PHYS 401 -- Some Suggested Topics for your Presentation
Remember, you are encouraged to come up with a topic of your choice, not necessarily
one mentioned on this list... This list is to give you just a few ideas
of potentially interesting topics. You may want to make your own
variation of one the suggested topics below, or delve into an E&M related issue that has
been on your mind already.
For topics of a historical nature, many excellent references may be found online in
electronic journals and at libraries on campus. I can provide some help with locating journal
articles. I also recommend the UBC Library's free Research Skills workshop (offered
several times per term) to learn how to approach a general research problem and familiarize
yourself with many of the 'standard' online e-tools, including the
Web of Science (the science
citation index) how to get the most out of online databases, accessing electronic journals and
Want to browse for ideas? Get a current list of articles on from Scientific American
Nature, Popular Mechanics, Science, Discovery are popular appropriate-level for such
presentations, as are a number of popular journals and academic physics journals,
all available in several libraries on campus and online as
Journals accessible to you from any on-campus site (....ubc.ca) or by using
VPN to access
UBC Library's e-journals from off-campus.
- Electrodynamic Tethers
- There are many cool space-type applications
involving sweeping an electrodynamic tether through a magnetic field in space to generate
large potential differences, which can be used for propulsion without huge masses of
- Magnetic Monopoles
- What are they?
Can they fit into the electromagnetic theory of Maxwell?
What experimental techniques have been used to search for
them, and what are the results of these experiments?
- Lightening is an amazing force and beautiful phenomenon in nature
driven by interesting processes in the earth's atmosphere which generate huge
potential difference between storm clouds and earth. How is lightening made?
- Radar just uses radio-wave electromagnetic waves, but how does it
work? Or how does the speed-trap radar that our friendly cops use work? (... how can you
- Particle Accelerators - cyclotron, or synchroton, or betatron
- Ernest Lawrence
proposed the idea of a magnetic resonance accelerator (the cyclotron), and in the 1930's
he and a graduate student, Stanley Livingston built and operated the first
cyclotron. (It won Lawrence a Nobel Prize) Describe their apparatus and explain how it was
used to accelerate protons to 1.2MeV. A modern synchrotron, such as the one at TRIUMF, is
based on a principle similar to that of the cyclotron, except that the magnetic bending
field, B, and the RF frequency must increase and be synchronized with the particle
velocity as it increases. Outline briefly how the TRIUMF synchrotron (or any particle
accelerator of your choice) works. A Betatron uses an alternating magnetic field to
accelerate particles using magnetic induction (according to Faraday's Law).
- The Aurora
- This gorgeous natural phenomenon is all plasma physics (E&M).
Go over the physics of the Aurora borealis. Under what conditions do we see them?
What determines the colours?
- Atmospheric Optics
Light interacting with water drops, dust or ice crystals in the atmosphere produces a host
of beautiful spectacles - rainbows, halos, glories, sundogs, coronas among others. Select
and explain one or more and describe how they form and the physics behind them. For example,
rainbows are electromagnetic phenomena that rely upon the refraction of
light. Explain the physics of rainbows and some of the subtle effects seen, for example
primary and secondary bows, supernumerary bows, spokes and other interesting features.
- Maglev Trains
Magnetic levitation is currently in use in Japan and in development elsewhere
to levitate a train thus eliminating friction, enabling incredible ground speeds. Go over
either the theory or technology of maglev trains.
- Lienard-Wiechert Potentials
- Derive the potential and field of a relativistic
charge in arbitrary motion. Show that the Coulomb potential is the limit when the charge
is at rest and discuss some interesting aspects of this.
- A railgun
can accelerate a projectile to high speed in a very short time. Such devices often figure
in sci-fi novels as a means to launch stuff into space.
S such a device can be use to launch payloads without
carrying heavy fuel. You might remember rail guns from a
not-so-popular movie starring the Governor of California.
- A pulsar is the remnant of a massive star that went supernova and now
is a neutron star with a strong magnetic field, emitting radiation in a cone. How/Why do they
pulsate? How do they get such huge magnetic fields?
- Pick one or more bioelectric or biomagnetic living
organisms and explain the physiological origin of electric and/or magnetic fields, how the
animal generates them and/or how the animal uses them.
- Electric and Magnetic fields in Nerve Cells
- Cell membranes in general, and
membranes of nerve cells in particular, maintain a small voltage
or potential difference across the membrane. When nerve cells are stimulated, voltage
across the membrane changes.. Just how do these things work?
- Anti-shoplifting Devices
What's in those little electronic tags that we get on some merchandise? How to they work?
How are they deactivated by the checkout person?
- Airport Security Metal Detectors
Those airport security metal detector gates make for annoying airport delays, but they likely
increase our security. Most are based on a pulsed induction, with a transmitter on one gate
and a receiver on the other side. How do they work? What are their shortcomings?
- Crystal Radio
- Your parents (and I) played with crystal radios in the
pre-Nintendo era. How do they work? Want to make one and bring it in?
- Microwave Oven
- How do we use electromagnetic radiation in the radio wavelength
range to heat up food and boil water so quickly? What processes go on in our food, why shouldn't
you use metal in a microwave oven?
- Helmholtz Theorem
- Show that any vector field, for example the electric or
magnetic field, can be decomposed into an irrotational part
(curl is zero) and a solenoidal part (divergence is zero) and discuss implications and an
illustrative example or two.
- Plasma Physics
- A plasma is an ionized gas consisting of free electrons and
ions. Use a classical electron model to examine dispersion and conductivity in a plasma. Or
present and explain some neat application of plasma physics.
- Transmission Lines
- Explain the theory and operating principles of transmission
- Review the classical model of dispersion, that is the frequency
dependence of optical properties of materials.
- The Heart
- Rhythmic contractions of the heart pump blood occur in response to
electrical control pulse sequences. Active cells in the sinoatrial node in the heart trigger
a sequence of electrical events that control muscle contractions which pump the blood. How
does this amazing electromagnetic bio-device work?
- Fresnel's Equations
Fresnel's four equations specify the reflected and transmitted amplitudes of
electromagnetic waves at a smooth dielectric boundary. Go over the derivation of the
equations and give some interesting insight into a physical system using them.
- Particle Detectors, Drift Chambers
- How do you make one? how does it work?
How are they used to precisely measure momentum of the charged particles
electron, muon, pion, kaon, and proton using the curvature of a particle's trajectory
in a magnetic field (due to Lorentz force). Describe how measuring specific
ionization (energy deposition per unit length traversed in a gas, often referred to as
dE/dx) may be useful in identifying the 5 above mentioned particle species.
Georges Charpak won the Nobel Prize for his invention and development of wire chambers.
- Electric Guitar
- Without Faraday, we'd have no Rock and Roll! How do an
electric guitar's pickups work, and how to you drive a speaker?
- Marconi and Radio Waves
In 1895, Guglielmo Marconi, a self-taught 21-year-old performed
simple experiments that showed it was possible to send signals using electromagnetic waves to
connect a transmitting and a receiving antenna. By 1901, he sent a wireless signal across the
Atlantic. Review this discovery of radio.
- Electric Eel
- What is it in an electric eel's anatomy that generates
huge potential difference that can reach several hundred volts and deliver quite a shock?
- Cell Phones
- Cell phones now let you talk with almost anyone anywhere on the
planet, wirelessly! How do they work? What are all these different access technologies we
hear about: PCS, GSM, CDMA and TDMA ?? How does cell phone technology differ from say, walkie
- Antenna Theory and Design
- Review antenna theory and design an antenna for some
specific or arbitrary purpose.
- A pulsar is a remnant of a massive star that went supernova
and is now a neutron start iwth a strong magnetic field, emitting EM radiation in a
cone.. How does a pulsar pulsate? What's the source of its huge magnetic field?
Resources and relevant Electronic Journals and Magazines
Return to PHYS 401 Homepage
Janis McKenna, UBC Department of Physics and Astronomy