Image result for caltech logoPh 78 @ Caltech
Physics Senior Thesis

Course coordinator: Professor Kenneth Libbrecht,
Office: 263 West Bridge

Course Description
Ph 78abc is the Physics Senior Thesis course.
Ph 78 can be used to satisfy the Senior Laboratory requirement (Ph 77ab) in the physics option, provided the thesis project involves sufficient content pertaining to experimental physics.

In Ph 78abc, students perform independent physics research under the supervision of a faculty advisor, and that research is described in a written Senior Thesis, which is defended during an oral presentation to the thesis committee near the end of the academic year.

Ph 171 and Ph 172 are other options for obtaining course credit for independent research. Ph171/172 can be taken for any number of terms, and the number of units awarded is flexible. Plus there is no course requirement in Ph171/172 for a thesis or oral presentation (although your advisor may require these). In contrast, Ph78 must be taken for a full year, and both the written thesis and two oral presentations are required.

Schedule and Procedures
Before fall term begins: The first step in taking Ph 78 is to find a faculty advisor and research project. There is no set procedure for how this happens. The most common route is to talk with various professors and enquire about a suitable project. You can continue a previous SURF or other existing research project if you wish. You are also welcome to devise your own research project, as long as you can find a faculty member who agrees to be your thesis advisor. Your faculty advisor does not have to be in the physics department, although your research should have a reasonable amount of physics content.

Note: To be considered as a substitute for Ph77ab, a Senior Thesis project does not need to include a laboratory component, but it should involve experimental physics research. For example, a thesis project involving experimental data analysis can be used to fulfil the Ph77ab option requirement.

Beginning of fall term: Once you have a project lined up, fill out this form (plain text version below) and send it to Once this information has been approved, sign up for Ph 78 as you would any other course. As with other courses, this needs to be done before Add Day. If you have any questions, contact

Near the end of fall term: At some date in December (date to be determined), you will be required to present your thesis topic to the thesis committee in a half-hour oral presentation. In this presentation you should:
1) Describe your project, including some physics background and specific project details.
2) Describe what you have accomplished so far during fall quarter.
3) Describe what you plan to accomplish during the remainder of the academic year.

Near the end of spring term: By some deadline in May (date to be determined), you will need to submit your final written Senior Thesis. You can find some information about formats for senior theses here, and this page includes a link to examples of past senior theses at Caltech. About a week later, you will present your thesis research to the thesis committee.

Assuming your first presentation to the thesis committee goes well, you will receive a grade of Pass for fall term, to be followed by another grade of Pass for winter term. After your final thesis presentation, the thesis committee will assign a letter grade that will apply retroactively for the entire year. In other words, if your final grade is an A-, then your Ph78 grades for fall, winter, and spring terms will all be A-.

Contact, or stop by at 263 West Bridge.

Plain text version of form mentioned above:

Student Name:
Student e-mail address:

Faculty Advisor Name:
Faculty Advisor e-mail address:

Main Supervisor Name (if different from Faculty Advisor):
Main Supervisor e-mail (if different from Faculty Advisor):

Project Title (can be changed later):

Is this an Experimental or Theoretical project?:
If Experimental, will you be using Ph 78 to fulfil the Ph 77ab option requirement?:

Is this project a continuation of a SURF or other research project (yes/no)?:
If yes, who was your previous advisor?:

Brief Project Description: (<1 page):