PHYS 351 Senior Physics Project 

PHYS 353 Senior Engineering Physics Project

PHYS 352 Senior Physics Project Seminar

(last updated on 9/25/2019)

PHYS 351, Senior Physics Project, is a SAGES Capstone course for physics majors pursuing a BS or BA degree. PHYS 353 is a SAGES Capstone course for students pursuing the BSE in Engineering Physics. Both are four-credit courses which normally extend over the two semesters of the senior year, i.e. two credits per semester. Both courses satisfy the three credit university SAGES Capstone requirement.

PHYS 352, Senior Physics Project Seminar, is a two-credit SAGES Departmental seminar course. Students earn one credit each semester they are enrolled in PHYS 351 or PHYS 353; PHYS 352 is officially a co-requisite for both of these courses. PHYS 352 provides two of the required three SAGES Departmental Seminar credits. (PHYS 303, Advanced Laboratory Physics Seminar provides the remaining credit.)

The physics senior project program is supervised by a Physics Senior Project Committee which, for the 2019 – 2020 academic year, is chaired by Prof. Chottiner. The chair of this committee is formally listed in the Searchable Schedule of Classes as the instructor for PHYS 351, 352 and 353. A member of the Senior Project Committee will be assigned to each project to serve as an ‘external’ reviewer.

Senior projects can normally be described as experimental, theoretical or numerical/calculational in nature, although projects beyond these bounds may be proposed by students. PHYS 351 projects may be performed outside the physics department, for example in the astronomy department, an engineering department or an external government or industrial lab, but the Senior Project Committee might then require joint supervision by a faculty member in the CWRU Physics department. PHYS 353 projects will commonly be supervised by a faculty member in the area of engineering specialization but joint supervision by the adviser for the Engineering Physics program or another physics faculty member may be expected.

Students are responsible for approaching potential mentors to discuss the possibility of mentoring a physics capstone project. The responsibilities of the mentor are described at Although students are free to propose their own ideas for a project and to then find someone willing and able to serve as a mentor, it is more common for students to work on projects conceived by CWRU faculty. It is recommended that a project be identified prior to the start of the first semester of the project; students are expected to have a project and research mentor in place by the end of DROP/ADD, the second Friday of the semester. 

Continuing work started prior to the senior project is allowed, but the work covered by the senior project must be largely done during the senior project and be clearly separate from any ongoing paid work. If a student is working for some other faculty member in either a paid or unpaid capacity or for course credit while also working on a senior project, the student must alert that project supervisor AND your senior project research mentor to all of your  time commitments.

For help finding a project, check the postings , and the links at the bottom of  Many project mentors have research funds that can be used to cover costs associated with a physics senior project (materials, supplies, facility charges, travel expenses for a conference presentation, etc.) but others do not.  The Department of Physics can provide moderate financial support if it is needed; consult the chair of the senior project committee for more information about this.

PHYS 352 meets on average once a week but is officially scheduled twice a week so that, when students are making presentations, they can all be completed over a relatively short period of time. Once the semester starts, students will have access to specific deadlines and other information about PHYS 352 via its Canvas website.

The following General Bulletin descriptions of PHYS 351, 352 and 353 are out of date; they describe an earlier version of our senior project courses. Formal Bulletin updates entail a months-long process that will be initiated in fall 2019.

PHYS 351. Senior Physics Project (4)

A two semester course required for senior BS and BA physics majors.  Students pursue a project based on experimental, theoretical or teaching research under the supervision of a physics faculty member, a faculty member from another CWRU department or a research scientist or engineer from another institution. A departmental Senior Project Committee must approve all project proposals and this same committee will receive regular oral and written progress reports. Final results are presented at the end of the second semester as a paper in a style suitable for publication in a professional journal as well as an oral report in a public symposium. ( approved SAGES capstone ) Prerequisite: PHYS302 or PHYS301B.

PHYS 353. Senior Engineering Physics Project (6)

A two semester course required for BSE Engineering Physics majors. Students are expected to complete a research project in their concentration area under the supervision of a faculty member in science, engineering, or, with approval, a researcher at another institution or company. The project may be calculational, experimental or theoretical, and will address both the underlying physics and appropriate engineering and design principles. A program Senior Project Committee must approve all project proposals and will receive regular oral and written progress reports. Final results are presented at the end of the second semester as a paper in a style suitable for publication in a professional journal as well as an oral report in a public symposium. (approved SAGES capstone) prerequisite: PHYS318.

PHYS 352. Senior Physics Project Seminar (2 credits total, 1 credit each semester)

This two semester seminar is taken concurrently with the student’s two semester senior project.  Students meet weekly to discuss their projects and the research experience.  The class will include dialogues about professional issues such as ethics, graduate school, jobs, funding, professional organizations, public obligations, writing and speaking. Assignments include proposals, progress reports, and posters. PHYS 352 plus PHYS 303 is an approved SAGES Departmental Seminar.


1. Contract

A senior project begins begins with submission of a ‘contract’ signed by the student and research mentor. The contract includes a title for the project and an abstract that describes, briefly, the topic of the project, the methods to be used and expected results. The title and abstract will be posted in the department and on this web site. 

The contract also includes a proposed weekly schedule for the work. The course instructor and Senior Project Committee won’t be monitoring projects to check that this schedule is being followed; it is included in the contract only to help the parties understand a student’s time commitment associated with this effort, which should average about nine hours per week but might vary significantly over the year. Students and mentors should also agree to a schedule of meetings and the time the mentor needs to review submissions required for the course.

The contract is available on the course Canvas web site in the form of a Word document that can be downloaded, signed and returned in class.  The title and abstract should also be sent to the PHYS 352 instructor electronically to simplify posting. Contracts are due shortly after the end of DROP/ADD, two weeks after the start of the semester.  The course instructor and Senior Project Committee external reviewer will review each contract and might raise questions or ask for a revision. 

Changes to the agreement

If, during the course of the project, the student and mentor decide to significantly change the goals or methods, they should provide a supplementary description to the Committee. If a change of research mentor should be considered, the student and mentor should advise the Committee so that alternative arrangements can be made.

2. Research Proposals

Students will write a formal research proposal during the first semester of their project and give an oral presentation of this proposal to the class, external reviewer and, if available, research mentor.  A draft of the written proposal will be due before the oral presentation; the final version will be due after the presentation and will be expected to take into account feedback from the draft and oral presentation. 

3. Progress Reports

Students give four oral progress reports during the year. The first progress report is delivered to the class near the end of the first semester (your research mentor is welcome to join us)  and the second is delivered at the end the first semester to the senior project committee external reviewer, joined by the PHYS 352 instructor and your research mentor. This pattern repeats near the middle of the second semester. More details, including firm due dates will be announced in class and posted on Canvas.

4. Poster Presentation

Near the end of the second semester, students prepare a poster that describes their work and present the poster at the SOURCE Intersections event.  

5. Final Oral Presentation

Students give a 20-minute oral presentation at a Physics Senior Project Symposium near the end of the second semester. All CWRU physics majors are encouraged to attend this event, along with faculty, staff, the Senior Project Committee external reviewer, members of the student’s/mentor’s research group and the presenter’s friends.

6. Senior Project Thesis

A final thesis must be submitted to the Senior Project Committee at the end of the second semester; a draft will be due some weeks in advance.  More details about the form of this final report are provided here.


PHYS 351, PHYS 352 and PHYS 353 are each two-semester courses, with an R grade posted at the end of the first semester. (Serious problems can instead lead to an “F” or “I”.) A final grade is assigned at the end of the second semester and this same grade replaces the R from the first semester. Midterm grades each semester will normally be an ‘S’, unless a research mentor or PHYS 352 instructor wants to send a message by using some other letter grade.

There is a grading rubric for all three classes; these are provided in the course syllabus. PHYS 352 grades will be based on its rubric and evaluations of  your various submissions and presentations.

A final grade for PHYS 351/353 will be determined by the research mentor, in consultation with the Senior Project Committee chair and external reviewer, after the final report has been evaluated and the student has made an oral presentation. The grading rubric is based on principles such as grasp of science, continuity of effort/timeliness, completion of objectives, mastery of methods, creativity/resourcefulness/independence, effectiveness in working with others, and the final written and oral reports.

Your final grade in PHYS 351/353 will not generally be based on whether you completed the work outlined in your original proposal. We are more concerned about your effort and your skills in conducting research. There is never any guarantee that a research project will work out as envisioned and you will not be penalized if yours does not, as long as you work diligently and professionally over the course of the year.

Most PHYS 351/353 students expect to graduate a few weeks after the end of the semester. The Office of Undergraduate Studies and the Registrar are very strict about deadlines for turning in grades for graduating students. It may not be possible to meet their deadlines for students who are late in submitting their final reports – so DON’T BE LATE! (Being late can literally delay your degree.)