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Possibility of theoretical topic for undergraduate thesis

  1. Jul 23, 2012 #1
    If you wish to skip the back story, skip to the last paragraph.

    The honors college at my university (Arizona State) requires undergraduates to complete a thesis if they wish to graduate from the honors college. I've been extremely excited about presenting a worthwhile thesis as a physics major at such a low level in the academic hierarchy, but I've got a bit of a dilemma.

    While I have a gigantic passion for all this physics, I'm much more enthusiastic about theory than anything experimental. In fact, I'm double majoring in math in an attempt to prepare myself for the higher level math as much as possible. I've really had no issues so far with any of the material (this next year will be my sophomore year, but I'm a level ahead in classes) and have done plenty of research on my own about material to come--both in math and physics--by spending....probably too much time online, whether it be the forums, wikipedia, youtube, what have you.

    This summer I've got a research assistant job at fermilab, where I'm working on designing a secondary beamline for an experiment set to happen within several years. It's been a fantastic experience and I've learned an unbelievable amount of material, however working here has only helped me realize more that I'd much rather be working in theory over experimental. However, as only a sophomore undergraduate, I've got so much more to learn before I even understand the tip of the iceberg of the frontiers of today's theoretical particle physics.

    So, my question...
    Is it realistic to strive for a substantial and worthwhile undergraduate thesis presentation in theoretical particle physics? If not, should I go for an easier area of theory or switch to experimental? I've got plenty of good material in my fermilab work. However, I don't want to start digging too big of a hole for myself in experimental. But maybe all theorists start off as experimentalists...I'm rather torn.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 24, 2012 #2
    Unless it's a coding or data analysis project, then no. There are a lot of theory possibilities if you start doing statistical mechanics or complex systems, and there are some quantum and atomic physics projects you might be able to do theory in. The trouble with particle physics theory is that it's going to be tough to do if you haven't taken quantum field theory.

    If you have experimental data then it would work as an undergraduate thesis project. I don't think that you should be overly concerned with the exact topic of your undergraduate thesis project, since that's not going to restrict what you can do in graduate school.
  4. Jul 24, 2012 #3
    I did a theory project as an undergrad. The problem was extremely trivial but it got me digging in theoretical work.

    Now that I am going to graduate school to do theory, I wish I did more experimental to build intuition and practical skills. If you want to do theory, go for it, but I would say as an undergrad keep doing experimental.
  5. Jul 24, 2012 #4
    Don't you have to approach a professor for your thesis, anyways? Just ask the theory guys if they have a thesis project for you. It is, after all, the duty of the departments to offer thesis projects (we recently ran into the issue when the German system changed from 4 years studies + 1-2 years thesis to 3 years studies + 3-4 months thesis - even the mathematical physicists managed to offer topics).
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