CDS 90 2022-23

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Instructor: Richard Murray

CDS 90 is a course consisting of research in control and dynamical systems, supervised by a Caltech faculty member. The topic selection is determined by the adviser and the student and is subject to approval by the CDS faculty.

Course Guidelines

  1. All thesis work will be done on campus under the direct supervision of the thesis supervisor or another faculty member (e.g.,a post-doc). The student is responsible for finding a supervisor to support the work.
  2. Students wishing to perform a thesis under the supervision of a JPL staff member should have the JPL researcher contact the course instructor to discuss where the research will take place, who will be responsible for insuring safety precautions are taken, and how the student will be supervised. All arrangments for work at JPL must be completed before Add Day of the fall term.
  3. Letter grades will be given for the three terms of work; the registration specified in the catalog is three terms, 9 hours per term.
  4. Late work will not be accepted unless prior approval has been given by the thesis supervisor and the course instructor.
  5. The final draft of the thesis must be completed by the last day of (senior) finals for the academic year.
  6. Oral presentations will be given at the end of each term; these are important and count heavily in the grading. Careful preparation is essential. Each presentation should begin with title, supervisor's name, and a brief description of the work, its purpose, etc. easily understandable by non-experts. Visual aids are limited to three uncrowded viewgraphs for the first two presentations (fifteen minutes long, including questions); there are no such rules for the final presentation.


First Term: Work during the first term should be directed to finding a focused research topic and performing an preparatory work required to carry out the thesis (background reading, construction of any required experimental apparatus, etc).

  • End of the first week of class: arrange for a short meeting with the CDS 90 instructor to talk about the course and how it works.
  • No later than add day: identify a thesis advisor and agree on your proposed senior thesis project.
  • Midterm: Each student must submit a short summary (one page, typed) of the proposed thesis project, and the name of the supervisor.
  • Final: There will be a meeting of all thesis students and advisors during finals week, at which each student will give a 10-15 presentation on their work, including a description of the work to be completed for their thesis.

Second term: The bulk of the research work should occur during second term. By the end of this term, the basic results of the thesis should be complete.

  • Midterm: Each student will submit to the course instructor a 4-5 page document serving as a first draft of the introduction to the thesis; this should include a few references as well.
  • Finals: There will be another general meeting for short oral reports. A two to five page document summarizing the main results achieved to date is due at the time of the oral report.

Third term: The third term is intended to be spent primarily on writing (and rewriting) the thesis.

  • Midterm: A completed first draft of the thesis is due.
  • Final: The final draft of the thesis is due at 5 pm the last day of finals. Each thesis will be read and graded by the supervisor and one other member of the faculty.

Format and Style of the Thesis

The details of the thesis document will depend on the style of research and the thesis supervisor. The thesis should be organized and follow the general outline given in item 1 below. Please check grammar and spelling and do not use colloquialisms or any sort of local dialects. Every student will benefit greatly from reading and applying The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.

All theses should include the following items:

  • Title page and abstract
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction, including a discourse providing a context for the thesis, and a very brief summary description of the thesis work
  • Main results, including any reuqired background material and/or description of experimental/computational setup
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography

The thesis should include references to appropriate documents. A list of references should appear at the end of the document as shown above.

SI units are strongly recommended.


The grading for each term will be as follows:

  • Midterm progress report: 25%
    A short written report is due at the end of the midterm examinationperiod of each term. The format and contents of the report varies from term to term, as described above.
  • Final written report: 25%
    A written report is due at the end of second and third terms. The format and contents of this report vary from term to term.
  • Oral presentation: 50%
    The oral presentation at the end of each term will be the primary factor in determining the course grade for the term. Equal weight will be given to the quality of the work and the quality of the presentation.