You are here

PHYS 494 B: Seminar on Current Problems in Physics

Meeting Time: 
W 2:30pm - 4:20pm
* *
Jason Detwiler Portrait
Jason Detwiler

Syllabus Description:


Prof. Jason Detwiler
Best contact method: Canvas Messaging

Class Meeting Time

Wednesdays 2:30 - 4:30 pm on Zoom (sign in via "SSO" using your UW NetID)

No class on Wednesday Nov 11 (Veteran's Day) or Nov 25 (Thanksgiving week)

Following class zoom sessions I will hold office hours until 5 pm.

Course Description

Welcome to PHYS 494: Seminar on Current Problems in Physics. The aim of the course is to provide you with an opportunity to learn in-depth about a topic in experimental, observational, or theoretical physics, and at the same time gain experience in doing literature research and preparing a scientific presentation. This quarter writing credit is optional for this course: those students wishing to receive writing credit will be required to also write a research report. My role as instructor will be to help you choose an appropriate topic, to help answer questions that come up as you research your chosen topic, and to provide feedback on your presentation and, if applicable, your paper.

Course Structure

Topic selection and literature research
You are expected to select a research topic in experimental, observational, or theoretical physics and submit a short proposal. The topic you choose to pursue this quarter must not be a topic that you have explored in previous seminar courses or independent research.

Your proposal should include the key references you will use in your research. Your references should address both breadth (getting the big picture of your topic) as well as depth (getting to the details on your topic). The references for your topic must include at least one refereed journal publication.

You are encouraged to meet with the instructor to discuss your topic and your research progress.

All students will record a 10-minute presentation to be shown during class during the last few weeks of the quarter, followed by 5-10 minutes of live Q&A. You are expected to submit an outline and then a draft of your slides several weeks in advance. You will also record a rehearsal of your talk using Panopto and send it to the instructor for feedback at least one week prior to your presentation date. The final version of the presentation must be uploaded to the class website at least 24 hours in advance of the start of class on the day of your presentation.

You are expected to participate in the live viewing of student videos and the ensuing discussions. Each student must ask at least 3 questions to speakers at some point during the course. You will also be required to submit short written feedback on each talk. 

Those students wishing to receive writing credit must write a ten- to fifteen-page research paper on their chosen topic. The report can be a survey or review of the topic, or it can delve into specifics about a particular question or experiment. An abstract and outline for the paper must be submitted by week 3, a five-page draft is due by week 6, and the full paper, on which your writing grade will be based, is due on the last day of class. The paper should be "scientific" in style, with an abstract, introduction, body, conclusion, and references.

Grading Policy

Grades will be based on the following point system:

Proposal: 10

Outline: 20

Draft Slides:
Technical content: 20
Slide quality: 5

Practice Video:
Technical content: 10
Video quality: 5

Technical content: 10
Delivery and slide / video quality: 5
Questions and discussion: 10

In-class discussion and questions: 30
Presentation questionnaires : 4 points per presentation

70% corresponds to a grade of 3.0. Scores of 95% or higher will be given a 4.0. If GPAs come out anomalously low, all grades will be scaled up at the end of the quarter to match historical averages for this course. A grade of 0.0 will be given to anyone who does not complete the in-class presentation. There is no final exam.

Writing Credit
Research paper assignments submitted for writing credit will be graded as follows:

  • Abstract and Outline: 10
  • Draft: 10
  • Final Draft:
    • Technical content: 20
    • Writing: 5

You must earn 70% of the available points to receive writing credit. These scores do not contribute to your GPA.

Late Work
Late assignments will be reduced by 10% per day (multiplicative). Assignments 10 days late will receive a score of zero.

Research Topics

You may essentially choose any current topic in physics that interests you. Here are some ideas to help you pick:

Recent important results and discoveries
High-profile recent discoveries
Things your parents / friends (might) ask you questions about
Subjects of recent Nobel Prizes and other awards

Current research efforts
Research being carried out here at UW
Topics studied by research groups at your prospective graduate schools
Research related to a potential future employer
Topics from recent colloquia and seminars that have caught your interest

Physics and society
Challenges and research in physics education
Scientific literacy, outreach, and public support for physics research
Applications of physics in problems of social, economic, and political import
Physics controversies, pseudoscience, and fringe science

Suggested Resources

Major breakthroughs
Science Magazine's Breakthroughs of the Year (2019, 2018, 2017, ...)
Physics World's Top 10 Breakthroughs (of 2019, of the decade)
Wikipedia's Year in Science (2020, 2019, 2018, ...)
Nobel Prizes in Physics
Breakthrough Prizes in Physics

Science news and periodicals
Nature News
Science News 
APS Physics 
Physics Today 
Inside Science 
New Scientist 
Scientific American

Featured journal articles and preprints
PRL Editor's Suggestions 
Nature featured physics articles
Science physics articles

Research listings at academic institutions, labs, and user facilities
UC Berkeley
IPMU Tokyo
Sanford Underground Research Facility

Local colloquia and seminar listings
UW Frontiers of Physics Public Lecture Series
UW physics colloquia
INT workshops and seminars
ABC seminars 

CENPA seminars 

Safe campus

I am committed to ensuring a safe environment on campus.  I encourage you to check out the resources available here.

Religious Accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (

Academic integrity and student conduct

The University takes academic integrity and student conduct very seriously.  Behaving with integrity and respect is part of our responsibility to our shared learning community. Acts of academic misconduct may include, but are not limited to, plagiarism and sharing course materials without permission.

Please note that screenshots or recordings of instructors, other students, and course materials during active video (Zoom) participation sessions are strictly forbidden.  Streaming or posting inappropriate materials on any course platform is also not allowed. 

All the course materials including instructor and student videos are intellectual properties of the instructor / students and the University of Washington. Distributing them in any form without permission is forbidden.  

The University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478-121) defines prohibited academic and behavioral conduct and describes how the University holds students accountable as they pursue their academic goals.  Allegations of misconduct by students may be referred to the appropriate campus office for investigation and resolution.  More information can be found online at

If you’re uncertain about if something is academic or behavioral misconduct, ask me.  I am happy to discuss any questions you might have.

Catalog Description: 
Supervised, independent study of topics (chosen by faculty in charge) of current interest in physics. Written and oral presentations summarizing work accomplished are required. Offered: A.
GE Requirements: 
Natural Sciences (NSc)
Writing (W)
Section Type: 
Last updated: 
June 28, 2020 - 9:22pm