L&S Honors Program

College of Letters & Science
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Sample Natural Science Green Sheet Proposals

The following sciences Green Sheets, submitted by past students, demonstrate the specific, yet concise honors project outline that the Honors Program will look for on your proposal. Thank you to all the students who have allowed us to use their Green Sheet proposals as models!

Animal Science 521: Birds of Southern Wisconsin

Birds of Southern Wisconsin is a field-based laboratory course focused on identifying, by both sight and sound, the majority of birds found in Southern Wisconsin. The course is very challenging when it comes to the shear amount of species the students are expected to memorize and be able to identify in class and in the field; however, students are not expected to learn material outside of identification and general behavioral patterns.

Thus, in order to deepen my understanding of birds as well as place the course in a larger context, I would like to read Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson and write a 4-5 page paper summarizing, critiquing, and tying the book back to the Birds of Southern Wisconsin class.

Although the project will not require regular meetings with the instructor, I think one meeting discussing the book with Professor Pidgeon would be beneficial before I begin writing my paper. The paper will be due in class Thursday, May 5, but can be turned in anytime before then.

Feathers was recommended to me by Professor Anna Pidgeon, and I feel as though it is a great fit for my project as it combines ornithology with my other passion (and jaor): Evolutionary Biology. Upon reading Feathers, I hope to synthesize previous knowledge from evolutionary biology coursework with new information on avian feather evolution in order to deepen my understanding of both fields by applying them in a specific context. In addition to the obvious fact that the rest of the class will not be writing a paper, the project will supplement the regular course by delving into a contemporary application of ornithology and allowing me to ask questions beyond “what bird is that?” In delving into the evolutionary origins of feathers, flight, and courtship in birds I will be challenged to apply Thor Hanson’s ideas to what I see during lab in the ecosystems of Wisconsin. Furthermore, Thor Hanson is a field biologist by trade, but also a brilliant writer capable of drawing from cultural and natural history. This skill, the ability to write about science in an interesting and interdisciplinary way, is something that I admire and would like to develop myself.

In regards to Professor Cronon’s 10 qualities of a liberally educated person, this project will improve my reading and writing abilities. I do not mean the mere act of reading a book or writing a paper, rather, this project will allow me to read landscapes, animals, and ecosystems on a more meaningful level by applying evolutionary and historical significance to human-animal interactions that we so often take for granted.

Lastly, I would like to Green Sheet this course because it is my last requirement to fulfill my undergraduate degrees and graduate with honors. The honors experience has been extremely rewarding throughout my time here at UW, and I feel as though this project is a great way to end what has been a wonderful four years in the honors program.

Botany 123: Plants, Parasites & People

For my honors project, in addition to the regular coursework, I will be writing a research paper that compliments the course material by focusing on how plants and humans interact. In order to do this, I will focus on the especially fruitful example of the Irish Potato Famine. This original research project will force me to get a more in depth view of a specific aspect of the Irish Potato Famine that is not discussed in class. Better understanding of the factors leading up to this devastating famine historically will allow me to apply these similar situations today and to understand the importance of care for our agricultural system. This project will allow me to hone my skills in research utilizing both primary historical sources, such as newspaper articles and letters, as well as secondary scholarship on this topic.

My research will focus on the experience of people living and starving in the Irish Potato Famine and the responses of the European Governments. I will compare the perception of the severity of the famine from those feeling its effects and how the British government perceived and responded to these perceptions. I will also analyze the historic factors that led to a reliance on potatoes helped catalyze the Potato Famine. My project will take place in two parts. In the first, I will do preliminary research and prepare a formal 1-2 page proposal, which will include the questions driving my research and elaborate upon the primary and secondary sources I will be utilizing. I will then submit a 5-8 page original research paper to the Professor before the conclusion of the semester. The Professor and I have met to discuss the project and possible directions that I can take for my research, and I will keep in regular contact with her as necessary for her expertise in this topic.

Computer Science 540: Introduction to Artificial Intelligence

Computer Science 540 provides a survey of modern paradigms for creating artificial intelligence, ranging in subject from machine learning to methods of search and probabilistic reasoning. One notable application of artificial intelligence is its use in recommender systems. A recommender system is a program that evaluate user date (e.g., links they’ve clicked, products they’ve ordered, videos they’ve watched, etc.) to make helpful recommendations for the user. For example, Google uses search history to target advertisements; Facebook uses demographic, location, and occupation data to suggest friends; Amazon uses purchase history to suggest similar products. Regardless of the application, the foundation for such systems is artificial intelligence. The computer must learn what a user does and does not like given only a small collection of information – their activity data.

Throughout the semester, I will research, design, and write a report on a small recommender system. My goal is to go beyond the fundamentals of artificial intelligence to a real application of the subject. To accomplish this, I will first investigate existing recommender systems and research their implementations; I will also look for more trivial implementations and write up a brief summary on their usage of AI theory. Then, I will work with my professor to develop a specification for a simple recommender system, and I will implement the system in Java. Last of all, I will write a report that connects each major topic of the class to my design. In other words, I will describe how my project uses (or could use) (1) decision tress, (2) heuristic search, (3) constraint satisfaction and logical inference, (4) neural networks, and (5) Bayesian networks. The final draft of each component will be due December 15th. I will meet with my professor biweekly to report my progress and discuss any challenges that I face.

This project certainly meets the criteria for an “Honors Experience” because it forces me to research and think independently about each topic covered in class. Not only will I have to read numerous external sources on the components of AI theory, but I will also have to apply each component in a real, functional program that mimics industry standards. And, if nothing else, I will develop the critical thinking and design skills that are essential in any are of software development. This project forces me to work through the major steps of research and to apply that research in challenging ways.

I must note that as an aspiring computer scientist and software engineer, I am absolutely fascinated by the idea of artificial intelligence and by everything it offers for modern software. Considering that this is a topic of great interest for me, and that I hope to one day research and develop software that is grounded in this topic, I feel it would be a shame to not further explore the course content while I have the chance. I hope that this honors experience will help me continue onto other, higher-level theory courses to further shape my studies and career.

Gender and Women's Studies 103: Women and their Bodies in Health and Disease

In Gender & Women’s Studies 103, we will cover many biological and societal issues as they pertain to women’s health today. Included in these topics are the sexualization of women’s bodies in the medical field and in broader society, inequalities in access to health care, and the relationship between sexuality, culture, and health. The proposed project will explore the real-life applications of women’s health organizations today. Working with Project Respect, an organization in Madison that works with women who have been victims of sexual violence and sexual trafficking, I will develop a social media presence for the organization on Facebook and an interactive website so that they may reach more women, and increase their impact. This project will help me to understand today’s issues in women’s health outside of the theoretical, classroom setting. Working directly with women in the organization I will utilize course material from GWS 103 to create a website and gain hands-on experience in how women are affected by sexual violence, and how people are working to end it.

The end-product of this project will be a Facebook page for Project Respect and a website that will include both information on Project Respect, and educational tools for the women who view the page. Before creating the websites I will work closely with the director of the program to understand the needs and expectations of the staff of Project Respect, the women they serve, and the people that they hope to reach with their internet presence. In our previous meeting, we reviewed the GWS 103 syllabus to ensure that topics presented on the website and Facebook page will include topics also covered in GWS 103. By including this component, I will work closely with course materials to put them in laywoman’s terms and publish them so that any woman may learn about topics including: anatomy of the female reproductive system, the gynecological exam, how to talk with your doctor, sexuality, STIs, contraception, and pregnancy.

Math 222: Calculus and Analytical Geometry 2

The proposed project will serve as a complementary piece to MATH 222 – Calculus 2, to satisfy the honors requirement. The project will involve using Bourbaki’s method to prove “pi” is irrational. The proof was first established by Johann Heinrich Lambert in the eighteenth century. Subsequently, Charles Hermite developed a similar proof using no more knowledge than calculus. Bourbaki’s method involves “recursive integration by parts,” which is an important method for integration learned in this course. In addition, as an extension to the project, I will also write a four-page research paper on the history of the proof and backgrounds of the mathematicians involved. I believe this project goes beyond the course because of it complexity and rigorous nature. Establishing the proof requires additional knowledge of mathematical concepts, deductions, calculations, and research that surpasses what is taught in this class. More importantly, the paper on the history also enables me to have a deeper understanding of the issue and mathematics in general, from a completely different perspective. Writing the paper enables me to understand mathematics not only as quantitative calculations and logic deductions but also as progressive histories created by generations of mathematicians.

Neuroscience Training Program 675: Molecular Mechanisms of Brain Damage

NTP 675 is an advanced neuroscience class, and thus focuses primarily on a seminar style of learning. This means that each student is responsible for presenting a relatively recent paper about brain injuries and exploring both the pros and cons of the research, and determining the relevance of the paper in the broader field of neuroscience. Presenting findings in a logical and concise way is a crucial skill for every researcher to have. We could not have made the gains we have in the past centuries without sharing ideas and collaborating, and one of the most important way these two things occur is through presenting your work. This is why being able to understand research as well as present your own is so important.

The project will consist of 3 presentations that I will attend outside of the class addressing topics that are related to those covered in class. I will seek out these presentations and summarize each on my own, but my professor will provide help exploring possibilities with me. The summaries will not only include details about the conducted research, but also notes about presentation organization, clarity of the speaker, and other factors that make a good or a bad presentation. The summaries (approximately 1-2 pages in length, single-spaced) are due to the instructor no later than the last day of class.

The Honors experience is about going above and beyond in a particular subject, and delving deeper into the details that make it an important topic of research. Through this project, I will gain in depth knowledge about research in the field that is relevant today, and will be able to connect topics learned in class to those discussed in the seminars. Giving presentations is an important skill in every subject, particularly in research, and by paying attention to other presentations; one can improve one’s own public speaking skills. Personally, I am not a very good public speaker and am often very nervous, so observing others in an academic environment would help me advance my own presentation skills. These can then be utilized in NTP 675 when I present an article to the class. This project would help foster the first and third qualities of a liberally educated person as stated by Professor William Cronon, due to the way it would advance listening and understanding of scientific presentations.

Psychology 450: Animal Behavior Primates

As discussed with my professor, I plan to create a meta-analytical narrative report on the findings surrounding the controversies and implications of the phylogenetic standing of the common chimpanzee. In class, we discussed how some researchers and primatologists argue for the chimpanzee’s classification to be closer to ours given the collective findings that point to our similarity. However, this push for viewing chimps as more similar to humans to dissimilar holds implications in how we handle, conserve, treat, and relate to these primates. I will be focusing on these findings and their implications by referring to relevant empirical studies, famous primatology reports, and recent news articles detailing the handling of chimps.

The topic of my paper will be on how the controversies regarding a potential change in chimpanzee phylogeny could affect our own treatments and relations to our most closely related ancestral primate. The end-product of this project will be a meta-analytical narrative report on the findings and controversies thus far, and it will total, at minimum, ten pages. I will be meeting with my professor during his office hours after class on a weekly basis to discuss progress and ask questions as they arise. The project will involve meta-analytical data gathered from a variety of sources including empirical, peer-reviewed studies, primatological journals, and news articles of the most recent events and findings. The due date for the project will be at semester’s end, just before the final exam for the course.