The Journal of Special Topics (Vol. 9)
Posted by Pete Hague on 17 Apr 2012
I earned my undergraduate MPhys from Leicester last year, and one of the compulsory modules for the fourth year was to contribute to the Journal of Special Topics. The journal peer-reviewed and created entirely by students, in order to give them experience of the publication process. Groups of 3-4 students are required to submit papers, review those papers submitted by other students, and sit on editorial boards with only minimal supervision from staff.
Each year produces its own volume of the journal, and ours, volume 9, was actually bound and printed, for sale at graduation (it makes quite a nice present, and if any current final year students are reading, I'd suggest you do the same.)
For my papers, I first investigated what would happen to Lt. Ripley (and her cat) in the time between the first two Alien films in terms of her cosmic ray exposure. Don't worry; the cat survives. Probably. I then considered a novel means of getting satellites into geosynchronous orbit, before finally turning my attention to wether or not a Dyson shell could be supported by light pressure. I'm still not entirely convinced of my maths on that last one, though, and would welcome further review.
My topics were quite conservative compared to the general tone of the journal. The actual content of the papers is irrelevant to the marks received, so students feel free to explore whatever they want. Superman got analysed twice in my year, and others investigated mathematically optimal Starcraft II strategies and the physics behind an old Monty Python joke.
A full index of the papers submitted last year can be found here.
I found it to be a fun and engaging part of the course, and we even got mentioned in the Guardian by the organiser of the Ig Nobel prize. Sadly, no contributor has yet managed to win one.
The current final year students have now finished their contributions to the journal, and I'm going to review some of the ones that caught my eye in the next post.