Capstone Information

Physics 492 Course Objective

Applied Physics students will be guided in a mentored learning environment to conduct and disseminate original research or other appropriate creative work.  This culminating undergraduate experience is designed to help a student launch a career in his/her area of interest and is best begun during or prior to the summer before graduation.

Course Registration

Two credits of research credit are required of all B.S. Physics (498R), Physics/Astronomy (498R), and Applied Physics (492R or 498R) majors. Both courses involve both research and writing components. 498R includes the preparation of a written Senior Thesis, while 492R includes the preparation of written Capstone Project Report. This syllabus applies specifically to 492R. Some students register for 492R credit when they begin their research, while others wait until the semester in which they complete their final written report.  If the final project report is not completed during the term of registration, you will receive a standard T grade, which is later converted to a letter grade when the report has been completed.  Note that you can get credit for additional research under Physics 497R even before you begin your formal thesis or capstone work.

Course Coordinator

The course coordinator is the "Capstone Project and Internship Coordinator."  See Advising.

Getting Started

First, assess your interests, talents, and future opportunities. Then explore the research opportunities available and search for a good match. This is usually an iterative process, and you are encouraged to explore many opportunities in parallel. Potential research mentors/advisors can be very helpful here, as can your course coordinator.

Project Proposal

Before registering for credit, you must have a research project proposal (12 pt font, single-spaced, roughly two pages) approved by the course coordinator. In some cases, revisions will be required before a project is approved. The proposal must contain the following information:

  1. Objectives — a concise paragraph describing what you plan to accomplish.
  2. Background — a few paragraphs that put your project in context. What is the important question, problem, issue, or need, and why is it important? What has already been done or is currently being done by others? How will your contribution fit together with and contribute to previous efforts? A few literature citations may be appropriate.
  3. Strategy — several paragraphs that describe what you plan to accomplish in detail and how you plan to do it. Include a brief timeline.
  4. Resources — a paragraph that describes any resources that are essential to your project and how you plan to obtain or gain access to them. These may include the guidance of your mentor/advisor, laboratory equipment and supplies, funding for travel, computer access, etc. Be sure to identify your advisor and their connection to the project. Depending on the situation, your advisor may plan to make some resources available to you.

Research Topic

Your project should combine skills and knowledge relevant to your area of emphasis to explore a solution to a problem, contribute to research in basic or applied science, or propose, invent or evaluate a new product or service. It may be based on research and development performed in collaboration with students or faculty. The research can be carried in cooperation with a research group within the Physics and Astronomy. The project can also be based in other departments, at other universities, in an industrial/profession setting, at a National Laboratory, or at some other type of research organization. In some cases, the project can be primarily self-directed. The project can be experimental, theoretical, computational or informational. If you wish to do a physics project in an area that does not use your selected emphasis, you should change your emphasis. Project topics must be approved in advance by the course coordinator as part of the Proposal process.

Advisor/Mentor

You must find an advisor/mentor for your research project. This individual who can be a faculty member at BYU or an outside professional, will guide you in the development and execution of your project. Depending on your needs and interests, your mentor may work closely with you, or they may merely advise you. It is important that your mentor/advisor be both able and willing to assist you. They will also be called upon by the department to evaluate the quality and quantity of your effort. Furthermore, letters written by research advisors are generally much more effective than those written by teachers of classes. Your research advisor will know you better than a teacher. And consequently, potential schools and employers will weight their comments more heavily.

A potential advisor should be willing to discuss ideas with you and let you casually explore them for a time without a commitment to pursue them. However, most research advisors will only be willing invest significant time and effort after you are sure that you have looked around and settled on a project that you are committed to pursuing. Respect the valuable time and resources of potential advisors, while also remembering that you owe it to yourself to choose the project that best suits you.

Time/Effort

At a minimum, your project will represent work equivalent to the credit that you receive (e.g. 45 hours per credit hour). However, it may be unrealistic to expect to complete a high-quality capstone project report with a minimum passing effort. Most students become deeply involved in the creative aspects of their research projects and devote more than the minimum effort, often continuing their research after the course requirements have been completed. This depends on you, your advisor, and the project you choose. The research and writing often take a few hundred hours. Be sure to discuss these matters in depth with your advisor to make sure you both have realistic expectations about your project.

Duplicate credit

Under some circumstances, it is possible to receive credit for more than one course for your research project. For example, an acceptable Honors Thesis may also satisfy the Senior Thesis and Capstone Project requirements if the policies listed here are adhered to carefully. If you wish to get credit for more than one course for your research project, be sure to get explicit advanced approval from both instructors.

Oral Presentation

A short oral presentation of your completed research project is strongly encouraged. For students graduating in April this requirement is most naturally satisfied by giving a 10-minute talk at the annual College Spring Research Conference, usually held in March. Weekly research group meetings are also an ideal opportunity. Students can also arrange other times/locations with their advisor or course coordinator.

Final Capstone Project Report

More than anything else, effective communication (sometimes referred to as persuasion) skills will dictate your future career opportunities. Recognizing this fact, your final letter grade will be weighted heavily on the quality and substance of your written final Capstone Project Report. A Capstone Project Report need not be as lengthy as formal thesis, though excellent technical writing will still be expected. While there is no specific length requirement, 15 pages of 12 pt double-spaced text is typical, not including any tables, figures, and appendices needed. Your report should include the following components.

  1. Title page — name, title, Physics 492R Capstone Project Report, date, advisor.
  2. Abstract — This paragraph serves as a concise description of your principle results or accomplishments.
  3. Copyright page.
  4. Introduction section — Includes background (the things the reader must know to understand your work), motivation (why is your research problem important?) and context (what has already been done or is currently being done by others, and how will your contribution fit together with and contribute to previous efforts?)
  5. Methods section — This section allows you to place the most technical details of your work together in one place, so that they can be readily reviewed by experts in your field and so that they do not distract the reader in later sections.
  6. Results and Discussion section — Show and explain your data and observations, and then interpret them. The discussion gives meaning to the data, explains their significance, and relates them to a broader context. Some prefer to separate the results and discussion sections while some prefer to integrate them. In any case, be sure that the reader can readily differentiate your results from their interpretation.
  7. Conclusions section — Summarize the main conclusions of your work and their significance, and possibly suggest future research directions.
  8. References — Most bibliographic references to existing literature occur in the introduction, though the other sections may also need them. The format of the reference section, or bibliography, should be that preferred by your mentor/advisor. When unsure, use the AIP (American Institute of Physics) guidelines used by most physics journals.
  9. Acknowledgements — advisor, collaborators, others.

Figures and tables should have self-contained captions (axis labels, clearly-defined units, all features and annotations identified) and should be integrated into the body of the report. Appendices may be added as needed for extensive tables, program code, etc. We strongly recommend that you complete a literature search and write your introduction in the early stages of your research rather than waiting until the end. This process will generally accelerate your understanding, focus and progress. You are encouraged to seek feedback from your course coordinator while preparing your Capstone Report. However, you should not submit your report to the course coordinator for final evaluation until you have reviewed it carefully with your mentor/advisor and seriously considered any feedback that they provide to you. We typically post high-quality Capstone Project Reports on the department website as examples of the excellent research that our students conduct. Before receiving a final grade, you must indicate to the course coordinator whether or not you are willing to have your report posted. We encourage you to discuss this decision with your mentor/advisor.

Grades/Deadlines

You will initially receive a temporary T grade if your project is not completed during the term in which you registered for credit. A letter grade, determined by the course coordinator in consultation with your project advisor/mentor, will only be assigned after the project and report have been completed. Note that T grades do not count towards graduation! The university requires that all T grades must be converted to letter grades at least one month prior to graduation. In order to allow for an adequate evaluation period, you should submit your final report at least six weeks prior to graduation.

  • A-, A: The student has completed a research project and a report, both of the highest quality. The final report reflects on the advisor’s reputation. An A or A- grade indicates that the advisor would be proud to show this work to external reviewers.
  • B-, B, B+: The student has completed a research project and a report, but the quality is close to average. (The completion of a report does not preclude the possibility of a lower grade if the quality of the research and/or writing is poor.)
  • C-, C, C+: The student has completed a research project and a report, but the quality is below average. This range of grade is justified for students who, for example, participate in the Spring Research Conference and who produce meaningful (and reasonably extensive) technical notes to be passed on to other students who continue the work.
  • D-, D, D+ The student has been involved in meaningful research, appropriate for the number of credit hours (i.e. 15 x 6 hrs = 90 hrs for 2 credits). However, the student has failed to produce a report. Or, the student has completed a report, but the quality is well below average.

Financial Support

The Department is sometimes able to give financial support through research assistantships. Applications are filled out online at the department web site for undergraduates. Application deadlines usually come around in August for Fall semester, December for Winter semester and February for Spring/Summer. You may want to choose a faculty advisor and research topic early enough in your junior year (or before) to apply for this support. The BYU Office of Creative Studies (ORCA) also offers a significant number of undergraduate research scholarships each year, for which applications deadlines come around two or three times each year. See their website (orca.byu.edu) for more information. Note most research-related summer jobs, internships, and related opportunities are spoken for by March. January is the time to start looking seriously for summer research funding!