Inquiry in Physics (PHYS*4300)

Code and section: PHYS*4300*01

Term: Winter 2016

Instructor: Michael Massa


Course Information

The Purpose of this Course

PHYS*4300/NANO*4900 is an inquiry course focused on research in physics and nanoscience, 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 or nanoscience. 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
Michael Massa MacN 328 52625

Meeting times

Day Time Location
Tuesdays and Thursdays 2:30 to 5:20 pm MACS 301

Course Objectives

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


Students will prepare and deliver three presentations over the course of the semester. Library resources will be used (including web-based journals, search tools, etc.) to research the topic selected based on the students’ own interests. The scope, duration and nature of each talk will be discussed during the initial meeting with the faculty advisor. Talks will be followed by a question/answer period with the audience. Afterwards, each member of the class, as well as the faculty advisor, will complete an evaluation of the presenter for the purposes of constructive feedback.

Presentation Schedule

Meeting times will not occur every Tuesday/Thursday throughout the semester. Below are listed the scheduled dates for student presentations; additional meeting times will be discussed during the An initial meeting on Tuesday January 12th.

  • Friday January 22nd – deadline for submission of topic for first presentation
  • Presentation #1 – Feb 2nd, 4th, 9th, 11th
  • Friday February 12th – deadline for submission of topic for second presentation
  • Presentation #2 – Mar 1st, 3rd, 8th
  • Friday March 11th – deadline for submission of topic for final presentation
  • Presentation #3 – Mar 29th, 31st, Apr 5th, 7th

Examples of possible presentation topics:

  • The discovery of the top quark
  • Laser cooling of atoms
  • The evidence for dark matter in galaxies
  • Innovations in physics education
  • The physics of climate change
  • Energy sources for the future
  • The search for extrasolar planets
  • Computational methods in physics research
  • Mars exploration
  • Research of recent Nobel prize winners (2005 to present)
  • Materials in extreme environments
  • The physics of medical imaging
  • etc.

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


Assessment Weight
Participation 20%
Presentation #1 20%
Presentation #2 25%
Presentation #3 35%

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

Course Policies

Academic Consideration

If you find yourself unable to meet an in-course requirement because of illness of compassionate reasons, please advise the course instructor via email, with your name, ID#, as soon as possible. See the academic calendar for information on regulations and procedures for academic consideration.

Drop date

The last date to drop one-semester courses without academic penalty is March 6, 2015. For regulations and procedures for Dropping Courses, see the current Academic Calendar.

Academic Misconduct

The University of Guelph is committed to upholding the highest standards of academic integrity and it is the responsibility of all members of the University community, faculty, staff, and students to be aware of what constitutes academic misconduct and to do as much as possible to prevent academic offences from occurring. University of Guelph students have the responsibility of abiding by the University's policy on academic misconduct regardless of their location of study; faculty, staff and students have the responsibility of supporting an environment that discourages misconduct. Students need to remain aware that instructors have access to and the right to use electronic and other means of detection. Please note: whether or not a student intended to commit academic misconduct is not relevant for a finding of guilt. Hurried or careless submission of assignments does not excuse students from responsibility for verifying the academic integrity of their work before submitting it. Students who are in any doubt as to whether an action on their part could be construed as an academic offence should consult with a faculty member or faculty advisor.

The Academic Misconduct Policy is detailed in the Undergraduate Calendar.

A helpful resource in understanding academic misconduct and plagiarism can be found at:


The University of Guelph is committed to creating a barrier-free environment. Providing services for students is a shared responsibility among students, faculty and administrators. This relationship is based on respect of individual rights, the dignity of the individual and the University community's shared commitment to an open and supportive learning environment. Students requiring service or accommodation, whether due to an identified, ongoing disability or a short-term disability should contact the Student Accessibility Services (SAS) as soon as possible.
For more information, contact SAS at 519-824-4120 ext. 56208 or email or see the accessibility website.

Course Evaluation Information

The Department of Physics requires student assessment of all courses taught by the Department. These assessments provide essential feedback to faculty on their teaching by identifying both strengths and possible areas of improvement. In addition, annual student assessment of teaching provides part of the information used by the Department Tenure and Promotion Committee in evaluating the faculty member's contribution in the area of teaching.

The Department's teaching evaluation questionnaire invites student response both through numerically quantifiable data and written student comments. In conformity with University of Guelph Faculty Policy, the Department Tenure and Promotions Committee only considers comments signed by students (choosing "I agree" in question 14). Your instructor will see all signed and unsigned comments after final grades are submitted. Written student comments may also be used in support of a nomination for internal and external teaching awards.

NOTE: No information will be passed on to the instructor until after the final grades have been submitted.