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Research Project
For ChemPhys 273 Students
2011-2012 School Year

Quick Links:

  Project Description || Topic Ideas || Lab Report Guidelines || Scoring Rubric || Project Pitfalls

Overview ||  Topic Selection || The Project Proposal || The Final Product ||
Assessment and Scoring ||  The Teacher Provides ... ||  The Student is Responsible For ... || Timeline

The thrust of the ChemPhys lab program is to encourage students to use data collection and analysis skills to investigate questions that are answerable within the laboratory environment.  Throughout the course, the teacher has proposed the question; this has served as the focus of the lab.  Now it's your turn.  It's your turn to ask a question and design an experimental study that is capable of answering the question.  The ChemPhys 273 Research project is centered around this goal - having students design their own experimental study that is capable of answering their own question.


Physics is an experimental science in which ideas are formulated and tested by experimental investigation in the laboratory. The process begins as the researcher ponders an interesting (and often relevant) question that can be experimentally answered. Such a question is often the result of the experimenter's curiosity. The researcher then devises an experiment to answer the question. The procedure is drawn up, revised, and refined until the researcher is certain that the procedure will provide an answer to the question. The procedure is performed, observations are made and recorded, data is collected and organized, experimental findings are carefully analyzed, and conclusions are drawn. Finally, the entirety of the process is presented in the form of a report, paper, or talk.

On occassion, the researcher searches the literature (internet, textbooks, journals, etc.) to find information pertaining to the experiment. At times, the literature search assists in the development of the question or the development of the procedure. At times, the literature search assists in developing a hypothesis or even trouble-shootinig problems with the experiment.

The ChemPhys 273 research project will involve  participation in this same experimental process. The steps of the process include
  • the selection of a topic of study
  • the search of technical literature resources regarding the topic
  • the creation of a testable question or a project idea
  • the development and implementation of a procedure
  • the collection and analysis of data, and
  • the reporting of results.  
The project will be broken down into many parts (see timeline) and will ultimately take most of the quarter.

In this project, you will work in a group of two or three students (from your own section) in order to conduct a full-scale science research project.  You will begin the project in April by brainstorming potential project ideas and finish the project in June as you hand in your final lab report. Classtime will be provided sometime during May in order to conduct the laboratory portion of the assignment.  At all times, you should make an effort to be familiar with the description of the project as found here on this page and accompanying web pages. 

Selection of a Topic and a Testable Question:

Perhaps one of the most critical parts of the project will be the initial selection of a topic and the selection of a collection of lab partners who share a mutual enthusiasm for the same topic. Any physics or physics-related topic would make a suitable topic of study. Nonetheless, groups would be wise to pick topics that are closely related to units discussed during the course.  During the brainstorming stage of the project (the first week), you will personally brainstorm two ideas for a project. Eventually you will submit your ideas via a WebAssign page; the ideas will be shared with other students in both classes. A topic idea must be relatively specific.  Proposing that you will "conduct a study of the physics of sound" is not specific enough.   You will need to propose precisely what aspect or application of sound you will study.  For instance, you might propose that you will "analyze the effect of the seat location in the auditorium upon the decibel level for sound which propagates from two speakers to that particular seat location." Such a proposal provides sufficient enough detail to clue an individual into precisely what application of sound that you will be focusing on.  

To get you started thinking about topic ideas for your project, a page listing  several example ideas has been made available.

Keep in mind that ultimately the narrow topic you select to study will need to take the form of a testable question or set of questions.  So as you are thinking about a topic of study, it will be important to also think about the laboratory methods that can be used to study the particular topic.  After all, a topic may be cool and interesting but if you cannot think of a method capable of experimentally exploring the topic, then your testable question will not be very testable.  Some of the methods and/or tools that have been used in the laboratory throughout the course have included:

light lasers, optics bench, mechanical vibrators, computer-interfaced microphones, light probes, motion detectors, force probes, low friction track and accompanying cars, Hot Wheels equipment, frame-by-frame video analysis, Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, Graphical Analysis data analysis software, portable LabQuest data collection tool and accompanying probes, Interactive Physics modeling software, and perhaps many others

When your lab group selects a narrow topic of interest, thinks of a testable question (or set of questions) pertaining to the topic, and identifies a set of tools and methods that allow you to answer the question(s), then you are very close to the development of a suitable project proposal.

Project Proposal (Designing a Study):

Before being permitted to begin laboratory research, you must first submit a project proposal and the proposal must be approved.  The project proposal consists of a Purpose (maybe a multi-part Purpose) and a Procedure section.  The Procedure identifies the equipment that will be used, includes a diagram of the arrangement of equipment and other objects and describes the manner in which the equipment will be used in order to collect data and accomplish the Purpose(s) of the project.  Finally, a short paragraph should be included in which your group describes your plan for organizing, analyzing, and presenting the data.  

The proposal will be submitted after the brainstorming period. The proposal should identify the names of the members of the group, the broad topic area (e.g., waves and sound), the narrower area of focus within that topic (e.g., acoustics of large rooms), the Purpose(s) of the study, and a short description of the intended methods that will be used to collect and analyze data.   The proposal must be submitted to your teacher by the indicated deadline. (See Timeline.)  The teacher will read the proposal, provide feedback, suggest equipment alternatives (where needed), and alternative ideas for data collection (if needed), If the proposal meets the criteria for an ambitious and do-able project, then your group will be given the green light to begin.  If the proposal is disorganized or fails to meet the criteria for an ambitious and do-able project, then it will have to be revised and promptly re-submitted. In some instances, it will be requested that a group arrange a short meeting in order to clarify or discuss the proposal.

In order to be approved, the project proposal must meet the following five criteria:
  • It must represent an ambitious endeavor.
Approximately two class days will be devoted to the laboratory aspect of this project.  Your project proposal should reflect this fact.  You should plan on either designing an extensive, multi-faceted study involving the control and manipulation of several variables or several related smaller-scale studies.

  • In one form or another, it must be representative of the type of work that a scientist performs.
One goal of the laboratory aspect of this course is to engage students in the types of activities that scientists engage in.  As such, it is intended that your project design reflect the work of scientists.  Such work includes the following types of activities:
  • conducting a systematic and controlled study of the cause-effect relationship between variables.
  • collecting data in an effort to determine a mathematical relationship between two measurable quantities.
  • modeling a real-world system using physical devices that operate in a similar manner. For instance, a scientist might study the reflective behavior of sound waves off a wall by observing the reflective behavior of water waves in a ripple tank.
  • constructing a realistic physical or digital model of a real-world system, testing the model to determine if it provides a realistic model of the real world system, and using the model to make predictions about the behavior of the real-world system.
  • testing the behavior of a real world system to determine the behavior of the system or to evaluate the claims made of the system.
Whatever tasks that your lab group proposes to do for your project, it must be scientific; it must be the type of task that a scientist might be found doing.

  • It must be centered around a testable question.
All lab activities in ChemPhys are centered around a testable question.  The question is usually worded as a Purpose statement which becomes the clearest directive of what will be done in the lab.  In most labs, it is the teacher who develops the question In this project, you will be developing the question.  It must be a question that is answerable within the laboratory environment.

  • It must be do-able in the classroom in the time frame that is alloted (~3 class days) with the equipment that is available.
Your group will need to be realistic about what you can and cannot do with the available equipment in the allotted time frame.  You will have three full days; but you do not have a career.  You will be allotted the use of available equipment, but you do not have a professionally equipped lab.  The project must be one that is conducted to a significant degree from within the classroom;  video and or audio samples can be collected from outside the classroom but the project must be do-able during the three days of allotted time. If your proposal is too ambitious, you will simply be advised to scale it down.  If your proposal suggests the use of equipment that is not available, then you will be offered alternative options.  If your proposed activity cannot be done within the classroom environment, then it will not be approved.  And if you wish to discuss options in advance of the completion of your proposal, then you should arrange for a short appointment.

  • Physics must be a naturally intrinsic part of the project.
Your study does not necessarily need to be restricted to a purely physical system;  it can include the study of an astronomical, environmental, biological, forensic or chemical system.  Nonetheless, it is mandatory that physics be a naturally intrinsic part of the project.  If you find that you are wanting to study a specific topic but are having to think real hard about how physics relates to it, then it probably is not a topic that would be approved.

The Final Product:

Report FormattingThe final product of your project will be a formal lab report which communicates your purpose, procedure, findings, and conclusions. Your group's grade will be based upon your ability to conduct and communicate the results of your experiment. The formal lab report is thus the critical document which reflects the success of your group. The formal lab report should include all the customary sections included in any lab report. Such sections include:
  • Title Page
  • Abstract
  • Purpose
  • Procedure
  • Data and Calculations
  • Graphs
  • Discussion of Results

These sections should be clearly titled and organized in the exact manner as shown in the graphic. The graphic at the right (above) depicts the organizational scheme that you should have and the approximate number of pages that each section might typically have. The number of pages is merely an approximation and serves to give an idea of the magnitude of the report. The likelihood is that those groups who are doing a thorough, quality job will exceed the number of pages listed in the graphic above.

More extensive information about the formal lab report are available on a separate page.

Your teacher will provide:
  • timely guidance and advice to get (and keep) your project moving.
  • a lengthy list of possible ideas for researchable questions.
  • an medium (WebAssign) for sharing your initial thoughts and ideas regarding potential topics with other students.
  • examples of the type of study that you are expected to conduct.
  • class time to work on the project.
  • feedback regarding your proposed experiment, including suggestions regarding equipment that will and will not work
  • readily available equipment and software. (Don't expect a wind tunnel or a particle accelerator;  but meter sticks, stopwatches, force scales, and other equipment that you have seen during the course are certainly available for use.)
  • space to work on the project and space to store reasonably-sized laboratory items.
  • a set of scoring rubrics to guide your performance and to assess your completed project.

Your lab group is responsible for:
  • developing a plan that involves dividing up each phase of the project into a variety of tasks and designating certain tasks as the responsibility of certain individuals.
  • devoting yourself to your designated task and collaborating with others regarding the results of your efforts.
  • contributing to the class-wide database of ideas during the brainstorming stages of the project (using a WebAssign page; an individual assignment).
  • arranging for appointments with your teacher in order to ask questions, receive advice, discuss difficulties and progress, and to discuss next steps.
  • a well-defined and ambitious project proposal based on background reading that includes (1) a statement of the purpose (i.e., question), (2) a step-by-step procedure for collecting pertinent data, and (3) a clearly-defined plan for interpreting experimental data.
  • providing a written request for needed equipment (24-48 hours in advance of the need).
  • a detailed and organized notebook which documents your experimental results.
  • reviewing your notebook with your teacher during guidance sessions.
  • the production of a single word-processed lab report which includes a Purpose, Experimental Procedure, Data section (with tables, graphs/charts, calculations, etc.), and a Conclusion/Discussion of Results.

Project Timeline:

The table below provides a rough sketch of the timeline of the project. Detailed due dates will be provided as the project proceeds.

Project Introduction Thursday, April 5
Brainstorming Entries via a WebAssign Page
By Thursday, April 12
Topic Selection/ Proposal
By Thursday, April 26
Approval of Proposal by Instructor To be announced (1st or 2nd week of May)
First day in lab
Thursday, May 10
Second day in lab Monday, May 14
Third day in lab
Wednesday, May 16
Work time (for the report, etc.)
Tuesday, May 29
Final report due
Thursday, May 31


The year end project consists of a variety of parts - a project proposal (in which you develop an ambitious and testable question and express it as a purpose and step-by-step procedure), laboratory research (in which you perform your laboratory study, gather data, analyze data and present the Data), and a formal lab report. The entire project is worth several points. These points will contribute to your Physics lab grade (equivalent to approximately 8 labs).

Project Proposal, Experimental Design and Abstract (20 points)

Laboratory Research (20 points)

Data Collection, Organization and Presentation (25 pts)

Discussion of Results (25 points)

Student Observation (10 points)

Each part of the project will be graded separately. Detailed information is available on the Scoring Rubrics page.

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