Research in Physics (PHYS*4001)

Code and section: PHYS*4001*01

Term: Fall 2023


General Information

Department of Physics
College of Engineering and Physical Sciences

Calendar Description

PHYS*4001  Research in Physics  Fall Only  (LAB: 6)  [0.50]  
This course is the first part of the two-semester course PHYS*4001/2. This is a two-semester (F-W) course in which students apply their knowledge and skills through independent research of an experimental or theoretical nature within physics. Students will be required to present their results in both oral and written reports. Students must make arrangements with a faculty supervisor and obtain approval of the course co-ordinator before course selection. Approval of the course co-ordinator will only be granted upon receipt of a completed registration form, available from the co-ordinator during the course selection period. This is a two-semester course offered over consecutive semesters. When you select it, you must select PHYS*4001 in the Fall semester and PHYS*4002 in the Winter semester. A grade will not be assigned to PHYS*4001 until PHYS*4002 has been completed.

Prerequisite(s): PHYS*3510  
Restriction(s): PHYS*4510. Instructor consent required.  
Department(s): Department of Physics  
Location(s): Guelph  

Last Updated: August 22, 2023
Important:  Please retain this material and consult it regularly during the course.  This information will be important to you as the course progresses.
Special Note: This outline may be amended. 

For Course Instructor, Class Time and Location, please check CourseLink.


Description of the Course

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


  1. During the preceding summer, students will familiarize themselves with the research groups of the department on the Physics website and will decide what research areas are of interest. It is important to look under BOTH the headings RESEARCH AND FACULTY to get a complete picture. Students are strongly urged to approach faculty members during the late winter and the spring and summer (email, visit, letter, phone) and arrange a project and a supervisor. 
  2. By the start of the Fall semester, it is expected that most students will have identified a supervisor. Any remaining ones must identify a supervisor in the FIRST TWO WEEKS OF CLASSES. The department may need to close admission to the class, dependent on numbers, if a supervisor has not been identified at this time.
  3. The coordinator will meet with the class in mid-September. Lab safety issues and necessary training courses will be arranged at that time.  
  4. During September and October, students are expected to read in depth material provided by the supervisor and to become familiar with their project’s background, approaches and objectives. 
  5. Each student will have to write a “Research Proposal”. The coordinator will advise on the preparation of these proposals and will provide feedback afterwards. The proposal should not exceed five pages of double-spaced text and should be submitted to the coordinator no later than November 10. 
  6. Students are expected to commence actual work in the laboratory or at the computer before the proposal submission. 
  7. The project will continue through the winter semester: it is expected that students will work for at least six hours per week. The specific hours need not correspond to the formal class schedule (except for class meetings).
  8. Every student will have to prepare a written form of the Progress Report. The report should not exceed four double-spaced pages, and should be submitted to the coordinator no later than January 19. 
  9. In mid-March, students will individually rehearse their final Powerpoint presentations with the coordinator. The coordinator will then provide individual feedback and advice.
  10. In the last weeks of semester, there will be a formal class meeting at which each student will give a 15 minute Powerpoint presentation summarizing her/his research findings. This event will be organized like a real conference, right down to question periods, pizza (in lieu of coffee) break, etc, and all faculty, post-docs and graduate students will be invited to attend. 

Role of the Course Coordinator:

  • Provide guidance and feedback with respect to oral presentations
  • Be available to deal with specific problems or difficulties
  • Organize class meetings and presentations
  • In consultation with the student’s faculty advisor, assess each student’s work and assign the final grade

Role of the Faculty Supervisor:

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


Class Meetings and Important Dates

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

First Meeting: Entire Class (Organization and Safety)  

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

Research Proposal

Friday, November 10, 23:59:59: deadline for Research proposal.
This report MUST BE TYPED (hand-written reports will not be accepted) and should include:


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

Progress Report

Friday, January 19, 23:59:59: deadline for Progress report.
Format will be announced in early January.

Individual Students Meet With Coordinator (rehearsal for Final Report)

Dates/TBA – mid-March

This presentation must be brief and to the point. The talk should be seen as a rehearsal of the final presentation and should therefore report on the entire project. Data analysis that has been done should also be presented as well as any further experiments or analysis still required.  Any data should be shown in graphical form in Powerpoint. Powerpoint files should be supplied to the coordinator at least 24 hours ahead of time. The coordinator will provide feedback and advice to help in preparing the final public presentation.

Abstracts of final presentation

Due before noon on Monday of the week of the final class meeting. TBA.  
One paragraph (maximum 150 words) summarizing your project.  This abstract will be used to advertise your final talk to the faculty and graduate students in the Physics Department.

Third Meeting (Final Presentation)

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

Project Information

Laboratory Safety

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

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

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

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

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


There are 6 elements here. The approximate relative weight of each element is indicated, but this does imply a simplistic approach wherein marks are assigned individually to each component and then added up; the coordinator has to employ his experience and his judgment in assessing the interplay of the various components as well as the quality of each.  

  1. The progress made on the project.  (25%) This mark will assess how well the student has progressed toward the anticipated goals of the project.  Account will be taken of the effort (quality as well as quantity) applied to the project, the student’s independent creative input to the project, and how well the student coped with the inevitable problems which arise in any research project.
  2. The notebook.  (10%) Each student must maintain a notebook to be used on a day to day basis to record all relevant information and theoretical developments.  The notes should be legibly written and as complete as possible.  It should include:
    •    Experimental design
    •    Overall project plan
    •    Apparatus and plan changes
    •    Theoretical background
    •    Details of experiments
    •    Measurements
    •    Relevant observations
    •    Ideas for changes in experimental method
    •    Calculations

    All information should be recorded at the time of the experiment or calculation and should be clearly dated.
    Notebooks will be delivered to the coordinator before a date early in the exam period: this date will be established in consultation with the class.
  3. Final presentation.  (20%) Each student will give an oral presentation (about 20 minutes).  The final talk should be a well prepared overview of the background, methods used and results of the project.  Any conclusions from the work and how these relate to the original purpose of the project should be presented.
  4. Proposal (15%)  
    Proposal (not to exceed 5 double-spaced pages) should address the following points:
    •    Scientific motivation and purpose of the project
    •    Hypotheses or experimental observations that are being tested during the project.
    •    Literature review: any similar or related experiments or calculations that have been done and how this project is different from previous work.
    •    Specific experimental design and project plan.
    •    The apparatus and techniques to be used.
    •    How the results are to be analyzed.
    •    Any anticipated outcomes and their significance
  5. Progress Report (15%) (not to exceed 4 double-spaced pages) should describe how you progress: state purpose of the project and key hypotheses or experimental observations that are being tested. Describe your intermediate goals, how they have been achieved, and where the project is headed.
  6. Final Report (15%): This report should be a more detailed summary of the project.  It will include the details on which the final presentation was based.  It should clearly and succinctly describe:
    •    An abstract
    •    The objectives
    •    Methods
    •    Results
    •    Discussion
    •    Conclusions

    It is expected that the final project report will be no more than 12 pages (double-spaced text) in length. The coordinator will decide upon an appropriate submission deadline.


University Policies

Academic Consideration

When you find yourself unable to meet an in-course requirement because of illness or compassionate reasons, please advise the course instructor in writing, with your name, id#, and e-mail contact. See the Undergraduate Calendar for information on regulations and procedures for academic consideration.

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.


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 Student Accessibility Services (SAS) as soon as possible.

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 areas of improvement. In addition, student assessments provide part of the information used by the Department Tenure and Promotion Committee in evaluating the faculty member’s contributions in the area of teaching. You are therefore encouraged to take the evaluation procedures seriously, and to provide feedback about this course and its instructor.

Drop date

The last date to drop one-semester courses, without academic penalty, is 1 December 2023. For regulations and procedures for Dropping Courses, see the Undergraduate Calendar.