Inquiry in Physics (PHYS*4300)

Code and section: PHYS*4300*01

Term: Winter 2010

Instructor: Joanne O'Meara


Course Information

The Purpose of this Course

PHYS*4300 is an inquiry course focused on research in physics, designed to aid students in further honing their self-directed learning skills. In this course, students will undertake independent study of the scientific literature and learn how to communicate scientific research effectively. Students will prepare seminars on approved topics drawn from research initiatives in physics. The direction and scope of the course will be largely determined by the topics chosen by the students, with guidance from the faculty advisor.


Faculty Advisor Office Extension Email
J. O’Meara MacN 323 53987

Meeting times

Day Time Location
Tuesdays and Thursdays 2:30 to 5:20 pm MacN 202

Course Objectives

  1. to become familiar with the literature in a focused area of interest
  2. to further develop the necessary skills for library-based research
  3. to improve critical analysis skills through skeptical and critical reading of research or popular literature
  4. to practice and improve oral presentation skills

Course Schedule

  • Tuesday January 19th – submission of topic for first presentation to faculty advisor
    Presentation #1 – Tuesday Feb 2nd and Thursday Feb 4th
  • Tuesday February 23rd – submission of topic for second presentation to faculty advisor
    Presentation #2 – Tuesday March 9th and Thursday March 11th
  • Tuesday March 23rd – submission of topic for third presentation to faculty advisor
    Presentation #3 – Tuesday April 6th and Thursday April 8th


Each student will prepare and deliver three presentations over the course of the semester. In preparation for these presentations, students will use library resources (including web-based journals, search tools, etc.) to research the topic selected based on his/her own interests. Each presentation will have 50 minutes allocated, divided into approximately 40 minutes of presentation time and 10 minutes of questions. At the end of this 50 minute period, each member of the class, as well as the faculty advisor, will complete an evaluation of the presenter for the purposes of constructive feedback.

Examples of possible presentation topics:

  • the discovery of the top quark
  • laser cooling of atoms
  • computational methods in physics research
  • the evidence for dark matter in galaxies
  • innovations in physics education
  • the physics of climate change
  • energy sources for the future
  • the search for exosolar planets
  • Mars exploration
  • research of recent Nobel prize winners (1990 to present)
  • materials in extreme environments
  • the physics of medical imaging
  • etc. etc.

Note that many of these possible topics are extremely broad, and would have to be narrowed down by the student in order to prepare a 50 minute presentation. Furthermore, students are strongly encouraged to come up with entirely different topics based on their own interests.


Assessment Weight
Participation 10%
Presentation #1 20%
Presentation #2 30%
Presentation #3 40%

The participation mark will be determined based on the individual’s degree of involvement in asking questions and providing useful constructive feedback for the other presenters. If you miss any of the days of presentations due to illness or compassionate reasons, you need to provide the instructor with a waiver slip to avoid the loss of your participation mark.