Experimental Techniques in Physics (PHYS*2180)

Code and section: PHYS*2180*01, 02, 03, and 04

Term: Winter 2021

Instructor: Nawar Ismail


Section 1:  Course Information

1.1  Instructional Support Team

Instructor:  Nawar Ismail
Email:  nismail@uoguelph.ca
Office:  MACN 413

Lab Technician:  David Urbshas
Email:  durbshas@uoguelph.ca
Telephone:  +1-519-824-4120 x53995
Office:  MACN 104

Teaching Assistant: Carley Miki
Email:  mikic@uoguelph.ca
Office:  MACN 537

Teaching Assistant: Nicholas Van Heijst
Email:  nvanheij@uoguelph.ca
Office:  MACN 406

Teaching Assistant: Hurmiz Shamana
Email:  hshamana@uoguelph.ca
Office:  MACN 537

1.2  Lecture Schedule

Days Time Classroom
Monday-Wednesday-Friday 10:30 – 11:20 AD-S; Virtual

1.3  Lab Schedule

Day Section Time Classroom TA
Tuesday 0101 14:30 – 17:20 MacNaughton 414 TBA
Thursday 0102 14:30 – 17:20 MacNaughton 414 TBA
Friday 0103 14:30 - 17:20 MacNaughton 414 TBA
Monday 0104 15:00 - 17:50 MacNaughton 414 TBA

Students are responsible for all information presented in lectures and labs.  Active participation by students in the tutorials and lectures is expected!  

1.4  Calendar Description

This course is designed to aid students in the development of core practical skills in physics.  Students will be required to conduct a series of experiments exploring fundamental concepts in mechanics, electricity & magnetism, thermal physics, as well as the experimental basis of quantum physics.  There will be a strong emphasis on data and error analysis with a variety of software applications.

1.5  Credit Weighting

PHYS*2180 is a 0.50 credit weighted course.  Per the University of Guelph Undergraduate Calendar, a 0.50 credit course carries the expectation of 10 – 12 student-effort hours per week, including time allocated to lectures, labs and tutorials.

1.6  Course Aims and Learning Objectives

This course is not a “lab course”, but rather seeks to introduce students to basic experimental techniques, measurement theory and experiment design. The primary goal is to develop an appreciation of the role and significance of experimentation in the field of science.  Students will be exposed to some widely employed experimental techniques and be introduced to some of the instrumentation that is used in experimental physics research.  Students will understand how to critically assess the quality of experimental data and begin to develop their skills in the modeling of experimental data and presenting scientific research. 

At the successful completion of this course, students will have:

  • mastered the use of digital multimeters and oscilloscopes to measure DC and AC voltages and currents.
  • mastered the assessment of reasonable experimental uncertainty in a variety of different measurements, and understood how to minimize that uncertainty.
  • rigorously analyzed experimental data using accepted error analysis methodologies to verify theoretical predictions.
  • developed scientific presentation skills (both verbal and technical writing).
  • learned to efficiently search the scientific literature and critically assess the scientific merit of what they read.
  • become acquainted with a number of common experimental techniques in physics, many of which will be built upon in PHYS*3510 and PHYS*4500. 

1.7  COVID-19 Disclaimer

As an empirical science, physics progams (Biological & Medical Physics, Chemical Phyiscs, Physics, and Theoretical Physics) at the University of Guelph require that graduating students master key tools and techniques of experimental physics to satisfy the learning objectives of both their individual major and the BSc Program.  The Department of Physics does not believe that these tools and techniques can be mastered using remote delivery, and thus the course is therefore being offered in a face-to-face setting. 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated various responses from the Government of Ontario and/or the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health unit, including lockdowns.  Due to the evolving nature of the pandemic, all dates in this course outline are subject to change should an enforced lockdown of the course or the MacNaughton Building be mandated.  We ask that students be understanding of this need for flexibility.  Note that this flexibility may include the name to change the posted grading scheme for the course.  Changes to the course outline will be communicated via Courselink - students are responsible for checking Courselink regularly!

Students must at all times follow all public health guidelines.  These include:

  • students must complete the University of Guelph COVID-19 Daily Screening Form each day before arriving on campus
  • face coverings must be worn at all times while students are on campus
  • students and instructors must maintain physical separation of 2 m at all times, including while waiting in the hallways to get into their learning spaces
  • upon entering the lab space, students must use the provided disinfecting wipes to sanitize their workstation, keyboard and mouse.
  • follow all updated public health guidelines that are issued during the semester as the pandemic evolves.

1.8  Instructor’s Role and Responsibility to Students

The instructor’s role is to aid students in their performance of various experiments and provide guidance as students develop their mastery of the underlying physical concepts associated with these experiments.

Every student has the right to participate and contribute in the laboratory and other course activities.  If a student feels that there is something preventing their full contribution, they must notify the course instructor or teaching assistants as soon as possible.  We cannot address problems that we are not aware of!

The instructor will ensure that the learning environment is free from harassment of any form.  Offensive or inappropriate (homophobic, racist, sexist, etc.) comments are strictly prohibited.  Offending students will be required to leave the lab or class, and a mark of zero will be given for any assessments arising from that course activity.  More serious cases will also be forwarded to the University of Guelph Judicial Committee, where the maximum penalty is suspension or expulsion from the University of Guelph.  For more details, students should consult the University of Guelph’s current Policy on Non-Academic Misconduct.

1.9  Students’ Learning Responsibility

Students are expected to take advantage of the learning opportunities provided during lectures and laboratory periods.  Students having difficulty with the course content are advised to consult with the course instructor when they are struggling to understand a particular course concept, not after they have been assessed – this is too late!

Students who do (or may) fall behind due to illness, work, or extra-curricular activities (including varsity sports, student leadership activities, etc.) are advised to keep the instructor informed such that extra resources or accommodation can be provided, if appropriate.

Students are expected to attend lectures and tutorials and are expected to complete their lab notebooks, formal lab reports and term projects in a timely fashion.  Students are provided with deadlines for course materials at the beginning of the semester and are expected to work towards those deadlines accordingly. 

1.10  Relationship With Other Courses & Labs

Prerequisite Courses

Students must have completed PHYS*2330.  Students are strongly encouraged to take PHYS*2240 prior to this course and be co-registered in PHYS*2310 and PHYS*2340.

Students that have not completed IPS*1500 and IPS*1510 are strongly encouraged to review the error analysis package used in those courses (provided on Courselink).



Follow-on Courses

PHYS*2180 is the first in a sequence of three experimental physics courses in the physics major.  PHYS*3510 builds upon the scientific instrumentation learned in PHYS*2180, and is itself followed by PHYS*4500.

Some experiments in PHYS*2180 complement material taught in PHYS*2240, PHYS*2310, and PHYS*2340; however, this is not the primary role of this course.

Section 2:  Assessment

2.1  Final Grade Breakdown

Assessment Tool Weighting
Lab Notebook (equal weighting for all experiments) 40%
Formal Lab – Outline (2 reports, equally weighted) 8%
Formal Lab – Science Paper (2 reports, equally weighted) 35%
Group Project – Presentation 15%
Group Project - Peer Evaluation 2%

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.

Lab Notebooks

Students will submit their lab notebooks one week after completing each experiment, and these will be evaluated based on the criteria developed during their first lab session.  Students will scan their lab notebook submission and submit a single PDF file via Dropbox on Courselink.

Formal Lab – Outline

Each student will hand in two outlines for their formal lab reports.  Outlines are commonly used while preparing scientific documents and generally streamline the process of writing scientific papers.  Following the guidelines given in PHYS*2180 lectures (which will be posted on Courselink), 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 together with your science papers.

Formal Lab – Science Paper

The student’s evaluation on this performance assessment will be based on their ability to give rationale for, to interpret, and to discuss the data that they generate during the labs.  Each student will hand in two written formal lab reports, written in the style of a scientific paper.  Each formal lab will be submitted via Dropbox as a PDF file.  

The first formal lab (Driven Damped Oscillators experiment) will be submitted as PDF document via Dropbox two weeks after the lab was completed (February 22 - February 26).

The second formal lab (Current Balance experiment) will be submitted three weeks after the experiment was completed, either in Week 9 (March 15 - March 19) or Week 10 (March 22 - March 26).

Group Project – Oral Presentation

During the semester, students will work in groups of two, randomly assigned by the course instructor. Each group will present an advanced experimental technique in physics to their peers during the assigned lab periods in Week 12.  The presentations shall be no more than 12 minutes in length, with 3 minutes for questions.

This presentation will provide an overview of the relevant physics and describe at least one research paper where that technique was used.  A list of suitable experimental techniques will be provided by the course instructor on Courselink, but students who wish to discuss a different technique can do so if they receive permission from the instructor.  

Group Project – Peer Evaluation

During the student presentations in Week 12, each student will use a provided rubric (see Courselink) to grade the oral presentations of their peers.  Students will be evaluated on the quality of their comments.

2.2  Time Conflicts Between Courses

Sometimes students will have a time conflict between a midterm exam in another course and either a lecture or a lab in this course.  The University has a very clear policy to cover this situation: the regularly-scheduled lecture or lab holds priority.  In other words, it is the responsibility of the faculty member who has scheduled the midterm exam to make special arrangements with students who have conflicts.

2.3:  Course Grading Policies

Missed Assessments

If you are unable to meet an in-course requirement due to medical, psychological, or compassionate reasons, please email the course instructor or TA. See the undergraduate calendar for information on Regulations and Procedures for Academic Consideration.

Accommodation of Religious Obligations

If you are unable to meet an in-course requirement due to religious obligations, please email the course instructor within two weeks of the start of the semester to make alternate arrangements. See the undergraduate calendar for information on regulations and procedures for Academic Accommodation of Religious Obligations.

Mark Adjustments

If you have questions about any grade, please inquire promptly after the material has been returned to you.  Students are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the grades on all submitted material were entered properly in Courselink – check the entered grades frequently throughout the semester and report any discrepancies to your teaching assistant or course instructor.

Section 3:  Learning Resources

3.1  Course Website

Course material, news, announcements, and grades will be regularly posted to the PHYS*2180 Courselink site. You are responsible for checking the site regularly.  Please ensure that your grades are recorded correctly and notify the course instructor of any discrepancies.

3.2  Primary Course Reference


3.3  Recommended Course References

  • A.C. Melissinos and J. Napolitano. Experiments in Modern Physics (2nd Edition), Academic Press, 2003.  (University of Guelph Library Call #:  QC33.M52 2003)
  • D.W. Preston and E.R. Dietz. The Art of Experimental Physics, Wiley, 1991.  (University of Guelph Library Call #: QC33.P74 1991)
  • 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)
  • J.R. Taylor, C.D. Zafiratos, and M.A. Dubson. Modern Physics for Scientists and Engineers (2nd Edition), Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004.  (University of Guelph Library Call #: QC21.3.T39 2004)

The above books are not required for PHYS*2180, but students may find them useful at various points in the course.  These books are also very useful references for PHYS*3510 and PHYS*4500. As the experiments in the laboratory courses frequently complement other courses in the physics curriculum, textbooks from those courses will also be excellent resources.

3.4  Communication and Email Policy

Laboratory sessions are your primary opportunity to ask questions about the course. If you wish to obtain help from the course instructor at another time, please email to make an appointment or see them before or after labs to arrange a mutually convenient time.  Short questions can often be handled in the lecture room just before or after lectures.

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

Section 4:  Teaching and Learning Activities

4.1  Provisional Content Schedule

Week Dates Lectures Lab
1 Jan 11 – Jan 15
  • Course introduction
  • Counting statistics
Online tutorial:  Review of uncertainties and propagation of errors, introduction to complex numbers and functions
2 Jan 18 – Jan 22
  • Review: resistors/capacitors
  • RC Circuits: charging & discharging behavior
  • Inductance, Faraday-Lenz law
Lab #1 – Poisson Statistics
3 Jan 25 – Jan 29
  • RC circuits: charging & discharging behaviour
  • Complex notation, phasors
  • AC circuits: impedance, phasor approach
Lab #2 – Kirchhoff’s Rules
4 Feb 01 – Feb 05
  • Resonance: driven damped oscillators
  • Critical thinking and science
  • Scientific writing
Lab #3 – AC Circuits
5 Feb 08 – Feb 12
  • Scientific writing – outlines
  • How to write a scientific paper
  • Dawn of quantum mechanics
Lab #4 – Driven Damped Oscillators (Formal #1)
n/a Feb 15 – Feb 19 Winter Break  
6 Feb 22 – Feb 26
  • Compton scattering and photoelectric effect
  • Kirchhoff spectroscopy rules
  • Spectral lines and the Bohr model of the atom

One of the following experiments:

  • Lab #5 – Current Balance (Formal #2)
  • Lab #6 – Force and Torque on a Magnetic Dipole
7 Mar 01 – Mar 05
  • Quantized energy in classical physics: waves on a string
  • Schrodinger equation – particle in a box
  • Schrodinger equation – Coulomb potential

One of the following experiments:

  • Lab #5 – Current Balance (Formal #2)
  • Lab #6 – Force and Torque on a Magnetic Dipole
8 Mar 08 – Mar 12
  • Introduction to spectroscopy
  • Concepts in spectroscopy
  • Absorption and emission spectroscopy

One of the following experiments:

  • Lab #7 –Visible Light Spectroscopy
  • Lab #8 – Brownian Motion
  • Lab #9 – Compton Scattering
  • Lab #10 – Introduction to Computed Tomography
9 Mar 15 – Mar 19
  • Absorption spectroscopy concepts
  • Introduction to optical microscopy
  • Diffraction and lenses

One of the following experiments:

  • Lab #7 –Visible Light Spectroscopy
  • Lab #8 – Brownian Motion
  • Lab #9 – Compton Scattering
  • Lab #10 – Introduction to Computed Tomography
10 Mar 22 – Mar 26
  • Contrast enhancement
  • Scientific presentations
  • Elements of a strong presentation

One of the following experiments:

  • Lab #7 –Visible Light Spectroscopy
  • Lab #8 – Brownian Motion
  • Lab #9 – Compton Scattering
  • Lab #10 – Introduction to Computed Tomography
11 Mar 29 – Apr 02
  • Introduction to materials science
  • Materials science continued
  • Schrodinger equation: 2-electron atoms

One of the following experiments:

  • Lab #7 –Visible Light Spectroscopy
  • Lab #8 – Brownian Motion
  • Lab #9 – Compton Scattering
  • Lab #10 – Introduction to Computed Tomography
12 Apr 05 – Apr 09
  • Molecular energy levels, electronic band gaps
  • Semiconductors
  • Radiation detectors
Group Project Oral Presentations

Please note that the above schedule is tentative – the instructor reserves the right to change the pacing as required.  As mentioned previously, the above schedule may need to be adjusted should a COVID-19 outbreak necessitate lockdown of the course or the MacNaughton Building.  Students should consult Courselink regularly to receive up-to-the-date information.

Section 5:  Lab Safety

5.1  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
  • intense light, including laser light and strobe lights
  • voltages and currents that can be harmful if proper precautions are not taken

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.

5.2  COVID-19 Safety

As you are likely aware, the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph (WDG) Public Health region was designated as a Red - Control zone on Monday, December 14th 2020.  This designation has now been superceded by the Government of Ontario's provincewide shutdown that takes effect at 00:01 on Saturday, December 26th 2020.  The shutdown is currently scheduled to last for 28 days in the WDG Public Heatlh region.  Under the guidance provided by the Ontario Ministry of Health, face-to-face labs are permitted to continue as scheduled so long as there are 10 or fewer people in the room, marks are worn at all times, and 2 m of physical separation between individuals in the learning space is maintained at all times.

The Department of Physics will be offering PHYS*2180 (Experimental Techniques in Physics), PHYS*3510 (Intermediate Laboratory) and PHYS*4500 (Advanced Physics Laboratory) during the Winter 2021 semester.  The labs in these courses will be face-to-face and will follow all WDG Public Health and University of Guelph COVID guidelines.  We did not lightly make the decision to run face-to-face experimental physics courses during a pandemic.  Student safety is of paramount importance, and we recognize that many students have health and financial concerns about a face-to-face offering of a required course when the rest of their courses are in online formats.  However, the Department of Physics at the University of Guelph must also fulfill the learning outcomes expected for graduates from our various physics majors.  The laboratory hours (from 2nd to 4th year) in our current curriculum play a crucial role in both preparing students to pursue graduate studies in various fields (e.g. physics & astronomy, geography/environmental science, medical physics) and giving them valuable experiences for transitioning to industrial careers upon graduation.  The Department of Physics collectively decided that remote labs would not be a suitable substitution for the in-class lab experience, and therefore decided to proceed with face-to-face learning in our experimental courses.

The success of these courses is contingent upon all students in the courses following public health guidelines, most notably physical distancing, hand washing, wearing your face coverings around people outside your immediate household,  and minimizing your potential exposure risks to the best of your ability.  In a face-to-face lab setting, the safety of the students, graduate teaching assistants, and instructors is dictated by the least safe individuals in the class.  Please be responsible over the winter holidays to minimize potential exposures to COVID.  Upon returning to Guelph for the Winter semester, please follow the University of Guelph's guidance that "you are strongly encouraged to isolate with the members of your household for two weeks to help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Remember, those who have COVID-19 can spread the virus before they show any symptoms."

During the Winter 2021 semester, do not attend a scheduled experiment if you are feeling ill.  Rescheduling experiments in these circumstances is not an inconvenience!

Please follow all physical distancing signage within the learning spaces.  While waiting to enter the labs, please ensure that you always maintain 2 m of separation from your peers.  The laboratories will be configured to encourage one-way traffic for people moving throughout the rooms; in circumstances where this is not feasible, students and instructors will make their intended movements clear to others in the room to maintain 2 m separation.  Suitable face coverings must be appropriately worn at all times while in the MacNaughton building.  Hand sanitizer will be available at every lab bench, and disinfecting wipes should be used to sanitize the lab bench and computer keyboard/mouse immediately upon entry.  Lab equipment will be sanitized by Department of Physics staff before and after each lab section - please do not wipe down equipment yourself, as some of the more sensitive equipment can be damaged by improper handling.

5.3  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*2180 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.

Section 6:  Academic Misconduct and Collaboration

6.1:  Collaboration

Collaboration and communication are essential for progress and advancement; much of modern society is built upon these skills.  Students are encouraged to collaborate and discuss course concepts!  However, all material submitted for grading must be each student's own work. Plagiarism is a form of academic misconduct, and will not be tolerated.

A good guideline when it comes to crossing the line from collaboration to academic misconduct is that a student must never look at another student’s written work. For students seeking help from their peers, ask conceptual questions as opposed to, “How do you derive Equation 4?”  For student helping their peers, never give the answer explicitly, but explain your reasoning.

6.2:  Academic Misconduct

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 discourages misconduct.  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.

The Academic Misconduct Policy is detailed in the Undergraduate Calendar.

Section 7:  Accessibility

7.1  Accessibility

The University of Guelph is committed to creating a barrier-free environment. Providing services for students is a shared responsibility among students, faculty and administrators. This relationship is based on respect of individual rights, the dignity of the individual and the University community's shared commitment to an open and supportive learning environment. Students requiring service or accommodation, whether due to an identified, ongoing disability or a short-term disability should contact the University of Guelph’s Accessibility Services as soon as possible.

For more information, contact Accessibility Services at 519-824-4120 ext. 56208, email accessibility@uoguelph.ca, or visit their website: https://wellness.uoguelph.ca/accessibility/

7.2  Electronic Recording of Classes

The electronic recording of classes is expressly forbidden without the prior consent of the instructor.  This prohibition extends to all components of courses, including, but not limited to, lectures, tutorials, and lab instruction, whether conducted by the instructor or teaching assistant, or other designated person.  When recordings are permitted they are solely for the use of the authorized student and may not be reproduced, or transmitted to others, without the express written consent of the instructor.

7.3  Posting Course Materials on Websites

Posting any course materials, including lecture notes or experiment outlines, is strictly prohibited.  These materials are copyright of the course instructors, Department of Physics, and University of Guelph.  

Section 8:  Course Evaluation

8.1  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.

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