Sample Natural Science Projects

The following descriptions are provided to give you ideas for developing your own honors project. Some of these descriptions are past Green Sheet projects, initiated and developed by students; others are honors optional (%) projects developed by professors (i.e., not Green Sheet projects). Both types of projects, however, can help you generate ideas as you design your own honors experience. 

Anthropology 105 — “Principles of Biological Anthropology”: Two students traveled to the Milwaukee Zoo to observe the behavior of primates and relate it to the material covered in class. Their project consisted of a video account of their trip and a written report describing their observations and what they learned.

Botany 260 — “Introductory Ecology”: A student chose to study Spring ephemerels native to Wisconsin (e.g., Skunk Cabbage and Buttercups) and trace their rapid life cycle caused by the ecological competition between plants and trees. The student closely observed the wooded areas near Birge Hall and Picnic Point on a weekly basis beginning in late March, recording such events such as the first appearance of leaves, full foliage and flowers. The student also took quadrat samplings to find the pattern in which blossoms appear and recorded the temperature and weather conditions on a daily basis to determine if a correlation between temperature and plant growth existed.

Chemistry 343 — “Introductory Organic Chemistry”: A student did a series of outside readings and participated in several tutorial meetings with the professor on the subject of “Orbital Symmetry and Organic Reactions.”

Computer Sciences 367 — “Introduction to Data Structures”: A student wrote a manual for Computer Science 367 students called “How to do Structured Programming,” which presented students with “a step-wise method for turning programming assignments into correct, modular, organized code.” The manual covered programming approaches like top-down, structured programming and divide and conquer, and included information on how to turn big, difficult problems into little, manageable ones. 

Computer Science 537 — “Introduction to Operating Systems”: A student worked with a professor on the Condor project. He helped the Phenomonology group of the Physics department use Condor for their computations. He also contributed to the code’s development by helping to port it to Linux and making small improvements to it.

Geography 336 — “Our Hazardous Environment”: A student helped the professor with his research project by collecting and analyzing data related to weather hazards in the state of Wisconsin. 

Geoscience 101 — “General Geology”: One student’s honors project consisted of a study of Richardson Cave, found in the town of Middleton. The student researched its formation and the role it plays in the local population, took a trip to the cave to make first hand observations, and met with the professor every other week to discuss his findings.

Geoscience 420 — “Glacial and Pleistocene Geology”: A student studied two miles of the Lake Mendota shoreline — the region at, and directly south of, the point where the Yahara River enters the lake. She took samples on and off shore, observing the weathering and building up of rock and digging to see how the delta has been formed. She wrote a report on her observations and her hypotheses of the geological forces acting upon the delta and the surrounding shoreline.

Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences 100 — “Weather and Climate”: A student spent 1-2 hours each week in the Meteorology Building observing the current weather patterns, as well as past patterns and future outlooks. He gradually worked his way from general observing and notebook-keeping to making his own forecasts over a certain period of time (1 day, 2 days, etc.). By the end of the semester, he hoped to have a good knowledge of McIDAS (Man Computer Interactive Data Access System) and its many capabilities. He also hoped to be able to make a somewhat accurate forecast using different types of information and prevailing patterns.

Physics 115 — “Energy”: For honors credit in this course, a student and his professor designed a series of extra projects to explore how disagreeing sides use physics in supporting their arguments. He and his professor read about 50 pages per week of The Skeptical Environmentalist, by Bjorn Lomborg, and met to discuss their reactions to it. The student also tracked daily energy prices (crude oil, petroleum, natural gas and electricity) through the semester to get a clearer understanding of the speed of price fluctuations. At the end of the semester, he produced a graphical representation of the data for discussion with his professor. Finally, he and his professor visited the UW-Madison nuclear reactor to get a closer look at alternative energy production at its source, and attended the “Crude Awakening Symposium” which addressed the themes of oil and water in an age of global crisis.

Gender and Women’s Studies 103 — “Women and Their Bodies in Health and Disease”: A student worked at the Campus Women’s Center to develop a curriculum for a speakers bureau about body image and eating disorders, which could be presented to interested groups (sororities, dorms, etc.). She outlined the speakers bureau, created a pamphlet of information that could be handed out and chose the material to bring to each session.

Zoology 151 — “Introductory Biology”: One student wanted to observe the relationship between general zoology and medicine (her future interest). She went to the University Hospital to observe the extraction of a kidney from a rabbit and to observe the tests that will be performed on the kidney. Her primary goal was to understand the function of the kidney, some terminology, the relationship of a rabbit’s kidney to a human’s kidney, and the results from the experiments performed on the kidney. She then wrote a report relating what she learned from these experiences to what she was learning in class.

Zoology 152 — “Introductory Biology”: A student worked 10 hours a week with Dr. William Dove and Amy Moser in the McArdle Laboratory for cancer research.  She did preliminary work to find out what size tumors in Min affected mice will be sufficient to collect enough DNA to detect allelic loss at the MAPC locus of the mouse. To do this, tumors of various sizes were removed from the Min affected mice and the DNA from these tumors was isolated. The quality and quantity of the DNA was then assessed to determine if the various sized tumors are adequate for analysis. When the lab work was finished, the student wrote a scientific paper to explain and report the results.