Experimental Techniques in Physics (PHYS*2180)

Code and section: PHYS*2180*01

Term: Winter 2022

Instructor: Christian Schultz-Nielsen


Section 1:  Course Information

1.1  Instructional Support Team

Instructor:  Christian Schultz-Nielsen
Email:  cschultz@uoguelph.ca
Office:  MACN 413

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

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

1.2  Lecture Schedule

Days Time Classroom
Monday-Wednesday-Friday 10:30 – 11:20 MacKinnon 304

Note:  The University of Guelph is delaying the start of in-person classes until January 24th due to Ontario's rapid rise in COVID cases due to the Omicron variant.  Until that time, lectures will be conducted in a synchronous online format via Zoom - see Courselink for details.  Lectures will not be recorded; students are expected to attend and contribute to the class discussions.

1.3  Lab Schedule

Day Section Time Classroom TA
Thursday 0101 14:30 – 17:20 MacNaughton 414 Van Heijst
Friday 0102 14:30 – 17:20 MacNaughton 414 Miki
Monday 0103 19:00 - 21:50 MacNaughton 414 Van Heijst/Miki (alternating weeks)

Note that lecture material often explains concepts that will be applied in the lab experiments.  Active participation by students in the labs 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 PHYS*2180 is therefore being offered in a face-to-face setting. 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated various public health measures from the Government of Ontario and/or the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health unit.  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 need to change the posted grading scheme for the course, however any such changes would be made in discussion with all class members.  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.
  • appropriate and well-fitting face coverings (two-layer cloth masks with a filter, three-layer cloth masks, surgical masks, N95 or N95-equivalent masks) must be worn at all times while students are on campus; for students that do not have access to appropriate masks, the Department of Physics will provide one N95-equivalent mask to each student each lab period.  Scarves, neck gaiters, maks with exhalation valves, and bandanas are not permitted by the University of Guelph in accordance with the WDG Public Health Section 22 Class Order issued March 15, 2021.
  • 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.
  • 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) 35%
Formal Lab – Outline (2 reports, equally weighted) 6%
Formal Lab – Science Paper (2 reports, equally weighted) 25%
Group Project – Article 15%
Group Project – Presentation 9%
Lecture Participation & Lab Performance 10%

All assessments submitted late without legitimate cause will be penalized 20% per late day, to a maximum of 40%.  After two 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, 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 a PDF document via Dropbox on Monday, February 28 by 11:59 PM.

The second formal lab (Current Balance experiment) will be submitted three weeks after the experiment was completed by each student, either in Week 9 (March 14 - March 18) or Week 10 (March 21 - March 25).

Group Project – Article

During the semester, students will work in groups of 2-3, randomly assigned by the course instructor. Each group will research an advanced experimental technique in physics and write an article aimed at their peers in other science majors (e.g. biology, chemistry, engineering).  These articles should be 8-10 pages in length, and must discuss at least one research paper where that technique was used.  Each group's article will be shared with the rest of the class via Courselink; this is your chance to teach your peers about a new technique! 

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 – Oral Presentation

Each group will present their article's advanced experimental technique to their peers during the assigned lab periods in Week 12.    Presentations should be 13-15 minutes in length, and should incorporate guidance provided in lectures.  Students from other lab sections are welcome to attend the presentations to learn about the different techniques and support their peers.

Lecture Participation & Lab Performance

Throughout the semester, students are assessed on the degree to which they are participating in classroom discussions.  With the uncertainty surrounding face-to-face lectures during the Winter 2022 semester and the awkwardness of holding classroom discussions via Zoom, the lecture participation contribution to this grade may be shifted to lab performance and interactions in the lab.  Lab performance will be assessed on students' autonomy (within reason, as we recognize this is your first experimental physics class!) during experiments, ability to complete the experiments in a timely fashion, and skill with the experimental equipment.

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.  Do not attend a lab session if you have any reason to believe you have been exposed to COVID-19 or are displaying symptoms - we can and will accommodate you completing the experiment later.

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 within two weeks 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 lecture/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 10 – Jan 14
  • Course introduction
  • Counting statistics
Online tutorial:  Review of uncertainties and propagation of errors, introduction to complex numbers and functions
2 Jan 17– Jan 21
  • Review: resistors/capacitors
  • RC Circuits: charging & discharging behavior
  • Inductance, Faraday-Lenz law
Lab #1 – Poisson Statistics
3 Jan 24 – Jan 28
  • RC circuits: charging & discharging behaviour
  • Complex notation, phasors
  • AC circuits: impedance, phasor approach
Lab #2 – Kirchhoff’s Rules
4 Jan 31 – Feb 04
  • Resonance: driven damped oscillators
  • Critical thinking and science
  • Scientific writing
Lab #3 – AC Circuits
5 Feb 07 – Feb 11
  • Scientific writing – outlines
  • How to write a scientific paper
  • Dawn of quantum mechanics
Lab #4 – Driven Damped Oscillators (Formal #1)
6 Feb 14 – Feb 18
  • 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
n/a Feb 21 – Feb 25 Winter Break


7 Feb 28 – Mar 04
  • 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 07 – Mar 11
  • 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 14 – Mar 18
  • 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 21 – Mar 25
  • 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 28 – Apr 01
  • 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 04 – Apr 08
  • 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.  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
  • voltages and currents that can be harmful if proper precautions are not taken

All experiments have been designed such that students have minimal (but never 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

The success of this courses is contingent upon all students in the courses following public health guidelines, most notably physical distancing, hand washing, wearing appropriate 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. 

During the Winter 2022 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.  Suitable face coverings must be appropriately worn at all times while in the MacNaughton building; N95-equivalent masks are being provided, free-of-charge, to interested students at the start of each lab period.  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 cleaning.

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 and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.  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.