Advanced Physics Project (Research in Physics) (PHYS*4001)

Code and section: PHYS*4001*01

Term: Fall 2009

Instructor: Iain Campbell


Course Information

Description of Course

This course aims at introducing students to Physics research through involvement in an original project within one of the research groups of the Physics Department. The work schedule, laboratory space and apparatus, and other details associated with the project will be worked out with the student’s faculty supervisor.


Coordinator Office Extension Email
J.L. Campbell MacNaughton 326 52325


  1. During the preceding summer, students will familiarize themselves with the research groups of the department on the Physics website, and will decide what research areas are of interest. It is important to look under BOTH the headings RESEARCH AND FACULTY to get a complete picture. Students are strongly urged to approach faculty members during the late winter and the spring and summer (email, visit, letter, phone) and arrange a project and a supervisor.
  2. By the start of the Fall semester, it is expected that most students will have identified a supervisor. Any remaining ones must identify a supervisor in the first two weeks of classes. The department may need to close admission to the class, dependent on numbers, if a supervisor has not been identified at this time.
  3. The coordinator will meet with the class around September 20th. Lab safety issues and necessary training courses will be arranged at that time.
  4. During September and October, students are expected to read in depth material provided by the supervisor and to become familiar with their project’s background, approaches and objectives.
  5. At around the first of November, there will be a formal class meeting at which each student will give a 15 minute Powerpoint presentation which is a “Research Proposal”. The coordinator will advise on the preparation of these proposals, and will provide feedback afterwards.
  6. Students are expected to commence actual work in the laboratory or at the computer at the very latest immediately after the proposal talks.
  7. The project will continue through the winter semester: it is expected that students will work for at least six hours per week. The specific hours need not correspond to the formal class schedule (except for class meetings).
  8. In mid-March, students will individually rehearse their final Powerpoint presentations with the coordinator. This will essentially be a Progress Report, which approximates the Final Report. The coordinator will then provide individual feedback and advice.
  9. In the last week of semester, there will be a formal class meeting at which each student will give a 15 minute Powerpoint presentation which is the “Final Report”. This event will be organized like a real conference, right down to question periods, coffee break, etc, and all faculty, post-docs and graduate students will be invited to attend.

Role of the Course Coordinator

  • Canvass faculty regarding suitable research projects
  • Help students select a project
  • Provide guidance and feedback with respect to oral presentations
  • Be available to deal with specific problems or difficulties
  • Organize class meetings and presentations
  • In consultation with the student’s faculty advisor, assess each student’s work and assign the final grade

Role of the Faculty Supervisor

  • Provide clear guidance as to the scope and objectives of the project
  • Meet with students at least weekly, and more often if required
  • Ensure a safe working environment, consistent with University and departmental safety policies
  • Provide the coordinator, after the project is completed, with an assessment of the student’s overall performance relative to expectations and taking into account any unforeseen difficulties

Class Meetings

Three of the four formal class meetings give the students experience in presenting short research talks as one might give at a research conference. They also serve to check on the student’s progress during the year. Each student will give three presentations as described above. The Proposal and Progress Report talks will not be marked but the coordinator will assess the talks and give constructive criticism. For all the talks, assistance with preparation of necessary Powerpoints, overheads, demonstrations, etc can be obtained from the student’s faculty advisor or the course coordinator.

First Meeting: Entire Class (Organization and Safety)

15th September 2009

By the time of this meeting, all students will have met, on their own initiative, with potential faculty supervisors, selected their project, and should have some idea of the context.

Second Meetings: Entire Class (Proposal)

Friday 30 October and Friday 6 November, each from 2.30 – 4.30 in McNaughton 318.
Given the size of the 2009/10 class there will two meetings, each involving about half of the students.
Each student will give a 15-minute talk on the background and methodology of the project. The talk should include:

  • The purpose of the project, hypotheses or experimental observations that are being tested during the project.
  • Any similar or related experiments or calculations that have been done and how this project is different from previous work.
  • Specific experimental design and project plan.
  • The apparatus and techniques to be used.
  • How the results are to be analyzed.
  • Any anticipated outcomes.

These presentations must be brief and to the point. Powerpoints or overhead transparences are both adequate means of carrying the main message. Powerpoint files should be supplied to the Instructor at least 24 hours ahead of time. Students should rehearse their presentations.

Third Meeting: Individual Students with Coordinator (Progress Report)

Dates/TBA – mid-March: 2.30 pm in McN 318 (Friday afternoons)

This second talk will follow a similar format to the first, but will now include results obtained by the student to date. (These results should nearly be the final results for the project). The talk should be seen as a rehearsal of the final presentation and should therefore report on the entire project: each student
should assume that the audience has not heard anything from him/her earlier in the semester. Data analysis that has been done should also be presented as well as any further experiments or analysis still required. Any data should be shown in graphical form on well prepared overheads or in Powerpoint.
Powerpoint files should be supplied to the coordinator at least 24 hours ahead of time. Students should rehearse their presentations beforehand. The coordinator will provide feedback and advice to help in preparing the final public presentation.

Abstracts of final presentation: Due before noon on Monday of the week of the final class meeting. TBA. .
One paragraph (maximum 500 words) summarizing your project. This abstract will be used to advertise your final talk to the faculty and graduate students in the Physics Department.

Fourth Meeting (Final Presentation)

Date TBA: 2.20 pm late March in McN 318. (Wed or Fri or both)

It has not yet been decided whether to have one or two meetings of the entire group; the class and the coordinator will assess what is best.

Powerpoint files should be supplied to the coordinator at least 24 hours ahead of time. All members of the Physics Department will be invited to attend these talks.

Laboratory Safety

Laboratory safety (for you and for all the other people around you) is an integral part of the conduct of experimental physics. It is not an add-on. Safety issues must be considered in the design of equipment, the procurement, storage and handling of materials, the planning of experimental work, and the actual conduct of the work.

All students in this course must read and comply with the Department of Physics Safety Policy, which is found on the department intranet via its website.

Students who will be involved with chemicals, lasers or radionuclides must discuss with their faculty advisors if they should attend one of the university’s regular short training sessions.

Students are not permitted to work alone after normal daytime working hours. If working after hours is contemplated, an explicit arrangement must be put in place whereby the advisor or another expert within the research group is on hand.

When anything whatsoever causes you to be concerned in the context of safety, raise the matter immediately with your faculty advisor before you take any further action. Do not hesitate on grounds that the matter may be trivial: probing of established procedures by a new person can be valuable in improving the safety of everybody.


There are 4 elements here. The relative weight of each element is indicated, but this does not mean that marks are assigned individually to each component; the coordinator has to assess the interplay of the various components as well as the quality of each.

  1. The progress made on the project. (35%) This mark will assess how well the student has progressed toward the anticipated goals of the project. Account will be taken of the effort (quality as well as quantity) applied to the project, the student’s independent creative input to the project, and how well the student coped with the inevitable problems which arise in any research project.
  2. The notebook. (15%) Each student must maintain a notebook to be used on a day to day basis to record all relevant information and theoretical developments. The notes should be legibly written and as complete as possible. It should include:
    • Experimental design
    • Overall project plan
    • Apparatus and plan changes
    • Theoretical background
    • Details of experiments
    • Measurements
    • Relevant observations
    • Ideas for changes in experimental method
    • Calculations

    All information should be recorded at the time of the experiment or calculation and should be clearly dated.Notebooks will be delivered to the coordinator before a date early in the exam period: this date will be established in consultation with the class.
  3. Final presentation. (30%) Each student will give an oral presentation (about 20 minutes). The final talk should be a well prepared overview of the background, methods used and results of the project. Any conclusions from the work and how these relate to the original purpose of the project should be presented.
  4. Project report. (20%) This report should be a more detailed summary of the project. It will include the details on which the final presentation was based. It should clearly and succinctly describe:
    • An abstract
    • The objectives
    • Methods
    • Results
    • Discussion
    • Conclusions

    It is expected that the project report will be no less than 10 pages in length and no more than 20. The class and the coordinator will decide upon an appropriate submission deadline.

In each of these areas, demonstration by the student of an intellectual grasp is paramount. The coordinator reaches a preliminary grade based on the criteria listed above. He/she then examines the entire set of grades within the context of all student grades in this course over the prior four years. The objective here is to test that the present class is being treated consistently with prior groups. This examination may result in a small upward or downward adjustment of the preliminary grades.