Advanced Physics Laboratory (PHYS*4500)

Code and section: PHYS*4500*02

Term: Fall 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

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.


Section 01:  Mondays and Tuesdays from 14:30 - 17:20 in MacNaughton 417
Section 02:  Thursdays and Fridays 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
Office Hours:  Email the instructor to set up online appointments through Microsoft Teams.

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

Teaching Assistant: Devin Hymers
Office:  MACN 401

Teaching Assistant: Scott Annett
Office:  MACN 402

Learning Resources

Useful 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)

In addition to the references listed above, textbooks and lecture notes used in various physics and biophysics courses could be very helpful to students.

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 (Sep 07 - Sep 11) No lab scheduled for Section 02
(Students may sign up for a lab)
2 (Sep 14- Sep 18) Experiment #1  
3 (Sep 21- Sep 25)   Notebook #1 (Fri Sep 25)
4 (Sep 28 - Oct 02) Experiment #2  
5 (Oct 05 - Oct 09)   Notebook #2 (Fri Oct 09)
6 (Oct 12 - Oct 16) Thanksgiving Break
(Students may sign up for a lab)
7 (Oct 19 - Oct 23) Experiment #3 Science Paper #1 (Fri Oct 23)
8 (Oct 26 - Oct 30)   Notebook #3 (Fri Oct 30)
9 (Nov 02 - Nov 06) Experiment #4  
10 (Nov 09 - Nov 13)   Notebook #4 (Fri Nov 13)
Poster Draft (Fri Nov 13)
11 (Nov 16 - Nov 20) Experiment #5  
12 (Nov 23- Nov 27) Group Presentations (Thu Nov 26) Group Report (Fri Nov 27)
13 (Nov 30 - Dec 04)   Notebook #5 (Fri Dec 04)
​Final Poster (Fri Dec 04)
Science Paper #2 (Fri Dec 04)

Students are scheduled to perform experiments individually in alternating weeks, but are encouraged to sign up for experiments in unscheduled weeks early in the semester.  This strategy allows students to complete their lab work early in the semester before the workload in other courses gets too severe, and also allows students to potentially finish their lab work before a possible second wave of COVID-19 impacts their studies.  Students in Section 02 are welcome to start their first lab in Week 1.  Please note that assessment dates are NOT impacted by students completing their lab work early, although students are encouraged to submit their lab notebooks before the due dates while the lab work is fresh in their minds.

Students 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.

Students are required to complete the experiments during the assigned lab periods.  

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

Modern Physics

  • Electron spin resonance
  • Millikan oil drop experiment (very difficult to complete alone)
  • 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 (currently being prepared - will hopefully be available by start of semester or shortly thereafter)

Condensed Matter Physics

  • X-ray diffraction (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) 35%
Science Paper & Outline (2 experiments, equally weighted) 30%
Poster Draft 2%
Final Poster (including script) 3%
Group Presentation 10%
Group Essay 15%
Course Participation and Initiative 5%

Lab Notebooks

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.

Due to COVID-19 concerns, students will submit scans of their lab notebooks via a dropbox on Courselink.  You may scan your notebooks using an app on your mobile phones, but please make sure that you submit your work as a single file with the pages in order to minimize frustration for your teaching assistants!

Science Paper & Outline

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, nor should you write the outline after the paper (this defeats the entire pupose).  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.

Final Poster

Incorporating feedback received after the submitted draft, each student will electronically submit a final draft of their poster along with speaking notes that would be used if the poster was beng presented.  Due to physical distancing requirements, it is not possible to provide students with a PHYS*4500 poster presentation in the Fall 2020 semester.  However, students are welcome to present their posters individually to the course instructor (and possibly the course TAs, should they be willing) to gain experience in a poster presentation.  Because of COVID-19 concerns, the Winter 2020 poster session in PHYS*3510 was cancelled, so we want to provide students with an opportunity to gain poster presentation experience should they so desire.  For this option, students will not be required to print their posters as we can project a single poster onto a wall for the presentation.  

Group Presentation and Essay

During the semester, students will work in groups of two or three, 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 prepare a paper summarizing their research, providing an overview of the relevant physics, particularly the experimental considerations, and describe the impact of that experiment on physical theories and understanding.  The level of the paper should be such that it is accessible to students' peers in 3rd or 4th year of a physics-related major. Some physics-specific language will be necessary, but students should still strive to make their paper accessible to as wide an audience as possible.  

Each group will present their research and paper to their peers in an oral presentation that is no longer than 20 minutes, with 5 minutes for questions.  All students are expected to attend the full presentation session.  The oral presentations will either be in a face-to-face setting (provided a suitable space can be found) or presented online (via Teams or Zoom), depending on public health considerations in late-November - details will be announced on Courselink.

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 experimental physics project 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 research or work projects, as this would be an unfair advantage with respect to other students in the course.

Course Participation & Initiative

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.  One significant contributor to this assessment will be peer assessments of student contributions to the Group Presentation/Essay, and the instructor will also review student comments on the peer evaluations for the group presentations.

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.

COVID-19 Pandemic Considerations

The Fall 2020 offering of PHYS*4500 is operating in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and this presents unique challenges to higher education.  The course instructor, teaching assistants, and Department of Physics will do everything reasonable to ensure the safety of students enrolled in PHYS*4500.  The following rules must always be followed by students when in the PHYS*4500 learning spaces:

  1. In recognition of the guidance from the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Medical Officer of Health, all staff, instructors and students must wear a facemask while in any of the PHYS*4500 labs, regardless of whether the student is alone in a room or not.  Reusable masks are adequate for this purpose, and students are responsible for their own maks.  Breathing into a mask for an entire 3 hour lab period could cause the mask to become damp, lowering its ability to protect the wearer and their peers, so students are encouraged to have at least two masks with them at all times should one mask become comproimised.
  2. All staff, instructors, and students must maintain a minimum of 2 m of physical separation while in the PHYS*4500 learning spaces.  Experiments have been arranged to meet this requirement, and students should work only within their designated area during lab times.
  3. Please follow the COVID-19 signage in the PHYS*4500 learning spaces.  Specifically, students should obey the one-way circulation, entering only through MacNaughton 417 and exiting only from MacNaughton 422.  The maximum occupancy of each room has been agreed upon with Physical Resources in adherence with physical distancing guidelines) and is posted on the door of all PHYS*4500 learning spaces.  Please do not enter a learning space unless you are scheduled to be there to avoid exceeding the maximum occupancy of the rooms.
  4. All lab stations have been provided with approved disinfectant (Swish Quato 44) so that students can disinfect their own lab station when they arrive at the start of their experiment.  Additionally, the instructor will be sanitizing all surfaces on Tuesday and Friday nights once students have completed their experiments.
  5. Hand sanitizer will be available upon entry to the lab - please use it! 
  6. Students that feel ill or have reason to believe they have been in contact with somebody that has been diagnosed with COVID-19 must not attend their scheduled labs.  Email the course instructor and a plan will be developed to catch up on missed work.

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.

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 and Graduate Calendars.

  • Undergraduate Calendar - Academic Consideration and Appeals
  • Graduate Calendar - Grounds for Academic Consideration
  • Associate Diploma Calendar - Academic Consideration, Appeals and Petitions

The University will not require verification of illness (doctor's notes) for the fall 2020 or winter 2021 semesters.

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.

  • Undergraduate Calendar - Dropping Courses
  • Graduate Calendar - Registration Changes
  • Associate Diploma Calendar - Dropping Courses

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.

  • For Guelph students, information can be found on the SAS website
  • For Ridgetown students, information can be found on the Ridgetown SAS website

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.

  • Undergraduate Calendar - Academic Misconduct
  • Graduate Calendar - Academic Misconduct

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


Please note that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may necessitate a revision of the format of course offerings and academic schedules. Any such changes will be announced via CourseLink and/or class email. All University-wide decisions will be posted on the COVID-19 website [] and circulated by email.