Lectures in Advanced Physics & Mathematics and Ethics

Throughout the summer, we were exposed to various lectures from professors [Larry Weaver], [Bruce Glymour], and [Amy Lara]. Dr. Weaver covered advanced topics in physics and mathematics while Dr. Glymour and Dr. Lara discussed ethical theory and potential dillemas that may arise in the field of physics. The following are my impressions of the lectures.

Advanced Topics in Physics and Mathematics

The lectures provided by Dr. Weaver were for the most part material that I had not encountered before and as such, I may have had trouble grasping onto some of the more complicated lectures, especially those on quantum mechanics. To be fair, I haven't taken a course on quantum mechanics yet but I do feel that what I learned in modern physics certainly helped me out. In particular, his lecture on Rutherford scattering was very intuitive and easy to understand. We qualitatively derived the equations that described the motion an alpha-particle undergoes as it collides with atoms in a solid and showed that at higher and higher energies, the alpha-particle is scattered by the nuclear force rather than electric force.

In addition, other lectures provided a reinforcement to previously learned knowledge such as the double slit experiment that demonstrates how light can interfere with itself because of its wave properties, and Maxwell's equations, which succinctly and elegantly describe the properties of electromagnetic radiation.


Our first task in our ethics lectures was to read the [Guidelines for Professional Conduct] provided by the American Physical Society and find statements that demonstrated one of three particular moral theories: Deontic, Consequentalist, and Virtue ethics. In a Deontic moral theory, actions should be based on moral obligation or adherence to the rules. Consequentalism, on the other hand, judges the morality of an action based on whether the results of that action are right or wrong. Finally, Virtue ethics determines the morality of an action based on whether or not it's the "right" thing to do. As an example, consider this scenario: there is a person who is dire need of medical assistance and it is quite obvious they need help. A Consequentalist would say that helping this person would most certainly increase mankind's well-being, a Deontologist would agree that helping would adhere to a particular moral construct, such as the golden rule (do unto other as you would have them do unto you), while a virtue ethicist would say that helping is indeed charitable and the "right" thing to do.

To be honest, I found the ethics lectures to be more engaging because there was plenty of room for discussion and questions. Of particular interest to me were the case studies provided near the end of the program. We were presented with various hypothetical situations that an undergraduate student might encounter while conducting research and we were then asked to analyze and discuss them. For example, a student might begin conducting research in an area in which he is very eager to learn, yet as time goes by, his advisor shifts the project until it is no longer what he wanted but rather something completely different. Does the student have a right to demand his project be changed to its original format? Is the research advisor acting unethically by changing the project scope? There are many subtle issues that arise here, such as whether or not the advisor explicitly guaranteed whether or not the student would do research in an area that interests him.

Since this REU is the first research experience I have ever had, I was quite glad to be exposed to these kinds of scenarios; there were no ethical dilemmas encountered during my research experience but I now feel more confident in dealing with such scenarios, should they ever arise. In particular, I know I shouldn't be afraid to speak up against immoral actions, so long as I am justified and can provide evidence to back up my assertion. Certainly, accusing a research mentor of a breach in ethical behavior can be quite detrimental to both parties if the accusations turn out to be false.