Advanced Physics Laboratory (PHYS*4500)

Code and section: PHYS*4500*01

Term: Winter 2020

Instructor: Christian Schultz-Nielsen


Course Details

Calendar Description

This is a modular course for students in any physics-related major in which techniques of nuclear, solid state and molecular physics will be studied.
Pre-Requisites:  PHYS*3510
Restrictions:  This is a Priority Access Course. Enrolment may be restricted to particular programs, specializations or semester levels during certain periods. Please see the departmental website for more information.

Course Description

This course allows students to perform important experiments that illustrate topics discussed in third- and fourth-year physics courses.  The students will obtain experience using modern laboratory instruments and practice methods of data acquisition and analysis.  The student will master the scientific communication skills and ability to search the scientific literature skills developed in PHYS*3510.

As discussed in the University of Guelph Undergraduate Calendar, a 0.50 credit course carries an expectation of 10-12 student-effort hours per week, including time allocated to lectures, labs, and tutorials.  Students enrolled in PHYS*4500 should ensure that they allocate hours to this course every week, as the workload is significant and can become overwhelming if left to the last minute.



There are no lectures associated with PHYS*4500.


Mondays and Wednesdays from 14:30 - 17:20 in MacNaughton 417

See the semester schedule below for more details – there will not be laboratories every week. 

Final Exam

There is no final exam associated with PHYS*4500.

Instructional Support

Instructional Support Team

Instructor:  Christian Schultz-Nielsen
Telephone:  +1-519-824-4120 x56618
Office:  MACN 413

Lab Technician:  David Urbshas
Telephone:  +1-519-824-4120 x53995
Office:  MACN 104

Teaching Assistant: Devin Hymers
Office:  MACN 401

Learning Resources

Additional Resources

  • A.C. Melissinos and J. Napolitano, Experiments in Modern Physics (2nd Edition), Academic Press, 2003. (University of Guelph Library Call #: QC33.M52 2003) (Textbook)
  • J.R. Taylor, An Introduction to Error Analysis: The Study of Uncertainties in Physical Measurements (2nd Edition), University Science Books, 1997. (University of Guelph Library Call #: QC39.T4 1997) (Textbook)
  • D.W. Preston and E.R. Dietz, The Art of Experimental Physics, Wiley & Sons, 1991. (University of Guelph Library Call #: QC33.P74 1991) (Textbook)

Learning Outcomes

Course Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  1. mastered the use of various experimental physics tools, including multimeters, oscilloscopes and multichannel analyzers.
  2. become autonomous in an experimental physics setting.
  3. mastered the analysis of experimental data, using accepted error analysis methodologies, to verify theoretical predictions.
  4. mastered proper scientific lab notebook protocols, allowing them to recreate experiments and or write technical documents using only their notes and data.
  5. demonstrated mastery with laboratory and radiation safety protocols, including proper handling of sealed gamma-ray emitting sources.
  6. demonstrated mastery of the written and verbal skills required to disseminate experimental results to a variety of audiences via scientific papers, posters, and oral presentations.
  7. identified and synthesized relevant scientific literature to present a coherent scientific argument at a level appropriate to their peers and the more general population.
  8. demonstrated mastery at incorporating theoretical knowledge developed in other physics courses and the scientific literature to draw appropriate inferences and conclusions from experimental results and suggest appropriate improvements to the design of the performed experiments.

B.Sc. Honours Degree

Successfully completing this course will contribute to the following:

# Outcome Learning Outcome
1 Problem Solving & Critical Thinking 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
1.1 Critically evaluate ideas and arguments by gathering and integrating relevant information, assessing its credibility, and synthesizing evidence to formulate a position. 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8
1.2 Identify problems and independently propose solutions using creative approaches, acquired through interdisciplinary experiences, and a depth and breadth of knowledge/expertise. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8
1.3 Accurately interpret and use numerical information to evaluate and formulate a position. 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8
2 Communication 3, 4, 6
2.1 Accurately and effectively communicate ideas, arguments and analyses, to a range of audiences, in graphic, oral and written form. 3, 4, 6
3 Professional and Ethical Behaviour 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
3.1 Demonstrate personal and professional integrity by respecting diverse points of view and the intellectual contribution of others, and by demonstrating a commitment to honesty and equity, and awareness of sustainability, in scientific practice and society at large. 4, 5, 7
3.2 Collaborate effectively as part of a team by demonstrating mutual respect, leadership, and an ability to set goals and manage tasks and timelines. 1, 2, 5, 8
3.3 Plan for professional growth and personal development within and beyond the undergraduate program. 6
4 Scientific Method 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8
4.1 Apply scientific methods and processes by formulating questions, designing investigations and synthesizing data to draw conclusions and make scientifically-based decisions. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8
4.2 Generate and interpret scientific data using quantitative, qualitative and analytical methodologies and techniques. 1, 2, 3, 4, 8
5 Breadth & Depth of Understanding in a Particular Scientific Discipline 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8
5.1 Apply the core concepts of math, physics, chemistry and biology to a chosen scientific discipline. 1, 2, 3, 5, 8
5.2 Demonstrate knowledge of the ethical, economic, commercial and social implications of scientific discovery and technological innovation. 2, 6
5.3 Interpret current scientific concepts and gaps in knowledge (and methods) in light of the historical development of a chosen discipline. 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8
6 Scientific Technology & Techniques in a Scientific Discipline 2, 3, 4, 5, 8
6.1 Apply contemporary research methods, skills and techniques to conduct independent inquiry in a chosen scientific discipline. 2, 3, 4, 5, 8

Teaching and Learning Activities

Semester Schedule

Week Course Activities Assessments Due
1 (Jan 06 - Jan 10)
  • Radiation Safety Training (Mon Jan 06) in MacN 415
  • ​Lab Safety Training (Wed Jan 08) in MacN 415
2 (Jan 13 - Jan 17) Experiment #1 (Group A)   N/A
3 (Jan 20 - Jan 24) Experiment #1 (Group B) Group A Notebook #1 (Wed Jan 22)
4 (Jan 27 - Jan 31) Experiment #2 (Group A) Group B Notebook #1 (Wed Jan 29)
5 (Feb 03 - Feb 07) Experiment #2 (Group B) Group A Notebook #2 (Wed Feb 05)
6 (Feb 10 - Feb 14) Group Presentations (Wed Feb 12 in MacN 222) Group B Notebook #2 (Wed Feb 12)
7 (Feb 17 - Feb 21) Winter Break - No Labs Scheduled N/A
8 (Feb 24 - Feb 28) Experiment #3 (Group A) Group A Science Paper #1 (Fri Feb 21)
9 (Mar 02 - Mar 06) Experiment #3 (Group B) Group A Notebook #3 (Wed Mar 04)
Group B Science Paper #1 (Fri Mar 06)
10 (Mar 09 - Mar 13) Experiment #4 (Group A) Group B Notebook #3 (Wed Mar 11)
Group A Poster Draft (Fri Mar 13)
11 (Mar 16 - Mar 20) Experiment #4 (Group B) Group A Notebook #4 (Wed Mar 18)
​Group B Poster Draft (Fri Mar 20)
12 (Mar 23 - Mar 27) Experiment #5 (Groups A & B) Group B Notebook #4 (Wed Mar 25)
​Group A Science Paper #2 (Fri Mar 27)
13 (Mar 30 - Apr 03)   Groups A/B Notebook #5 (Wed Apr 01)
Group B Science Paper #2 (Fri Apr 03)
​Poster Session (Mon Mar 30)


COVID-19 Pandemic Response (Effective March 23, 2020)

In an effort to contribute to social distancing efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic, please note that all in-person classes, labs and tutorials at the University of Guelph have been cancelled for the remainder of the Winter 2020 semester.  The original semester schedule given above has been replaced with the following:
Week Cousre Activities Assessments Due
1 (Jan 06 - Jan 10)

Radiation Safety Training (Mon Jan 06) in MacN 415
Lab Safety Training (Wed Jan 08) in MacN 415

2 (Jan 13 - Jan 17) Experiment #1 (Group A)   N/A
3 (Jan 20 - Jan 24) Experiment #1 (Group B) Group A Notebook #1 (Wed Jan 22)
4 (Jan 27 - Jan 31) Experiment #2 (Group A) Group B Notebook #1 (Wed Jan 29)
5 (Feb 03 - Feb 07) Experiment #2 (Group B) Group A Notebook #2 (Wed Feb 05)
6 (Feb 10 - Feb 14) Group Presentations (Wed Feb 12 in MacN 222) Group B Notebook #2 (Wed Feb 12)
7 (Feb 17 - Feb 21) Winter Break - No Labs Scheduled N/A
8 (Feb 24 - Feb 28) Experiment #3 (Group A) Group A Science Paper #1 (Fri Feb 21)
9 (Mar 02 - Mar 06) Experiment #3 (Group B) Group A Notebook #3 (Wed Mar 04)
Group B Science Paper #1 (Fri Mar 06)
10 (Mar 09 - Mar 13) Experiment #4 (Group A) Group B Notebook #3 (Wed Mar 11)
Group A Poster Draft (Fri Mar 13)
11 (Mar 16 - Mar 20) Classes suspended - U of G Pandemic Response No assessments due
12 (Mar 23 - Mar 27) No lab scheduled Group A Notebook #4 (Wed Mar 25)
Group B Poster Draft (Fri Mar 27)
13 (Mar 30 - Apr 03) No lab scheduled Groups B Notebook #4 (Wed Apr 01)
Group A Science Paper #2 (Fri Apr 03)
14 (Apr 06 - Apr 10) No lab scheduled
Groups A/B Final Poster (Mon Apr 06)
Group B Science Paper #2 (Fri Apr 10)

Experiment Scheduling

Students will perform experiments in alternating weeks, and should sign up for the experiments they intend to do on the Google Sheets link provided in Courselink.  Experiments are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

During a week where no experiment is scheduled, students should complete the analysis for the lab notebook that is due that week and begin preparing for the following week's experiment.  All experiments should be completed by Week 11.

Students are required to complete the experiments during the assigned lab periods.  Students requiring additional time to complete an experiment may sign out keys to MacNaughton 417 from the course instructor in the rare occasions that an experiment cannot be completed in the allotted 6 hours of lab time.

Each student will be required to do 5 of the experiments listed below:

Modern Physics

  • Electron spin resonance
  • Millikan oil drop experiment
  • Zeeman effect

Nuclear Physics

  • Gamma-ray spectroscopy using a NaI(Tl) detector
  • The speed of photons: Galileo's technique modernized
  • X-ray spectroscopy - Moseley's law
  • High-resolution gamma ray spectroscopy

Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics

  • Noise fundamentals

Condensed Matter Physics

  • X-ray diffraction (if available - consult with course instructor)
  • X-ray absorption - fine structure (if available - consult with course instructor)

Waves and Optics

  • The velocity of sound: the Debye-Sears experiment
  • The transmission line
  • Fourier optics
  • Physics of ultrasound


All assessments submitted late without legitimate cause will be penalized 10% per late day, to a maximum of 50%.  After five days, the late work will no longer be accepted and the student will receive a grade of 0 for that assessment.

Final Grade Breakdown

Assessment Tool Weighting
Lab Notebook (equal weighting for each of the 5 experiments) 40%
Science Paper (2 experiments, equally weighted) 35%
Poster Draft 2.5%
Poster Presentation 7.5%
Group Presentation 10%
Course Performance & Participation 5%


COVID-19 Pandemic Response - New Final Grade Breakdown (Effective March 23rd, 2020)

As classes were suspended and no in-person labs can be conducted for the remainder of the Winter 2020 semester, the final grade breakdown has been altered to reflect necessary changes to the course, as shown below:
Assessment Tool Weighting
Lab Notebook (equal weighting for first 4 experiments) 40%
Science Paper #1 17.5%
Science Paper #2 22.5%
Poster Draft 2.5%
Final Poster 2.5%
Group Presentation 10%
Course Performance & Participation 5%

Lab Notebooks

Notebooks will be evaluated based on the criteria described below, and will be available for pick-up on the following Monday during scheduled lab time. Students may continue to use their lab notebooks from PHYS*2180.

Students should be working in their lab notebooks as they perform the experiment, and the notebooks will be assessed using the following criteria:

Materials & Methods (8 marks total)

  • briefly describe what was done as it is done – you should be able to reproduce the procedure from the notebook without the lab outline!
  • logging experimental conditions
  • data recording
  • dates, run times, file names, etc.

Results & Analysis (10 marks total)

  • raw data (where applicable) and quality of that data
  • graphs and brief discussions of the data
  • questions asked in the lab outline, including derivations

Clarity (2 marks total)

  • notebook should be legible
  • anybody should be able to navigate through your lab notebook

A more detailed summary of lab notebook expectations is available on Courselink. 

Science Paper

Each student will hand in two written formal lab reports, written in the style of a scientific paper.  Formal lab reports will be submitted as PDF documents via Dropbox on Courselink, and the due dates are given in the course schedule. 

Evaluation of the science papers will be based on students’ ability to properly motivate the experiment that was performed, to interpret and discuss their experimental data while using proper scientific writing styles, and to properly discuss experimental limitations within accepted error analysis frameworks. Spelling and grammar will be assessed in these reports.  In general, your science papers should not exceed 8-10 pages (1.5 line spacing) for most experiments.  The merit of the scientific arguments made in PHYS*4500 science papers will be assessed more heavily than in PHYS*3510, and students are expected to address experimental uncertainties more rigorously.  Please note that you cannot submit a science paper for an experiment that was presented as a poster.

For each paper, students will also submit the outline they used to generate the paper.  Outlines are commonly used while preparing scientific documents and generally streamline the process of writing scientific papers.  Following the guidelines given previously in PHYS*2180 and on the PHYS*4500 Courselink page, outlines should demonstrate the intended flow of the document and indicate which equations, tables and/or graphs, and figures need to be included in the final paper.  Please note that a rough draft of your paper does NOT constitute an outline.  Outlines will be submitted via Courselink Dropbox at the same time as the science paper.

Poster Draft

Each student will produce a scientific poster (48” wide by 36” high) summarizing the results of one of their experiments.  This poster will be submitted electronically as a PDF document via Dropbox. 

The poster draft will be assessed by the Teaching Assistant, and useful feedback will be provided before the final posters are printed.  Students are encouraged to browse the scientific posters found throughout the MacNaughton building for guidance.  A good principle while designing your poster is to maintain a balance of roughly 30% text, 30% visuals, and 30% empty space.  See Courselink for other recommendations.  You cannot submit a poster for experiments that have been submitted as science papers.

Poster Presentation

Incorporating feedback received after the submitted draft, each student will print their poster (this typically costs $30-$40) and present it to their peers in a PHYS*3510/4500 Poster Session scheduled on Monday, March 30th from 2:30 – 5:20 PM in MacNaughton 417.  Attendance at the poster session is mandatory for all students, so plan your extracurricular activities and jobs accordingly.

Students will be divided into two groups, presenters and evaluators.  For the first 90 minutes, the presenters will present their poster in 5 minutes or less (with up to 2 minutes of questions afterwards) to their evaluators, and will be assessed using a provided rubric.   After 90 minutes, the student presenters and evaluators will switch roles.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response (Effective March 23rd, 2020)

Due to social distancing concerns during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we can no longer proceed with an in-person poster session.  As such, the final posters will now be submitted electronically via Dropbox on Courselink and will be graded by the instructor.  There will be no need to print the posters, as there is no longer an opportunity to present them to your peers.

Group Presentation

During the first 6 weeks of the semester, students will work in groups of two, randomly assigned by the course instructor, and research an experimental project at the forefront of physics research, with great examples including projects that have been awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics (or Chemistry, if relevant). Each group will present their work to their peers, providing an overview of the relevant physics, particularly the experimental considerations, and describe the impact of that experiment on physical theories and understanding. The presentations will be no longer than 20 minutes, with 5 minutes for questions.  All students are expected to attend the full 3 hours of the presentation session.  The presentations will be held on Wednesday, February 12th from 2:30 – 5:20 PM in MacNaughton 222.

Suitable research topics include:

  • optical tweezers (Nobel Prize - 2018) OR laser cooling and trapping of atoms (Nobel Prize - 1996)
  • gravitational wave observatories (Nobel Prize - 2017)
  • neutrino observatories (Nobel Prize - 2002 and Nobel Prize - 2015)
  • invention of blue light-emitting diodes (Nobel Prize - 2014) (tricky theory)
  • CERN Large Hadron Collider and the Higgs boson (Nobel Prize - 2013) (VERY difficult theory - attempt at your own peril!)
  • quantum particle tracking/quantum computing (Nobel Prize - 2012) (tricky theory)
  • discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe (Nobel Prize - 2011)
  • experiments with graphene; can include more recent work on silicene (Nobel Prize - 2010)
  • invention of the CCD sensor (Nobel Prize - 2009)
  • giant magnetoresistance (Nobel Prize - 2007) (very difficult theory - attempt at your own peril!)
  • discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation (Nobel Prize - 2006)
  • laser-based precision spectroscopy (Nobel Prize - 2005) OR ultra-short optical pulses (Nobel Prize - 2018)
  • achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation (Nobel Prize - 2001)

Students who wish to discuss a different project or experiment can do so if they receive permission from the instructor.  Student topics must be unique to avoid overlap with other groups in the class.  Students should avoid choosing presentation topics that are closely related to previous summer research projects.

Course Performance & Participation

This grade will reflect the student's contributions and initiative during the scheduled laboratory hours.  Students will be assessed on their ability to follow lab protocols, their willingness to pull their weight during the conduction of the experiments, and their contributions during group presentations and poster presentations in terms of peer feedback and/or questions.

Course Statements

Lab Safety

Department of Physics Laboratory Safety Policy

The Department of Physics is committed to ensuring a safe working and learning environment for all students, staff and faculty.  As a student in a laboratory course, you are responsible for taking all reasonable safety precautions and following the lab safety rules specific to the lab you are working in.  In addition, students are responsible for reporting all safety issues to the graduate teaching assistant or course instructor as soon as possible.  Students are not required to work in an environment that they deem to be unsafe.  If you have any concerns whatsoever, please consult your teaching assistant or course instructors!

In this course, students may be exposed to the following potential hazards:

  • γ -radiation and x-ray sources
  • intense light, including laser light and strobe lights
  • voltages and currents that can be harmful if proper precautions are not taken
  • compressed gases
  • cryogenic liquids:  liquid nitrogen and liquid helium

All experiments have been designed such that students have minimal (but not zero!) risk if proper laboratory protocols are followed.  At all times, students must be aware of the risks of their experiment and the positioning of their fellow students and behave accordingly.

Food and Drink in the Laboratory

As with all laboratories on the University of Guelph campus, ALL food and drink is strictly prohibited in the laboratory.  This applies to all faculty, staff, and students.  In the PHYS*4500 laboratory, this rule is strictly enforced as a criterion for lab certification with the Radiation Safety Office at the University of Guelph.  Students must not, under any circumstances, bring any food or drink into the laboratory.  If students have water bottles or food in their backpacks, these must be left at the front of the room and not be accessed within the room at any time.

After-Hours Access to the Laboratory

Students who need to work on their experiment outside normal course hours may sign out a key to MacNaughton 417 from the course instructor, on a case-by-case basis.  Students must ensure that they are never in the laboratory alone, and must obey all safety rules.  Should a course instructor, teaching assistant or lab supervisor come across students with food or drink in the laboratory, the offenders will be removed from the lab and receive a mark of 0 on that experiment.

Course Evaluation

The Department of Physics requires student assessment of all courses taught by the Department. These assessments provide essential feedback to faculty on their teaching by identifying both strengths and possible areas of improvement. In addition, annual student assessment of teaching provides part of the information used by the Department’s Tenure and Promotion Committee in evaluating the faculty member's contribution in the area of teaching.

The Department's teaching evaluation questionnaire invites student response both through numerically quantifiable data, and written student comments. In conformity with University of Guelph Faculty Policy, the Department’s Tenure and Promotions Committee only considers comments signed by students (choosing "I agree" in question 14). Your instructor will see all signed and unsigned comments after final grades are submitted. Written student comments may also be used in support of a nomination for internal and external teaching awards.

No information will be passed on to the instructor until after the final grades have been submitted.

University Statements

Email Communication

As per university regulations, all students are required to check their e-mail account regularly: e-mail is the official route of communication between the University and its students.

When You Cannot Meet a Course Requirement

When you find yourself unable to meet an in-course requirement because of illness or compassionate reasons please advise the course instructor (or designated person, such as a teaching assistant) in writing, with your name, id#, and e-mail contact. The grounds for Academic Consideration are detailed in the Undergraduate Calendar.

Drop Date

Students will have until the last day of classes to drop courses without academic penalty. The deadline to drop two-semester courses will be the last day of classes in the second semester. This applies to all students (undergraduate, graduate and diploma) except for Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Associate Diploma in Veterinary Technology (conventional and alternative delivery) students. The regulations and procedures for course registration are available in their respective Academic Calendars.

Copies of Out-of-class Assignments

Keep paper and/or other reliable back-up copies of all out-of-class assignments: you may be asked to resubmit work at any time.


The University promotes the full participation of students who experience disabilities in their academic programs. To that end, the provision of academic accommodation is a shared responsibility between the University and the student.

When accommodations are needed, the student is required to first register with Student Accessibility Services (SAS). Documentation to substantiate the existence of a disability is required; however, interim accommodations may be possible while that process is underway.

Accommodations are available for both permanent and temporary disabilities. It should be noted that common illnesses such as a cold or the flu do not constitute a disability.

Use of the SAS Exam Centre requires students to book their exams at least 7 days in advance and not later than the 40th Class Day.

Academic Integrity

The University of Guelph is committed to upholding the highest standards of academic integrity, and it is the responsibility of all members of the University community-faculty, staff, and students-to be aware of what constitutes academic misconduct and to do as much as possible to prevent academic offences from occurring. University of Guelph students have the responsibility of abiding by the University's policy on academic misconduct regardless of their location of study; faculty, staff, and students have the responsibility of supporting an environment that encourages academic integrity. Students need to remain aware that instructors have access to and the right to use electronic and other means of detection.

Please note: Whether or not a student intended to commit academic misconduct is not relevant for a finding of guilt. Hurried or careless submission of assignments does not excuse students from responsibility for verifying the academic integrity of their work before submitting it. Students who are in any doubt as to whether an action on their part could be construed as an academic offence should consult with a faculty member or faculty advisor.

Recording of Materials

Presentations that are made in relation to course work - including lectures - cannot be recorded or copied without the permission of the presenter, whether the instructor, a student, or guest lecturer. Material recorded with permission is restricted to use for that course unless further permission is granted.


The Academic Calendars are the source of information about the University of Guelph’s procedures, policies, and regulations that apply to undergraduate, graduate, and diploma programs.

Academic Calendars