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Undergraduate Research Topic Suggestions

  1. Aug 12, 2005 #1
    Hello my friends,

    I need to select a topic for undergraduate research. I have a meeting set-up with my advisor, and I would like to take some possible problems with me to discuss with him. After searching for unsolved problems for some time, all of them seemed well above something an undergraduate could hope to tackle, or even grapple with a bit, so I am curious to see if anyone here has any ideas for projects (ideally theory) at the undergraduate level.

    The difficulty of the problems is no concern--I just want to make sure that I can understand the problem so that I can begin working on it. I do not, for example, have significant background in General Relativity, Particle Physics, or string theory.

    Many thanks for your suggestions.

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 12, 2005 #2
    As an undergraduate researcher, you probably shouldn't expect yourself to be able to come in and do cutting edge research. My advice would be more to listen than speak with the advisor.

    What kind of research is going on at your school? Is there anything that strikes your fancy at all?
  4. Aug 12, 2005 #3
    I actually find my advisor's work quite interesting. Perhaps I will just see if I can assist him in some fashion...
  5. Aug 12, 2005 #4
    This is really your best bet. Your advisor will also be excited (at least more prone to be excited) about helping you and advising you. If at all possible, try to align your work with a high level graduate student. They will be around much more often and if you get lucky, they will be more than happy to help you with your research and understanding. I was lucky enough to have this happen as an undergrad. I am now doing research with the ex-grad student, who is now a research scientist for NASA, in conjunction with my advisor. We have been collaborating for the last 4 years. I hope you get as lucky as I have.
  6. Aug 12, 2005 #5


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    the most important thign is to practice generating questions, i.e. possible projects, rathere than working out someone elses project. think back and survey all the topics and facts you have learned. ask yourself "where did they stop? was the stopping place natural or merely a fact of people running otu of energy or imagination or time?

    i.e. if something was proved or investigated for one case, what about the next logical case"? Why was that not mentioned?

    I have been teaching integral calculus for 40 years and it only dawned on me this summer that the same inductive method that is used to go from knowing the formula for 2 dimensional area to deriving a formual for three dimensional volume, could also be used in integral calculus for deriving a formula for 4 dimensional volume from that for 3 dimenhsiopnal volume. And it is essentially no harder. I am going to teach it this fall for this first time in my life.

    try to make some extension of a concept like that from what you have studied to what you could study by the same methods.
  7. Aug 17, 2005 #6
    Very interesting. I was turning this over as a possibility, and I like it a great deal.

    There was one problem in particular that I thought I could solve that occurred to me in my second semester of Classical Mech, but I seem to have forgotten it...

    Time to head back to the notes/text, and maybe consult the professor, to see if I can remember it and try to tackle it!


  8. Aug 17, 2005 #7
    I take it you're in the US? How major a part does the research play in your final result?

    Here in the UK (at Bristol) my final year project counted 25% towards my degree score. Good thing I had a really interesting, 'real world' project (developing a neural network technique to attach isolated tracks to observed decay vertices in the next linear collider vertex dectector).

    Some friends of mine worked on some stuff in the Theory group, one on Quantum Non Locality, and working out some funky new operators to do stuff (I was hungover when I read their poster...), and the other working on some interesting stuff to do with some novel magnetic induction (hinted at by Fynman a while back, I believe). There's also some stuff this year to do with knot theory, chaotic optics etc etc.

    Go and speak to some people in some groups and see what's around. Here, the projects are published and you generally apply for one.
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