PHYS 348 -- Frontiers in Physics

Fall Term 2021

Class: Tuesdays & Thursdays 14:00-15:30, in person!!
Professor: Janis McKenna
E-mail: My email most often gets read and answered evenings between 10pm and 1am.
Office Hours: Office Hours will be on Zoom: 4-5pm Wednesdays. Or by appointment. Zoom link is available inside Lecture 1 notes and in Canvas
Webpage: (this is it)
CANVAS Learning Management System: Login with your Campus Wide Login (CWL), then choose PHYS 348 Frontiers in Physics.
Text: No textbook; notes will be handed out and electronic resources will be used. They will be posted in CANVAS

This course will be done in a combination of lecture/seminar style and our goal is to develop research and communication skills, while exploring current "hot" research topics in physics/astronomy. We'll start off working on our scientific research literacy and effective scientific communications skills. Then the course will turn more seminar-style, as students collectively select a few interesting research topics to explore. Each student will choose two research topics. For one of these topics, you'll make an oral presentation to the class and write a scientific paper. For the other topic, you'll do a poster presentation (we'll have 3 poster session classes) and write a popular science style article.

By the end of the course, students should feel that they have the skills necessary to read and comprehend published scientific refereed research articles, give scientific presentations, write scientific reports and have experience with poster presentations, similar to those you may present at a scientific conference, or a progress/project report at a high tech firm. Students will have experience performing the background investigations and reviews scientists typically perform at the beginning of a research projects: students taking the PHYS 349 project, PHYS 449 thesis, co-op job projects, independant studies, MSc project will be well prepared to embark on research of their own. Students will have studied and reviewed two current (appropriate) physics or astronomy research topics of their choice, made an oral presentation and a poster presentation. Students will have written a short scientific review article and a newspaper/popular science style article on these research topics. Student participation is essential in all aspects of the course.

Majors students will be well prepared for PHYS 349/ASTR 349 - Directed Studies in Physics/Astronomy (Majors research project)
Honours students will be well-prepared for PHYS 449/ASTR449 - Honours Thesis (Honours research project)
All should find this to be useful preparation for your next career step.

Skills Development

Exploration of Current "HOT" Research Topics

  • Student participation is crucial to this course: Students assess other's presentations and posters, and discuss readings. Students are required to email me in advance to explain any absences.


    No Final Exam
    20% 5 assignments, 4% each
    3% Reading Quizzes (online in UBC Canvas)
    15% Term Research Paper 1 (shorter review paper in form of an in-depth newspaper article)
    20% Term Research Paper 2 (publication-style research review paper)
    15% Poster Presentation
    15% Seminar Presentation
    7% Participation in discussions, and on quality of written feedback and assessments of your peers' presentations and posters.
    5% Midterm Exam
    The above grading scheme applies ONLY to students who have completed all four main course components: Both presentations, both papers. Any students who have not completed all four main components will fail the course, and their final mark will be the LOWER of: ( the calculated mark using the above scheme, or 47%) - whichever is lower. ie you cannot PASS this course if you omit any of the presentations or papers.)


  • PHYS 348 in CANVAS Class and lecture materials, course handouts, assignments, schedules, class bulletin/discussion board, homework, your grades/progress, and other useful docs will all be in the new UBC CANVAS Learning Management System, as materials are available. Reading Quizzes will be done online in Canvas.

    Student Presentations, Posters and Papers

    Homework and Homework Assignments

    The assignments and supplemental material to help you with them are available in CANVAS for PHYS 348. Five assignments are to be done in hardcopy and handed in on the due dates.
    Both papers must be submitted via TurnItIn

    At the beginning of the course, handouts and short papers and backgrounder information which will help you with the course material and the assignments. These reference materials will be available early in the term and will remain on the CANVAS site until the end of the course. Students are expected to read advance handouts in preparation for the following class.

    General Resources, the UBC Library and Journals

    Writing Resources

    Please share other materials which you think may be of interest to the class

    You're A Member of the Physics Community

    As a senior in physics/astronomy, you should think about being a participant and a member in our national and international physics communities. Fortunately, both the Canadian and American national physics associations realize that the great developments and advances of the next few decades will be made by physicists who are now young students, just like you. So you may join these physics communities absolutely free of charge:

    Present your work at a Conference

    Your experience with poster and oral presentations in this PHYS 348 course prepares you to present at conferences/meetings.
    Many of us have interesting results to present from a recent co-op workterm, from a summer research job, or research in your PHYS/ASTR 349/449 research thesis.

    The following conferences/meetings are all student-friendly and encourage poster or short oral research presentations from students. Those of you who have co-op or summer work research are encouraged to participate. BE SURE TO FIRST GET AN OK FROM YOUR BOSS/SUPERVISOR if you would like to present work done in industry or within a research group.