Fun research paper ideas
May 1, 2012 5:58 PM   Subscribe

Fun, interesting research paper ideas!

Procrastinator with a fried brain here. It can be about anything as long as it's interesting, not overly sciency (this is really last minute, and I don't have enough time to make my decidedly not-sciency brain understand the unfamiliar terms or do the background research), and there are enough scholarly articles about it. Professor used "Could aliens exist?" and "Do video games make children violent?" as spur-of-the-moment examples, and then promptly said we can't use them.

posted by goosechasing to Education (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Research obsessive people with lots of money, like Sarah Winchester who built the Winchester Mystery House or Jocelyn Wildenstein (who obsessively had plastic surgery), or
posted by xingcat at 6:17 PM on May 1, 2012

(sorry, closed to soon), or Howard Hughes, who locked himself away from people by staying and paying for friends and family to stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel to the tune of $11 million.
posted by xingcat at 6:19 PM on May 1, 2012

In you're only asking AskMefi, and not browsing it, questions like that are posed every other day - you could use the questions people are already asking as inspiration. This one is a little too easily answered, but it seems to be the sort of thing that could work.

If you want something less mundane, how about "By what means might we plausibly get humans to exoplanets, using technology and principles that do not violate our current understanding of physics and available energy?"
posted by -harlequin- at 6:22 PM on May 1, 2012

I just heard a student give a presentation on the question "Who was Jack the Ripper?" There's been a bit of modern forensic work done in recent years, so you can make it more or less sciencey, depending on how much of that you include. Or you can make it more of a history thing.
posted by lollusc at 6:38 PM on May 1, 2012

Moral violation and robots?
posted by oceanjesse at 6:40 PM on May 1, 2012

Does standardized testing improve learning/ student outcomes?

Environmental impacts of hybrid cars vs electric cars

Environmental impacts of coffee vs tea vs caffeinated sweet drinks

What is the most important change your school could make to reduce its carbon footprint? Its water footprint?

Should the US fund manned space exploration? Is it important and why, given the other things we could do with that money?

What's the most successful program/legal change for improving prisoner rehabilitation, reducing prison populations, preventing recidivism?
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:52 PM on May 1, 2012

Should colleges have to pay taxes?
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:54 PM on May 1, 2012

Check out (I also recommend their podcast, Stuff You Should Know), find a general area of topics you're already interested in (seems like a little background knowledge would be helpful since you don't have a ton of time for research), get a few pages deep clicking on stuff, and get to work.
I have the past several Stuff You Should Know casts lined up, here are some sample ideas from there (which have complementary articles on

Social Security Numbers: Less Boring Than You'd Think
Was Atlantis a Real Place?
How Beer Works
How Diamonds Work
posted by jorlyfish at 10:32 PM on May 1, 2012

Best answer: The Taman Shud mystery.
Morgellons: disease or delusion?
The Voynich manuscript: modern hoax, medieval cipher or forgotten language?
I'll probably be back with more.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 11:27 PM on May 1, 2012

This will go better if you choose something that is in line with a personal interest of yours. Ideally it should be something you already know a little bit about (but which you are willing to do some research on to expand, solidify, and correct your understanding of the subject) so that you already have some ideas about how you might start writing it.

Here are a few from the top of my head, though:

–What is the Kinsey Scale and what are the implications of viewing sexual orientation as a continuum rather than a binary?
–The Russians had a moon program during the Space Race. What did they do, what were they planning to do, and why didn't they complete their plans?
–What is known publicly about the Masons, what is unknown, and what are some of the leading conspiracy theories that center around them?
–How did America end up with a two-party political system?
–Who is canonically considered the greatest writer ever in English? What about Spanish? French? Chinese? What, if anything, do these writers share in common? (Are they all men, did they write during a certain time period, did they write in certain forms or on certain subjects, etc)
–Pick a country, culture, or religion of which you are not a member. What holidays do its members celebrate, and when, and what are they about?
posted by Scientist at 11:58 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm back. If you really want to get into some heated controversy, consider these:

Evidence for the historical existence of Jesus, vs evidence supporting the Christ myth theory.

Why did the general public in some occupied countries (e.g., Lithuania) eagerly participate in the Holocaust, while those in some others (e.g., Denmark) actively worked against it?

Arguments for and against organic farming, including nutrition, environmental impact, animal welfare, yield, price, land use, etc.

Why do some people who eat fish and/or poultry call themselves vegetarians? Should they?

It would help narrow things down if you told us exactly what sort of class this is.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 12:00 AM on May 2, 2012

Best answer: Here is an easy one where you should be able to include personal observations and have some fun:

Take this AskMe question ("Why are there no lobsters the size of horses or horses the size of shrimp?") and reformulate it to something that is your own. "How big could you make an elephant?" or "Why are there no mosquitos in the winter?", "Why did the brontosaurus live in a swamp?" and "Why do birds range only from colibri to albatross?" are all questions that can be discussed based on the conflict between volume phenomena and surface phenomena.

In the case of the elephant, its mass scales with its volume and this mass must be supported by the cross-sections of the bones which scale as the area. This puts an upper bound on the elephant's size, which the brontosaurus overcame by staying in water. The mosquito carries energy and produces heat in proportion to its volume but loses energy in proportion to its surface area. The ratio volume/surface is much higher for a mosquito than e.g. a bear, hence the bear can sleep all winter, whereas mosquitos would freeze to death unless they spent winter as a cold-insensitive egg or larvae. Birds have to lift the mass of their bodies with the surface of their wings, yet carry a certain enough energy to sustain themselves and their offspring also during periods when they do other things than eat.

Read and cite On being the right size, but make your own examples, or feel free to take the ones I suggested.
posted by springload at 12:59 AM on May 2, 2012

Relationship between oestrogen in food and the overall violence of a society. (This came from a comment by a friend that hops have oestrogen, and people who drink a lot of beer develop more feminine characteristics.)

Do spectator sports aggregate or relieve violence in a society. (How Soccer Explains The World)

Economic relationship between hours worked and productivity. (People in the US are more productive but work longer hours than the French, who have a higher per-hour productivity)

Relationship between working environment and productivity. (Whilst researching for a multinational, came across a study out of Berkeley that increased airflow in call centres lead to higher performance. There's a very rich vein on sustainable workplace environments that is fascinating)
posted by nickrussell at 3:04 AM on May 2, 2012

(correction: The ratio surface/volume is higher for a mosquito than a bear.)
posted by springload at 4:00 AM on May 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone. The class is a 200s-level English class with a research-heavy slant; this paper is specifically designed to boost our grades because the professor is awesome.

I decided to go with the Voynich manuscript, but there are tons of awesome ideas here. I think I'm going to save the lobsters and horses one for when I have more time.
posted by goosechasing at 6:00 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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