SME Light Winter 2000 Lab Project
February 8th to March 7th, 2000

This quarter's SME lab project will centered around your choice of plane polarized light, symmetry, or chirality. As with last quarter's pinhole camera project, the lab hours on the weeks of February 15, February 22, and February 29 will be unstructured work-times. You must work on your project for at least two hours per week during your lab time. You may also come to the lab during other lab times if you want. On March 9, the last day of class, you will present your project (details below).

Goal: Create a website that can be used as an educational resource for next year's SME class. On this website, you will show off your product and use it to explain the aspect of plane polarized light, chirality, or symmetry that you explored. Then you will present a sample exam problem having to do with your subject and show its solution.

Extra credit: Find someone who doesn't already understand this material and ask him or her to examine your site carefully. (Your parents are probably the best people to consult about this; parents are usually the most reliable about reading through the whole thing.) Was it possible for the person who "tested" your site to learn the overall idea(s) you explained without consulting other sources? Could he/she solve your problem and if not why not? What questions did he/she have and how did you fix your site to address those questions? Place your analysis on your web page in a separate file.


Due Dates:

February 8/9/10 @ end of lab: In your project folder you must have index.html and activities.html with all relevant information.

February 15/16/17 @ beginning of lab: explanation.html

February 15-24: meet with faculty member to discuss your project.

February 24 @ 6pm: problem.html, solution.html, explanation.html linked to another team's explanation.html.

March 7 @ 6pm: Final project due (project.html)

All of your deliverables will appear on your group's web page. Inside this folder there will be at least six files. Below is a summary of the six files that will appear in your SME project folder with their individual due-dates. Note that if you want to do the extra credit, you will have to be done with the your site a few days early, so plan accordingly.

  1. index.html: This is the index to your folder. Make sure you FTP it into your SME project folder, and not someone else's! On your index.html page you should include the title of your project, the names of all the members of your group, and links to the other 5 files in your folder. Update this file as you complete the project. Due by the end of lab the week of February 8th.
  2. activities.html: This is the file in which you will put records of the activities we do in lab the week February 8th. Due by the end of lab the week of February 8th.
  3. explanation.html: This mostly-text file should be no longer than two pages when printed out from the web. In it, you will provide a synopsis of the big idea(s) your project addresses or explores with respect to plane polarized light, symmetry, or chirality. Before February 24th, you must link your explanation.html file to the explanation.html file of another group and write two sentences or more about the relationship between your group's explanation and the other group's explanation. Due at beginning of lab the week of February 15th.
  4. problem.html: This is a potential SME exam problem having to do with the big idea(s) you explained in explanation.html. Although it must be grounded in your area of inquiry, your problem should be designed so that students could figure it out based on the material presented in lecture. It is an extremely good idea to check the viability of your problem with your TA before turning it in. The problems will be used as a partial final exam review sheet; we will use at least one of them on the final. Due February 24th at 6 pm.
  5. solution.html: This is the solution to the problem you presented in problem.html. In this file, you should reproduce the problem (just copy-paste it) and then type in the solution. The reason for putting your problem and solution in separate files is so that your fellow students will be able to test themselves on your problem without seeing the solution before they can try to work it out for themselves. Due February 24th at 6 pm.
  6. project.html: This file will contain your project as it will be presented to the class on March 9th. Be sure to include a brief description of what your project is if that's not obvious. If your project is a sculpture or something that cannot be put into electronic form, take photos, scan them in (or use the digital camera), and write about them. If your project is a 3-D slideshow, show the slides with the right-eye and left-eye images next to each other. If you will be doing a PowerPoint presentation or showing a Director animation, save it as html or Shockwave and put it here. Due March 7th at 6 pm.


This project is graded out of 80 points (i.e. 4 labs). At each of the due date junctures above, we will check to make sure that you have done the assignment and that it is acceptable work. If you have not done a given assignment, your final project grade will be docked 2 points/day late. Your TA will give you feedback for each due-date juncture so that you can make changes and improvements as you go along. If you do not show up with your group to work during you scheduled lab time, your final project grade will be docked 5 points. The final grade for the project will not be assigned until March 7th, when we can consider all of the pieces of your site together. This gives you the opportunity to be constantly modifying any of the 6 files up until the very end.

Sample Project Ideas

The rest of this handout consists of sample project ideas. You are welcome and encouraged to change or completely re-define your project as long as you check with a TA to make sure it's feasible. Also note that no more than two groups can work on the same project unless the third group puts a decidedly different spin on the idea. There may be some terms that you are not familiar with in the following descriptions – please ask your TA for help.

  1. The symmetry of Bucky Balls The 1996 Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery of chemicals called fullerenes. Build a model of a buckminsterfullerene (C60, commonly known as a "bucky ball") out of gumdrops and toothpicks. In your model, in some way show one example of each of its symmetry elements (a buckminsterfullerene is an icosohedron). Describe and explain any mechanical difficulties that you encounter as you build the model. Scott Kim writes that "[In building buckminsterfullerene,] you quickly learn that in order to build anything stable you have to use triangulated structures like tetrahedra." What did he mean? (You should discover this as you build.) As a part of your project, find out where fullerenes occur, either naturally or manmade. Below is a picture of C60 with the single bonds red and the double bonds yellow. You might also want to check out for ideas for this project.
  2. Design a Better Polarimeter than the one you built in lab. Find a way to measure how much different wavelengths are rotated with different substances. Experiment with how tube length affects the performance of your polarimeter. For this project, we have a variety of colored filters and laser sources that you can make use of. Talk to Kelly about the different supplies you might use to make your polarimeter
  3. Through the Looking Glass In Lewis Carroll's famous sequel to Alice in Wonderland, Alice muses: "How would you like to live in a Looking-glass House, Kitty? I wonder if they'd give you milk in there? Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn't good to drink." Alice was very correct in this assertion. Why wouldn't "Looking-glass milk" be good to drink? Make chemical models of lactose and of "Looking-glass lactose" by looking the chemical structure up in a book. Use 3-D physical models (modeling sets, play-dough, gum-drops, silly putty) and represent them two dimensionally as well using a drawing program such as ChemDraw or Chem-3D. Make some kind of model of what you think the enzyme might look like that digests milk. Remember, your enzyme must react preferentially with the proper enantiomer. You do not need to show the individual atoms of your enzyme; just its overall structure. What might happen to the unreacted enantiomers in your body?
  4. A resource that you will find particularly valuable in this undertaking is The Annotated Alice: Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, with an Introduction and Notes by Martin Gardner. A 2-page footnote to the passage referenced above contains information and citations having to do with chirality and symmetry, as well as findings and speculations about asymmetries in sub-atomic particles. (And you thought Lewis Carroll just wrote childrens' books! In fact he was a noted mathematician at Oxford.)

  5. Polarization and a Liquid Crystal Display A liquid crystal display, commonly referred to as LCD, is something you see in your everyday life. It is the number panel of your calculator, in your watch, and the display for a laptop computer. LCD displays also operate because of the chiral nature of liquid crystals and the interaction of these chiral materials with polarized light. In this project you will explore and demonstrate the chiral properties of liquid crystals and the operation of an lcd panel.
  6. Build a model of a liquid crystal, contrasting it with a solid crystal and a liquid. Demonstrate and explain the unusual appearance of a LC display when viewed through a polarizing filter. Disassemble a LC Wristwatch or Calculator to retrieve the LC display. Design and do an experiment to demonstrate to yourself how it operates, OR Build an LCD cell – see your TA for a template.

    Three excellent background resources for this area are:

    "Liquid Crystals: The Phase of the Future" [The Physics Teacher 30, 332 (1992)]

    ALCOM Educational Outreach Newsletter #1, [dated 9/92]

    "Color in Electronic Displays" [Physics Today, December 1992, 52-57]

  7. Ethics and pharmacology Do some research on the ethical implications of handedness for pharmacology and vitamins. For this, you will need to figure out who regulates what and how. A resource that you might use for this is Roald Hoffman's thoughtful and well-documented history of the distribution of thalidomide in the early 1950's. It appears in his book on chemistry for laypersons: The Same and Not The Same. (See Kalée to borrow a copy.) This is a detective-work project. You must correspond with FDA officials, visit a pharmacological company such as Genentech (which has a visitor center), or do some other form of interactive research as a facet of your product. You should also think about how to present your results in such a way as to avoid misconceptions about their significance. Be careful of what you read in magazines: remember the pseudoscience project!!
  8. Symmetry in Art M.C. Escher, an artist and a mathematician, was particularly interested in symmetry, which shows up prolifically in his work. One website devoted to Escher is at, where in addition to a lot of neat galleries, I found a cool essay on "tesselations":
  9. Scott Kim is a modern-day web puzzle-master whom Isaac Asimov has named "The Escher of the Alphabet." Compile and classify some examples of symmetry in either or both of Escher and Kim's work so that your result is a web-tutorial on symmetry. Many examples of both Escher and Kim are to be had on the web. You may find the following sites helpful:,, and of course, the Ambigram generator is always a great resource: http://Ambigram.Matic.Com/ambigram.htm. Another resource that you may want to look at is the famous book Goedel-Escher-Bach, which is too long to read in its entirety for this assignment, but which you will find fascinating.

  10. How 3D glasses work For this project, you could focus on how modern 3D glasses work by exploiting plane polarized light. Or investigate how the old-fashioned kind worked, which made use of red and blue filters. Then make a 3-D slideshow possibly depicting how 3-D glasses function.
  11. Properties of enantiomers and diastereomers As we learned in class, enantiomers and diastereomers have vastly different properties. What are some ways enantiomers and diastereomers might interact differently with the molecules in your body? Make a representation or model of an interaction that illustrates the differences between the interactions.
  12. Build or otherwise model 3-D objects or molecules that belong to various point groups. Note: if you want to learn how to make molecules rotate online as in the lecture notes, ask Kalée for the appropriate files. (If you want to make new shapes online, you'll have to have at least one person in your group who feels comfortable with 3-D coordinates.)
  13. The quotes in sample project ideas #10and #11 are from a book called Our Sexuality by Robert Crooks and Karla Bauer (7th Edition, pp 188 – 190).

  14. Chirality in human faces The ‘mere exposure effect' is "The phenomenon by which repeated exposure to novel stimuli tends to increase an individual's liking for such stimuli.":
  15. "The mere exposure effect even seems to influence our view of ourselves. Many of us are seldom satisfied with photographs of ourselves; our faces do not look quite right. One possible reason may be that the face we see in the photo is not the one we see staring back at us in the mirror. Because left and right are reversed in mirror images, the face we see looking back at us is always slightly different from what others see. Thus we prefer the mirror image or our faces, whereas others will prefer the natural version."

    Design and do an experiment to test this theory. Remember that you can use the mirror image pictures of your classmates in the activities folder. Or try to test a variation of this theory; for example, one possible variation might be to design and do an experiment to determine whether people prefer natural or mirror images of famous artwork. Be sure that you design your experiment to in some way answer the question of how the mere exposure effect for mirror images is affected by the degree of symmetry in the object being examined.

  16. Human preference for symmetry? Glamour magazine has made the claim that models' faces are in general more symmetric, thereby equating symmetric features with beauty. Crooks and Bauer write that "Whatever the reason, good looks seem to attract people even in some cases in which we would normally discount beauty as a factor." Some fascinating research by Judith Langlois and her colleagues strongly suggests that even infants exhibit a preference for beauty long before they are exposed to cultural standards of attractiveness.
  17. Design and do an experiment to test how closely we can correlate symmetry with beauty. Test the symmetry of various faces that you have in some way rated for beauty. Do not test the face of a person you know personally: We do not want peoples' feelings to get hurt. Use magazines or some other neutral source of faces. Describe both your method of testing and your method of rating. (Remember the pseudoscience lab!) Make sure you use actual subjects in your rating: your method should not be "I thought she was more beautiful . . ." Suggest evolutionary, human-vision related, and/or other reasons for our apparent preference for symmetry (if you find that such a preference indeed exists). Keep in mind that the symmetry is only external, not internal, and that it is not perfect symmetry: we're not spheres! How much symmetry do we prefer? As a variation, you may also want to explore symmetry in art. Some articles you might want to consult are:

    Langlois, J., Roggman, L., & Rieser-Danner, L. (1990). Infants' differential social responses to attractive and unattractive faces. Developmental Psychology, 26, 153-159.

    Langlois, J., Roggman, L., Casey, R., Ritter, J., Rieser-Danner, L., & Jenkins, Y. (1987). Infants' preferences for attractive faces: Rudiments of a stereotype?" Developmental Psychology, 23, 363-369.

  18. Enantiomers' reactions with circularly polarized light In class, we touched on the subject of how enantiomers interact differently with the two different handednesses of circularly polarized light. Make a representation of how this occurs. Your representation can be a picture, a model, or a web presentation.
  19. Something else! In grading these projects, we are not at all considering what kind or how much fancy technology you used, but we are taking creativity into account. You are actively encouraged to go crazy with this project and do something totally cool that you come up with on your own! Describe your proposal to your TA in a sentence or two, including any non-standard equipment that you think you will need.