscript must be printed double-sided at high resolution on 8.5 x 11″ white paper.
    • The printed manuscript should be ring or spiral bound so that it opens flat and is durable.
    • One printed manuscript is for the advisor and a second is for the department. Double majors will print additional manuscripts.
    • The corrected manuscript must be digitally archived before the final Friday of the spring semester.

Oral Exam

The oral exam will be scheduled at a mutually convenient time for you, your first reader (advisor) and your second reader during the period in the Spring Semester allotted by the Registrar. The only visitors allowed in this exam will be departmental faculty. Exceptions can be made by agreement of all those present, or if the thesis is interdepartmental. 

You will be expected to present an uninterrupted 20-minute overview of your project followed by questions on the thesis by the faculty committee. The presentation will be interrupted if it exceeds the 20-minute limit. The questions can be expected to turn to a general nature by the end of the exam. 


You will share your senior thesis results with the campus community by presenting a poster at the Senior Research Symposium. Guidelines for the three-foot by five-foot poster are at our poster page. The poster will remain in the department.


Especially important in determining the senior thesis grade are the quality of the I.S. Monday manuscript and the performance in the oral exam. Among other considerations are your level of engagement throughout the thesis process, the difficulty of the project, the quality of the notebook, and the caliber of the oral progress report and poster presentation. All considerations are translated into one of the following grades:

  • Honors (outstanding in all regards)
  • Good (above average in all regards)
  • Satisfactory (acceptable overall)
  • No Credit (not acceptable)

Additional College regulations regarding the senior thesis are sent to seniors and will apply.

Academic Integrity from the Scot’s Key

An atmosphere in which each student does their own work, except when the instructor indicates that additional aid is legitimate and profitable, is necessary for genuine academic mastery. It is each student’s responsibility to be mindful of the difference between appropriate academic resources and support (such as services offered through the Academic Resource Center, Writing Center, and Math Center, as examples), versus inappropriate or unauthorized academic aid (such as plagiarism of another’s work). It also places on each student an obligation not to offer or make available unauthorized sources of aid to other students, knowing that such aid is detrimental to those students and to the college community. Finally, each student must be responsible for the maintenance of an atmosphere of academic integrity by confronting violators or reporting any actions that violate its principles, since such violations ultimately harm all members of the community. These principles merely carry out the general purpose of the college to be a community in which the members find it right and necessary to promote the fullest learning by everyone. In other words, a violation of the Code of Academic Integrity conflicts with the values, work, and purpose of the entire college community and is not merely a private matter between an individual faculty member and a student.

Principles of Academic Integrity

A student will not:

  • give, offer, or receive aid other than that specifically allowed by the professor on any course work or examination
  • knowingly represent the work of others, including materials from electronic sources, as their own
  • falsify or fabricate data
  • submit an assignment produced for a course to a second course without the authorization of all the instructors involved
  • deny other students access to necessary documents/materials by stealing, misplacing, or destroying those materials
  • give false reasoning to a faculty member or Dean when requesting an exam change or an extension on a paper/project
  • violate the spirit of the code

HSRC statement

The College of Wooster’s Human Subjects Research Committee (HSRC), or “Institutional Review Board (IRB)” for federal purposes, is a specially constituted review body established or designated to protect the welfare of human subjects recruited to participate in research studies or assessment projects. Any member of The College of Wooster community planning to conduct research using human participants (this includes student projects such as Independent Study and other research projects involving human participants.).  Information about how to apply can be found at

IACUC Statement

The College of Wooster’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) is a federally mandated committee that oversees the college’s animal programs, facilities and procedures to ensure the appropriate care, use, and humane treatments of animals being used for research, testing and education. The IACUC serves as a resource to faculty, students, and staff, providing guidance in meeting applicable guidelines for animal care and use.

All college students and personnel participating in animal research should complete IACUC training, and all research protocols involving the use of vertebrate animals must be reviewed and approved (or classified as exempt) by the committee before they can be implemented. Information about how to apply can be found at htts://