Research theses and creative projects are gaining popularity among educators and students alike. Experts say they force undergrads to synthesize various skills and subjects into high-quality products.Samuel Starr rode in circles to graduate from Pomona College. One thousand, six hundred circles. To fulfill a college requirement that all seniors complete a research thesis or creative project, the art major and bicycling enthusiast built his own wooden velodrome and then rode its slanted track for up to two hours in public performances. Whipping around the 132-foot circumference in less than five seconds a lap, he clocked about 1,600 circles, or 40 miles, one recent morning and, apart from a sore neck, seemed hardly the worse for wear. But "Circulus 2010," which he constructed in an empty library lobby on the Claremont campus, did test his talents in computer design, carpentry and conceptual art, Starr said.