Passing an integrative exercise, or “comps,” is part of the requirement for completion of the baccalaureate degree at Carleton. Comps is usually completed during the senior year, although in the case of students entering the 3-2 program, comps may be done during the junior year.
We conceive of comps as a learning and sharing experience for both students and faculty. The integrative exercise in physics consists of an extensive study by each student in some field and/or topic in physics, culminating in a 50-minute presentation during the winter or spring term.
In addition a paper is required: this is an in-depth study of a student’s chosen subject with a maximum of 7500 words. Each year the final papers will be bound and made available to the public in the library and at the departmental office; students also have the option of storing their comps electronically in the library.
The topic chosen may involve a currently active field of research, a significant development in the history of physics, or an integrative theme from the physics curriculum. It must be sufficiently broad to allow the student to synthesize material from the various courses required for the major. Past topics have included solar satellite power systems, the aurora borealis, gravitational waves, optical fibers, universality in chaos, controlled nuclear fusion, atmospheric tides, scanning tunneling electron microscopy, residential application of solar power, and superfluid helium and its vortices.
Comps represents a stringent test of a student’s integration of knowledge, research and independent study skills, and writing and speaking ability. It also involves group interaction, with students listening to, questioning, and offering written criticism of each other’s presentations. Seniors are required to attend a number of their peers’ comps talks in the department and act as a peer advisor to two other students, giving feedback on the written paper to one and on the comps talk to the other.