HPS 0410 Einstein for Everyone Spring 2008

Term Paper

An Amazing Scientific Discovery

Due by final recitation: Monday April 14, Tuesday April 15
Submit in electronic form
1000 words

Topic selection
Due in recitation: Monday, March 31/ Tuesday, April 1


This course is a parade of amazing scientific discoveries. They are things that would never occur to us ordinarily: that there may be no fact as to whether two events are simultaneous; that energy and matter are the same thing; that gravity is just funny geometry; that time had a beginning; and more. What makes these all the more amazing is that they are not conjurings of fiction. They are our best attempts to describe how our world really is and scientist can tell us a cogent and compelling story as to why we should believe them.

For your term paper, you are to identify and describe an amazing idea. Your text should contain:
1. A clear explanation of the amazing scientific discovery.
2. An account of how the discovery was made.

Your amazing idea must be drawn from standard science. The goal is not to report on wild speculation that someone, someday thinks might become regular science. You are to seek an amazing discovery that has already become regular science. If you are unsure whether an amazing idea is drawn from standard science, ask if it has experimental or observational evidence in its favor. If it doesn't, it is speculation!

Your paper must present material not already covered in lectures and recitations. For this reason you are best advised to write about an amazing idea not already covered in the class. If you do choose one we have covered in class, note that your grade will depend entirely on the extent to which you go beyond class material.

Focus on the rational basis of the discovery. Your account of how the discovery was made should focus on what led the scientist or scientists to the discovery and the reasons that they found to believe in its correctness. You need not distract yourself with incidental biographical or other background facts unless they are important to understanding the grounding of the discovery.

Keep the discovery narrow. It is easy to tackle too big a topic. Modern cosmology as theory is far too big for this project. One discovery in it--such as the presence of dark matter in galaxies--is already quite a big enough topic for this paper. If in doubt, narrow the topic.

The discovery must be in science and not technology. While the achievements of modern technology are amazing, they are not our concern in this paper. You should be looking at things we know, not things we make. Sometimes the latest technology has an amazing scientific discovery behind it; that discovery could be the focus of a paper. If you do decide to pursue a scientific discovery that lies behind some new advance in technology, be careful; very often those discoveries are complicated and can make the paper hard to write.

Selection of Topic

A brief statement of the amazing idea selected is due in the recitation, Monday, March 31/ Tuesday, April 1. Submit it as one paragraph, on paper. 1/10th of the term paper grade is assigned for submitting a suitable statement on time. (These are easy points earned just for being on time!)

Consult with your recitation instructor if you are uncertain over the idea or need assistance in locating a suitable one.

Preview of text

If you are unsure whether your paper answers the question well, you can ask us to preview and comment on a trial version. We will accept previews up to one week prior to the date due for the paper, i.e. up to Monday April 7/ Tuesday April 8. A paper submitted for preview must be complete and suitable in form as it stands for submission as the final essay.


The paper should be headed with your name, the title of the paper and the course to which it is being submitted. The paper should have an introduction and conclusion and be divided into appropriately headed sections. A standard system for footnoting and for referencing your sources must be adopted and used consistently throughout. Consult a guide on writing term papers if you are unsure of such systems.

We expect your writing to be clear and simple. That applies both to the thoughts expressed and the words used. The thoughts should develop naturally in small, clear steps. The wording should be plain and direct and the sentences short. There is no gain in a big word, when a little one will do. We expect proper grammar and correct spelling and will penalize major excursions.


Your paper is to be submitted to us in electronic form via turnitin.com, a plagiarism prevention web resource. Here are the instructions for submitting your paper:

1. Visit http://turnitin.com.

2. Click “New Users” in the upper right corner.

3. Please contact recitation instructor to obtain the appropriate Turnitin Class ID number and Class Enrollment Password.

4. Finish the registration process.

5. Click on the “Einstein for Everyone” class link.

6. Click on the “Submit” icon in the row marked “Paper.”

7. Upload your paper.

Acceptable formats for your paper are MS Word, WordPerfect, PostScript, PDF, HTML, RTF, and plain text. You should also submit your extra credit paper, if you choose to do one, by clicking on the “Submit” icon in the row marked “Extra Credit Paper.” All papers (including extra credit papers) must be submitted by midnight on Tuesday, April 15.

Use of Sources

As is standard in all academic writing, the wording of your paper should be your own; it should not be copied or paraphrased even loosely from another source. If you are uncertain over the correct use of sources, see this Guide.

(Revised January 2, March 21, 2008)