Intermediate Laboratory (PHYS*3510)

Code and section: PHYS*3510*01

Term: Winter 2022

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.

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*3510 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.

Instructional Support

Instructional Support Team

Instructor:  Christian Schultz-Nielsen
Telephone:  +1-519-824-4120 x56618
Office:  MACN 413

Teaching Assistant: Devin Hymers
Office:  MACN 401

Teaching Assistant: Zarin Ahmed
Office:  MACN 401

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 from other courses 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.

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, 6, 7
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
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, 4, 6
1.3 Accurately interpret and use numerical information to evaluate and formulate a position. 2, 3, 4, 6, 7
2 Communication 4, 6, 7
2.1 Accurately and effectively communicate ideas, arguments and analyses, to a range of audiences, in graphic, oral and written form. 4, 6, 7
3 Professional and Ethical Behaviour 1, 2, 4, 5, 6
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. 2, 4, 6
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, 4, 5, 6
3.3 Plan for professional growth and personal development within and beyond the undergraduate program. 4
4 Scientific Method 1, 2, 3, 4, 7
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, 7
4.2 Generate and interpret scientific data using quantitative, qualitative and analytical methodologies and techniques. 1, 2, 3, 4, 7
5 Breadth & Depth of Understanding in a Particular Scientific Discipline 2, 3, 5, 6, 7
5.1 Apply the core concepts of math, physics, chemistry and biology to a chosen scientific discipline. 2, 3, 6, 7
5.2 Demonstrate knowledge of the ethical, economic, commercial and social implications of scientific discovery and technological innovation. 5, 6
5.3 Interpret current scientific concepts and gaps in knowledge (and methods) in light of the historical development of a chosen discipline. 3, 6, 7
6 Scientific Technology & Techniques in a Scientific Discipline 2, 4, 6, 7
6.1 Apply contemporary research methods, skills and techniques to conduct independent inquiry in a chosen scientific discipline. 2, 4, 6, 7

Teaching and Learning Activities

Semester Schedule

Week Course Activities Assessments Due
1 (Jan 10 – Jan 14) Radiation Safety Training (Mon Sept 13 - MacN 415)
Lab Safety Training  (Wed Sep 15 - MacN 222)
2 (Jan 17– Jan 21) Experiment #1 (Group A)  
3 (Jan 24 – Jan 28) Experiment #1 (Group B)  
4 (Jan 31 – Feb 04) Experiment #2 (Group A) Group A Notebook #1 (Mon Jan 31)
5 (Feb 07 – Feb 11) Experiment #2 (Broup B) Group B Notebook #1 (Mon Feb 07)
6 (Feb 14 – Feb 18) Experiment #3 (Group A) Group A Notebook #2 (Mon Feb 14)
Group A Science Paper #1 (Fri Feb 18)
n/a (Feb 21 – Feb 25) Winter Break  
7 (Feb 28 – Mar 04) Experiment #3 (Group B) Group B Notebook #2 (Mon Feb 28)
Group B Science Paper #1 (Fri Mar 04)
8 (Mar 07 – Mar 11) Experiment #4 (Group A) Group A Notebook #3 (Mon Mar 07)
9 (Mar 14 – Mar 18) Experiment #4 (Group B) Group B Notebook #3 (Mon Mar 14)
10 (Mar 21 – Mar 25) Experiment #5 (Group A) Group A Notebook #4 (Mon Mar 21)
Group A Poster (Fri Mar 25)
11 (Mar 28 – Apr 01) Experiment #5 (Group B) Group B Notebook #4 (Mon Mar 28)
Group B Poster (Fri Apr 01)
12 (Apr 04 – Apr 08) Term Project Presentations (Mon Apr 04) Group A Notebook #5 (Mon Apr 04)
Group B Notebook #5 (Fri Apr 08)
Group A/B Science Paper #2 (Fri Apr 08)
Term Project Article (Mon Apr 04)

The above schedule may need to be adjusted as the COVID-19 pandemic situation evolves.  Students should consult Courselink regularly to receive up-to-the-date information.

Experiment Scheduling

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.

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 11.  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

  1. Electron spin resonance
  2. Millikan oil drop experiment (not suitable for individuals - avoid in Winter 2022)

Nuclear Physics

  1. Gamma-ray spectroscopy using a 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

Note that students continuing to PHYS*4500 should complete the experiments denoted with an asterisk as these are prerequisites or recommended to have completed for experiments available to PHYS*4500 students.


Assessments submitted after the posted deadlines will not be accepted unless a legitimate justification (e.g. medical grounds, compassionate grounds) is provided.  The Courselink Dropbox will close at the posted deadline, and any submissions after that date will need to be emailed to the course instructor with an accompanying note justifying the late submission.  Students must manage their time accordingly - work ahead of course deadlines!

Final Grade Breakdown

Assessment Tool Weighting
Lab Notebook (equal weighting for each of the 5 experiments) 40%
Science Paper (2 experiments, equally weighted) 35%
Scientific Poster 5%
Group Presentation 7.5%
Group Article 7.5%
Course Performance & Participation 5%

Lab Notebooks

Students should have two lab notebooks, as they will be submitting the previous experiment for grading as they begin their current 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 as one (or two) PDF document(s) via Dropbox and will be graded electronically.  Scan the relevant pages of your lab notebook and collate them in proper order as a single PDF document.  For students that do not have access to a printer, you may submit a second PDF document with your labelled graphs and figures.  In this case, make sure that clear identifiers are included in your lab notebook so that the teaching assistant can easily navigate your document.

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 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, 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.

A tentative grade breakdown by section of the paper will be provided on Courselink.

Scientific Poster

Each student 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. 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. 

Due to uncertainty associated with the pandemic, there will not be a face-to-face poster session this winter and students are not required to print their posters.

You cannot submit a poster for experiments that have been submitted as science papers.

Term Group Project

Throughout the semester, students will work in groups of three to four, randomly assigned by the course instructor, and research a historically relevant experiment inphysics or a related field.  Each group will submit a single copy of their science article (as a PDF document via Dropbox), which should be aimed at a more general science audience; in particular, students should pitch their discussion such that it can be followed by peers in biology or chemistry programs at the University of Guelph, science students that lack the detailed physics knowledge of the various physics majors.  There is no specific minimum or maximum page count on these articles, however students should strive for a length of 8-15 pages (including figures).

Each group will also present their work to their peers, providing an overview of the relevant physics, particularly the experimental considerations, and describe the impact of that experiment on physical theories/understanding and society, where possible.  The presentations will be no longer than 15 minutes, with 5 minutes for questions.  All students are expected to attend the full presentation session, which will be shared with PHYS*4500.  The date of the presentations is given in the Semester Schedule table above, and the location will be announced on Courselink.

Suitable historical experiments include:


  • Michelson-Morley experiment testing the luminiferous aether

Quantum Physics

  • Davisson-Germer experiment proving the de Broglie hypothesis
  • Stern-Gerlach experiment and the discovery of spin angular momentum
  • observation of quantized energy states in atoms by Franck and Hertz

Nuclear and Subatomic Physics

  • Rutherford’s alpha-particle scattering experiment
  • Chadwick’s discovery of the neutron OR discovery of nuclear fission by Fermi, Hahn, Strasser, Meitner, and Frisch OR discovery of artificial radioactivity by the Joliot-Curies (don't try to do all three - pick one!)

Biophysics and Soft Matter Physics

  • Franklin’s X-ray crystallography experiments with DNA
  • Perrin’s study of colloidal suspensions

Condensed Matter Physics

  • discovery of the transistor by Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley
  • discover of x-rays by Roentgen

Students who wish to discuss a different project or experiment 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 summer research projects or co-op work terms.

A check-in with the instructor is scheduled one week before the submission of the paper and oral presentation.  Group members will be questioned on how their research is going, and will highlight how each group member is contributing to the project.  It is not acceptable for one or more students to dominate the project or shirk their work; this is a group activity, and all group members are required to work equitably, respectfully, and productively.  One goal of this project is to help students develop their abilities to work in a mutually respectful team environment, an important learning outcome and a common requirement in future careers.

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

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.

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