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NS 176: Final Project

The final project is due on Wed., May 2. Choose one of the following to work on:

  1. A term paper tracing the development of human thought about the physical universe in a non-Western culture.
    In this course we have taken a decidedly narrow approach to the development of human thought by selecting only those thinkers that have played major roles for our Western culture. I have been guided in this process by the overarching idea that by studying one heritage in some detail, we can achieve insight into how humans in general have changed in their approach to scientific inquiry through time: what questions they have asked, and what answers they have found satisfactory. I think a similar study of a non-Western culture's development of ideas would prove rewarding. The project, then, is to write a research paper in which you investigate another culture's changing views of the physical world, asking the same questions we have emphasized throughout this course:
    What were their early conceptions of space and the physical world? Did they have a mythology about the stars?
    Did they view the heavens as an integral part of their own lives? Were the heavens separate from things on the earth?
    What types of answers did they find satisfactory to questions about changes in the physical world around them?
    What drove them to discovery? Why were they led to care about such things? What were the major discoveries made by the society?
    How did their views change over time? What brought about these changes?
    Did they maintain a complete separation from Western thought? Or were their views shaped by the ideas we've discussed in class?
    How large a role did religion play in their ideas?

    ...and so forth. This is a challenging project, limited in some cases by the amount of readily available material on the subject. Studying some cultures will certainly be easier than others. To make sure you're setting out on a good path, I ask that, by Wednesday, April 11, you turn in a rough outline of the approach you're going to take, along with a list of sources you think you'll be using. To get an idea of what a successful paper contains I'll be putting a former student's work on reserve at the Library Center.

    This assignment should draw from a variety of source material. It should include a bibliography, and footnotes when appropriate. It will be evaluated on (roughly in descending order of importance):

    How well written it is.
    How successfully you addressed the questions you set out to answer (such as those given above).
    How coherent the paper is: that is, does it flow nicely through time with logical connections? Or does it jump abruptly from one major idea to the next? (Sometimes, of course, paradigm shifts come abruptly! But I just don't want this to be a list of the discoveries made by the society.)
    What additional insight you bring to the study: either from your own background, or from the ideas we've discussed in the course.

  2. A term paper focusing on the role of women in science.

    Recently, there has been a vigorous reexamination of the role women have played in the history of science. While the majority of ideas we discuss in this class are attributed to men, the advances and contributions made by women have become increasingly apparent, even during times as early as 1000 AD and before. The scope and nature of this project is fairly flexible: find a line of thought/angle of attack which you find interesting AND for which there's enough source material, relating in a direct way to the accomplishments and/or influence of women in the history of science. Then, write up a brief description of your plan, along with a list of sources you think you'll be using, and give these to me by Wednesday April 11 - I'll look it over, and offer suggestions/recommendations.

    To help get you started, I'll be placing three good references on the subject on 1-day reserve at the Library Center:

    The biographical dictionary of women in science : pioneering lives from ancient times to the mid-20th century, eds. Marilyn Ogilvie and Joy Harvey.
    Women and science : an annotated bibliography, Marilyn Ogilvie, with Kerry Lynne Meek, 1996.
    The mind has no sex? : women in the origins of modern science, Londa Schiebinger, 1989.
    These should serve as a good base for future investigations.
    This assignment should draw from a variety of source material, and include a bibliography and footnotes when appropriate. It will be evaluated on (roughly in descending order of importance):

    How well written it is.
    How completely you address the topics you set out to discuss.
    What additional insight you bring to the study: either from your own background, or from the ideas we've discussed in the course.

  3. A meeting of the minds: A discussion among the great thinkers of history.

    Through the miracle of time-transport, Isaac Newton, Socrates or Plato, and at least 2 other people we've studied find themselves sitting around the same dinner table (they don't have to be at dinner - you can chose any background for their discussion). Record what transpires in the form of a play.

    This play should be a full-blown dialogue among these people, in which you allow the major ideas and personality of each of them to fully develop. This is a creative assignment, and you are limited only by your imagination and the insight you've gained into the character of each of the people you choose to be in your play. Note that the play doesn't have to be a static situation: you can have the people engaged in some activity that further advances your plot line as well.

    This assignment will be evaluated on (roughly in descending order of importance):

    How well written it is.
    How well you capture the major ideas of each of the characters.
    How well you capture the personalities of each of the characters.
    How successfully you integrate the ideas and personalities into a coherent, readable play.
    The creativity of your approach: was the play fun and entertaining to read?

  4. An essay answering the question: What is an electron?

    This should be a thoughtful, wide-ranging philosophical and scientific essay probing into the heart of what we have covered in this course, drawing inspiration from the views, beliefs, and writings of the major thinkers from all time-periods studied. Note that this is not a research assignment, but rather a probe of how deeply you have pondered the history of human thought and how this has shaped our world-view and approach to nature, using the electron as a vehicle for this exploration.

    This assignment will be evaluated on (roughly in descending order of importance):

    How well written it is.
    Your philosophical creativity. Of all the project possibilities, I consider this one to have the largest creative component. While the modern understanding of what an electron is was formed only in the last century, the successful essay will reach far back in time to the first rumblings of what we today call philosophy.
    How well you describe the modern view of what an electron is. That is, putting in your own words the description found in Wolf and our discussions in class about the nature of the electron, and all material objects in general.

  5. A project of your own creation.
    Have a wonderful idea that you feel passionate about for a final project? Write a detailed project proposal and hand it in to me by Wednesday, April 4. I will read it over, and let you know whether it is acceptable. To be successful, the proposal must:
    Clearly and concisely state the aims of the project.
    Indicate that you have fully thought through and will be able to complete the project by the due date; present a clear, viable path to completion.
    Present a project that broadly relates to the spirit of this course.

    Since these projects will, by their nature, vary considerably, the evaluation criteria will necessarily vary from one project to the next. In general, though, the most important points are how clearly you present your ideas, and how well you have achieved the goal(s) you set out to investigate.

    Note: A few students have indicated that they would like to complete a Division I Natural Science Project out of this course, and I have inquired into what is required for this (the same basic things apply also for Div. II, and Div. III). Here is what I have found out. Since this is my first semester as an instructor at Hampshire, I am unfortunately not allowed to chair Division I Projects this semester. However, a project begun this semester may continue to be worked on next semester (i.e., Fall 2001), at which point I can chair the project, and will generally be happy to do so. (Note: If it is absolutely essential that you complete a Div. I project this term, it may still be possible. It will, however, most likely necessitate bringing Debra Martin, Dean of Natural Sciences, in to chair the project. I would then assume the roll as the second reader on the project.) Thus, if you are interested in completing a Div. I project based on this course, you should:

    1. Turn in a project proposal by Wed., April 4, stating that you wish this to be considered for a Div. I project. To guide you in crafting an appropriate Natural Science project proposal, familiarize yourself with the guidelines stated on the Div. I information sheets hanging outside Laurie Smith's office (3rd floor Cole). In general, I expect a Div. I project to represent a substantially greater investment of effort than is required for the ``typical'' final project for this class. Note in particular that to fulfill the goals of an NS project, it must include some quantitative analysis (i.e., working with numbers, data, graphs, etc.). Important: It is not expected that you complete the entire project by the end of this course. Rather, the ``final project'' for this class may be a piece of the larger project that will fulfill your Div. I. If possible, indicate in your proposal what part(s) of the project you intend to finish by the end of the term, and then what part(s) you will work on next semester.
    2. I read your proposal and then set up an appointment to meet with you, where I may suggest modifications, point you in new directions, help fully form the project idea, etc. (It is also possible (but, hopefully, unlikely) that at this meeting I will tell you that in my view the proposal does not merit a Div. I project.) We will also specify what part(s) of the project are to be completed this term, and what part(s) can be worked on next semester.
    3. You hand in the final project with the rest of the class on Wed., May 2. We will meet again shortly thereafter, after I've had a chance to review your work. At this meeting, I will suggest any revisions and we will outline a clear path to completion during the next semester.
    4. In Fall 2001 we will meet at regular intervals to discuss your progress with the project, and aim to have it completed in a timely way.

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douglas leonard
Sat Mar 10 15:11:21 PST 2001