Intermediate Laboratory (PHYS*3510)

Code and section: PHYS*3510*01

Term: Winter 2023

Instructor: Christian Schultz-Nielsen


Course Details

Calendar Description

This modular course consists of experiments in modern and classical physics. Modules include laboratory instrumentation employing computers, modern physics, waves and optics, molecular physics, biophysics, and solid state physics.

Pre-Requisites:  PHYS*2180 or (NANO*2100, PHYS*2310)

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’s scientific communication skills and ability to search the scientific literature will be developed. 

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*3510 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*3510.


Mondays and Wednesdays 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*3510.

Instructional Support

Instructional Support Team

Instructor:  Christian Schultz-Nielsen
Email: (preferred method of contact)
Telephone:  +1-519-824-4120 x56618
Office:  MACN 413

Teaching Assistant: Ryan Curry
Office:  MACN 403

Learning Resources

Useful References

  • 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)

Additionally, textbooks used in other physics courses at Guelph will be useful to students in this course.

Learning Outcomes

Course Learning Outcomes

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

  1. operate various experimental physics tools and devices, including multimeters, oscilloscopes, and multichannel analyzers.
  2. operate as a productive and efficient member of a small team with relatively little guidance from the course instructor.
  3. analyze experimental data, using accepted error analysis methodologies, to verify theoretical predictions.
  4. follow proper scientific lab notebook protocols, including the recording of experimental data and experimental conditions, especially in cases where the student's experiment deviated from provided experimental outlines.
  5. demonstrate intermediate proficiency with laboratory and radiation safety protocols, including proper handling of sealed gamma-ray emitting sources.
  6. identify and synthesize relevant scientific literature to present a coherent scientific argument at a level appropriate to your peers.
  7. demonstrate proficiency at incorporating theoretical knowledge developed in other physics courses and/or the scientific literature to draw appropriate inferences and conclusions from experimental results.

Teaching and Learning Activities

Semester Schedule

The tentative semester schedule is given below.  Please note that weather events resulting in University of Guelph closures or public health orders due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may necessitate changes to the schedule - such changes will be announced on Courselink.

Week Course Activities Assessments Due
1 (Jan 09 – Jan 13) Radiation Safety Training (Mon Jan 09 - MacN 415)
Lab Safety Training  (Wed Jan 11 - MacN 415)
2 (Jan 16 – Jan 20) Experiment #1 (Group A)  
3 (Jan 23 – Jan 27) Experiment #1 (Group B) Early Bird Bonus - Group A Lab Notebook #1 (Wed Jan 25 by 4:30 pm)
4 (Jan 30 – Feb 03) Experiment #2 (Group A) Early Bird Bonus - Group B Lab Notebook #1 (Wed Feb 01 by 4:30 pm)
5 (Feb 06 – Feb 10) Experiment #2 (Broup B) Early Bird Bonus - Group A Lab Notebook #2 (Wed Feb 08 by 4:30 pm)
6 (Feb 13 – Feb 17) Experiment #3 (Group A) Early Bird Bonus - Group B Lab Notebook #2 (Wed Feb 15 by 4:30 pm)
-- (Feb 20 – Feb 24) Winter Break  
7 (Feb 27 – Mar 03) Experiment #3 (Group B) Group A and Group B Lab Notebooks #1 and #2  (Wed Mar 01 by 4:30 pm)
Group A Science Paper #1 (Wed Mar 01 by 4:30 pm)

Early Bird Bonus - Group A Lab Notebook #3 (Wed Mar 01 by 4:30 pm)
8 (Mar 06 – Mar 10) Experiment #4 (Group A) Group B Science Paper #1 (Wed Mar 08 by 4:30 pm)
Early Bird Bonus - Group B Lab Notebook #3 (Wed Mar 08 by 4:30 pm)
9 (Mar 13 – Mar 17) Experiment #4 (Group B) Early Bird Bonus - Group A Lab Notebook #4 (Wed Mar 15 by 4:30 pm)
10 (Mar 20 – Mar 24) Experiment #5 (Groups A & B) Early Bird Bonus - Group B Lab Notebook #4 (Wed Mar 22 by 4:30 pm)
11 (Mar 27 – Mar 31) Groups A & B Poster Presentations (Wed Mar 29, 2:30 - 5:20 pm in MacN 417)  
12 (Apr 03 – Apr 07) No Experiments Scheduled Groups A & B Lab Notebooks #3, #4, and #5 (Wed Apr 05 by 4:30 pm)
Groups A & B Science Paper #2 (Wed Apr 05 by 4:30 pm)

Experiment Scheduling

In groups of 2, students will perform experiments in alternating weeks, and should sign up for the experiments they intend to do on the Google Sheets link provided in Courselink.  Experiments are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.  Please plan your schedule accordingly.

During a week where no experiment is scheduled, students should complete the analysis for the lab notebook that is due that week and begin preparing for the following week's experiment.  All experiments should be completed by the end of Week 10.  Students are required to complete the experiments during the assigned lab periods.  

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

Modern Physics

  1. Electron spin resonance
  2. Millikan oil drop experiment ^

Nuclear Physics

  1. Gamma-ray spectroscopy using an NaI(Tl) detector *^
  2. The speed of photons: Galileo's technique modernized

Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics

  1. Noise fundamentals

Waves and Optics

  1. The velocity of sound: the Debye-Sears experiment ^
  2. The transmission line
  3. Fourier optics *^
  4. Physics of ultrasound

* Students continuing to PHYS*4500 should complete these experiments as they are prerequisites for experiments available to PHYS*4500 students. 

^ These experiments are NOT available for students in PHYS*4500, so students should try to complete these in PHYS*3510 if they are of interest.

Final Grade Breakdown

Each student's final grade in the course will be calculated using the breakdown below.  Passing PHYS*3510 requires a minimum final grade of 50% - there are no additional requirements.

Assessment Tool Weighting
Lab Notebook (equal weighting for each of the 5 experiments) 45%
Science Paper (2 experiments, equally weighted) 35%
Scientific Poster & Presentation 15%
Course Performance & Participation 5%

Assessment Due Dates

Lab Notebook assessments #1 - #4 have two deadlines listed in the Semester Schedule section of this document.  Students that submit a lab notebook assessment by the posted Early Bonus Deadline (in italics) will earn a 5% bonus on that assesment, to be added to whatever grade they earn.  Recognizing that students are busy and may need to focus on other courses, there is a second hard deadline (in bold) for the lab notebook assessments; after this hard deadline, late assessments will not be accepted and a grade of zero will be assigned.  Students are encouraged to follow the Early Bonus Deadline schedule to avoid becoming overwhelmed by assessments - regular submission of your notebook will ensure that you can incorportate the TA's ongoing feedback into future assessments.

Late Science Paper and Poster Presentation assessments will not be accepted and the student will receive a grade of 0 for that assessment. 

All deadlines in PHYS*3510 are laid out at the beginning of the semester, and students are expected to manage their academic efforts to ensure that they meet posted deadlines.  Do not wait until the last moment to begin your assessments, as you risk unforeseen circumstances (illness, busy in other courses) impeding your ability to meet the posted deadlines in this course - such circumstances are NOT acceptable grounds for an extension to be granted.

Only compassionate accommodations or medical accomodations described in the Undergraduate Calendar (see the "When You Cannot Meet a Course Requirement" Course Statement at the end of this document for links) will be considered for extension requests

Lab Notebooks

Students should have two lab notebooks, as grading of their previous experiment may not be completed before they begin the next experiment.  Hardbound notebooks are not required - spiral-bound or soft-cover notebooks are perfectly adequate for this course (and they usually cost less).  Loose-leaf paper in folders or binders are not acceptable.  Students may continue to use their lab notebooks from PHYS*2180, if they choose. 

Lab notebook assessments will be submitted in the lab by 4:30 pm on the due dates listed in the Semester Schedule section.  For students that do not have access to a printer, you may submit a PDF document with your labelled graphs and figures to the Dropbox.  In this case, make sure that clear identifiers are included in your lab notebook so that the teaching assistant can easily navigate between your lab notebook and the PDF file with the relevant graphs.

Students must work in their lab notebooks as they perform the experiment; do not work on loose sheets of paper and then write up a "good copy" in your lab notebook at a later date.  Nobody expects your lab notebook to be mistake free or perfectly neat - it is a log of your work that evolves as you conduct your research.  It should be clear enough for an external party (your teaching assistant) to be able to follow what you did, but it is expected that you will need to cross things out on occasion or perhaps work in a different sequence than the lab outline instructions.

Notebooks will be assessed using the following criteria:

Materials & Methods (8 marks total)

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

Results & Analysis (10 marks total)

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

Clarity (2 marks total)

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

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

Science Paper

Each student will hand in two written formal lab reports, written in the style of a scientific paper.  Formal lab reports will be submitted as PDF documents via Dropbox on Courselink, and the due dates are given in the Semester Schedule section of this course outline.  Students are responsible for submitting their science papers by the posted deadline.  At the given time, the Dropbox will close and the assessment will not be accepted.

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
  • 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 6 - 10 pages (1.5 line spacing) for most experiments, including graphs and figures but not including appendices and references.  The page count is a guideline, not a firm restriction; students that choose to exceed 10 pages should ensure that it is for a good reason and not simply due to poor editing or rambling logic.

The merit of the scientific arguments made in PHYS*3510 science papers will be assessed more heavily than in PHYS*2180, and students are expected to address experimental uncertainties more rigorously.  Papers at this level should include at least 5 suitable references, such as journal articles or textbooks; websites are not generally included in this reference count, and the lab outline should not be included as a reference.  

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 their paper.  Outlines are commonly used while preparing scientific documents and generally streamline the process of writing scientific papers.  Following the guidelines given in PHYS*2180 and on the PHYS*3510 Courselink page, outlines should demonstrate the intended flow of the document and indicate which equations, tables and/or graphs, and figures need to be included in the final paper.  Please note that a rough draft of your paper does NOT constitute an outline.  Outlines will be submitted via Courselink Dropbox at the same time as the science paper.

For PHYS*3510, the grade breakdown by section of your paper will be:

  • Outline - 5%
  • Abstract - 5%
  • Introduction - 25%
  • Materials & Methods - 15%
  • Results & Discussion - 35%
  • Conclusion - 10%
  • References - 5% (typically 1 mark per relevant reference)

Scientific Poster

In groups of 2, students will produce a scientific poster (48” x 36”, but choice of whether to go with portrait or landscape format is up to students) summarizing the results of one of their experiments.  This poster will be submitted electronically as a PDF document via Dropbox, and students will present their posters to the instructors and their peers on Wednesday, March 29 (2:30 - 5:20 pm) in MacNaughton 417.

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. Students should get an early start on their posters and consult their instructor/teaching assistant for guidance before submitting the finished poster- we will provide feedback so long as you aren't approaching us at the last minute.

You cannot submit a poster for experiments that have been submitted as science papers - students should coordinate with their presentation partner to ensure that both members of the presentation group are able to present a given experiment.

Course Performance & Participation

This grade will reflect the student's contributions and initiative during the scheduled laboratory hours.  Students will be assessed on their ability to follow lab protocols, their autonomy (within reason) while conducting experiments, and their contributions during oral presentations in terms of peer feedback and/or questions.  A portion of this grade will also be allocated to peer review of each student's contributions to the midterm project.

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 Safety

Students that are feeling ill should not attend their assigned lab sections.  Contact your course instructor so that we can arrange an alternate schedule and get your caught up on your experiments.

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*3510 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.

Drop Date

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

Copies of Out-of-class Assignments

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


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

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

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

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

For Guelph students, information can be found on the 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.

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