Honors Senior Thesis

A list of Abstracts and PDF copies of previous theses can be found here.


A senior thesis is required for Graduation with Distinction in the Physics Department. The thesis is a written document that summarizes and explains the thesis research for a committee of three faculty who will evaluate the quality of the research, the quality of the thesis, and the student's understanding of the thesis as demonstrated during an oral thesis defense. The committee will then decide on whether to award honors and what kind (honors or high honors).


The thesis should be between 30-70 pages long. (Most physics theses are less than 50 pages.) It should be written in the style of a journal article with a title, abstract, introduction, discussion of methods, discussion of results, a conclusion, and acknowledgements. The student should cite all related and prior work and include a list of references in a bibliography at the end of the thesis. Special attention should be given to writing the title, abstract, opening paragraphs of the introduction, and the conclusions since these are what most people read first and read most carefully. In particular, it is important for the student to identify and to state clearly in the abstract and in the conclusions what the student did and in what ways the results of the thesis are new, significant, or interesting to physicists. The ideal audience for the thesis is Duke physics seniors, so the student should write his or her thesis so that most of it can be understood by this peer group.


Examples of recent Duke physics abstracts and these can be found here and a student should look at several of these theses at an early stage, to get an idea of the style of writing and how a thesis is organized.


It is strongly recommended that the student share the title and abstract of the thesis as soon as possible with his or her committee members so that the committee is clear about the intent of the thesis and so that the committee can provide feedback to the student and to the student's advisor at the earliest possible moment. The student should also provide a draft of the thesis to the Committee members at least two weeks before the oral defense, so that possible questions or issues can be identified and explained to the student before the defense. A key to success for an honors thesis is frequent communication with the thesis advisor and with the committee members.


Although it is not a requirement, students often complete the research project as part of the course PHY 495, "Thesis Independent Study". To achieve honors, especially high honors, a student should plan on spending at least a full year on the thesis work, with an effort corresponding to about ten hours per week over that time. Regular meetings with the faculty mentor should be scheduled (approximately once per week) and an interim progress report should be presented to the faculty mentor and to the DUS after the first semester of work.