Brian W. O'Shea - Honors options

cv / bio


General notes
Useful links
Acceptable references
Paper formatting guidelines
Potentially useful links
Ideas for honors options
Previous honors options

Some general notes on Honors Options

Projects that endanger you, other people, or animals will not be accepted. Projects need to follow proper scientific and safety protocols, and must not violate any laws or international treaties. Please respect copyright, but realize that since this is an educational project the concept of "fair use" does come into play. Videos should be of good technical quality suitable for large-screen projection. Finally, please note that, according to the College of Natural Sciences policy on H-Options, students must achieve a grade of 3.0 or higher in the course in question to receive an honors option.

Available hardware for Honors Options

We have a wide range of electronics and hardware that can be used for your honors project. This includes two Flip video cameras, two high-speed (1200 FPS) Nikon video cameras (which can also take still pictures), an optical/infrared still camera, a tripod that fits all of the cameras listed above, two iPads that can be used along with a suite of Pasco sensors (accelerometer, temperature, pressure, distance/velocity, and so on), as well as a Pasco data-taking device that can be used with the same set of sensors. You may also have access to the physics lab, the lecture demo room (C-105), and everything contained within both of those rooms!

MSU Honors College
The honors option
Some honors option examples
Another MSU page on honors options (including some example H-options)
Honors college page on enriching academic opportunities
Honors college page on offering honors work
Academic Scholars Program advising tips (by college)

Acceptable references in Honors Option papers and case studies

If your Honors Option is a research paper, you must use only primary sources. This does not include Wikipedia and similar sites where users generate content without any significant peer or editorial review. We prefer that you use articles from research journals or researched books (a good rule of thumb is that if a book has a bibliography, it's acceptable), and in certain circumstances will allow articles from reliable news sites such as,, the New York Times Science section, New Scientist, Science Daily, Science News, the journal Nature's News Site, and the journal Science's News Site. If you're doing a project discussing science and the media, public impressions of scientific facilities, and similar topics, you can use other sources as appropriate (and after clearing it with me).

Paper formatting guidelines

I don't believe in having specific length guidelines for papers - the page lengths listed above should be taken as rough estimates only. In general, I want a paper (or other honors option) to be long enough to demonstrate to me that you have done a significant amount of work (enough to qualify as an "Honors" project) and that you understand the material you are studying. Padding of a paper to reach some completely arbitrary minimum (or trimming to get below an arbitrary maximum) is a waste of everybody's time and misses the point of an Honors project. That said, I would like papers to be readable and have space for me to make notes. To that extent, I would like papers to have 1"-1.25" margins with 12 point text and any standard font (Helvetica, Times, Times New Roman, etc.) would be appreciated.

Poster advice
More poster advice

Ideas for Honors Option projects

Listed below are some ideas for honors option projects. This is not meant to constrain you, only to assist you in devising your own project. If you have a good idea that is different than what is listed here, or combines more than one idea listed here, please feel free to suggest it to me!

  1. Read a book and/or a set of articles relating to physics or astronomy in some way that have a central theme, and write a paper describing the theme and books. Examples of themes include global climate change; biographies of famous physicists such as Newton, Einstein, or Oppenheimer; the development of quantum mechanics; the development of the atomic bomb; and the history and current developments in manned space flight. This would be an individual project, and would culminate in a 10-15 page paper and a 10-15 minute presentation.
  2. Do library research on a physics or astronomy topic of interest and write a research paper summarizing your findings. This would be an individual project, and would culminate in a 10-15 page paper and a 10-15 minute presentation.
  3. "MythBusters" - produce a 6-10 minute movie (DVD preferred) "busting" or confirming a physics-related urban myth, similar to the TV show. This would be a group project, and would culminate in the video plus a short writeup.
  4. Bio/medical physics - produce a 6-10 minute movie (DVD preferred) on applications of physics in biology and/or medicine. For example: explain how MRI/NMR/X-ray/CAT scans work; sports medicine; laser surgery. This would be a group project, and would culminate in the video plus a short writeup.
  5. "Science NOW" - produce a 6-10 minute video (DVD preferred) on some subject of current social relevance that also relates to physics in some way, similar to what is done on the PBS show scienceNOW. Examples include, but are not limited to: Dark matter, the Large Hadron Collider and the possibility of creating black holes, effects of global warming on Michigan and its economy, space elevators, and the Hubble Space Telescope. This would be a group project, and would culminate in the video plus a short writeup.
  6. Develop a simulation using VPython or a similar programming tool that illustrates a particular physical concept. This would be an individual project, and would culminate in a demonstration of the simualtion and a short writeup.
  7. Create a poster presentation for the Lyman Briggs Research Symposium. This poster would be combined with relatively short (~6-8 page) research paper that discusses the material in somewhat greater depth than the poster.
  8. Write a case study focusing on a particular physics experiment or facility, such as Fermilab or the Large Hadron Collider. What are the arguments for and against such a facility? What economic and social benefits does it provide?
  9. Write a paper comparing a journal article on a particular science topic to the popular press explanation(s) of the research done. Critique how the science was portrayed by the press to the public.
  10. Pick two or more of the labs that are done in LB273 or LB 274 over the course of the semester, and improve them in a substantial way. This may involve updating the lab writeup so that it is more informative/useful, changing the way that the lab itself is performed, creating new or extended pre-lab quizzes, coming up with ways to tie the labs to other disciplines in Lyman Briggs, and so on. This would best be done by a group of 2-3 students,and would culminate in a short (3-5 page) lab writeup and a 10-15 minute presentation.
  11. Create at least one entirely new lab for LB273 or LB 274. You can use any of the hardware available in the lab, and can also get equipment from the Briggs chemistry or biology labs. We may also be able to purchase some new equipment, as long as it's not too expensive. This lab may be used in place of one of the current labs. You would choose a physical principle for people to study, come up with a way to explore it in a three-hour lab, create the lab writeup, and assemble the equipment needed. This would best be done by a group of 2-3 students, and would culminate in a short (3-5 page) lab writeup and a 10-15 minute presentation.

Previous honors options

To assist in the brainstorming of honors option ideas, here is a list of honors options done by my students in previous semesters. They are in no particular order.