Topic outline

    • OVERVIEW

      Welcome to Physics Laboratory!

      What you'll learn from PLab
      PLab is not just about performing experiments! The aim is to “get good” at a range of important skills that aren't usually covered in lecture courses, but which differentiate physicists from other subjects/careers and give us a competitive edge. By the end of the module, you'll have developed some of the following skills that physicists are particularly renowned for:

      • Methodology: Choosing and executing appropriate methods, understanding their strengths and weaknesses.

      • Observation: Making sense of what you see, and using that information to gain a deeper understanding.

      • Interpretation: Understanding the connection between (messy, imperfect) data and theoretical physical understanding.

      • Problem solving: Identifying issues and proposing (novel) solutions.

      • Quantifying uncertainty: Working out how uncertainty and imprecision limit the physical conclusions you can draw.

      • Presenting information: Describing your motivations and results with clarity and precision. Highlighting and justifying important conclusions.

      • Project management: Planning complex projects, safety, managing your time.

      What activities you'll be carrying out
      Most of the work in PLab can be divided up as follows:

      • Preparation work: Background reading and planning experiments at home (2-3 hours per experiment)
      • Practical work in labs: Performing experiments in the lab (6 hours per week)
      • Write-up of experiments: Finalising analysis and writing-up discussion and conclusions in lab book (2-3 hours per experiment)
      • Lab reports: Writing-up selected experiments into professional technical reports (4-5 pages per lab report, so at least 10 hours each)

      So, for each experiment, you should be spending 6 hours per week in the lab, and about 6 hours per week at home (or elsewhere) doing the planning, reading, and write-up. Remember, labs is about more than the lab experiments! The work outside of labs is just as important as the work inside, and it'll be hard to get good grades if you don't stay on top of both.

      How your work will be assessed
      You'll be graded according to how well you develop your competency in the various lab-related skills mentioned above. This is done using two types of assessment:

      • Quality of experimental technique and analysis in your lab book (feedback and grades provided each week).
      • Quality and professionalism of three submitted technical reports.

      There is no final exam. The lab books will make up 60% of the final grade (10% per experiment), while the reports are split into an initial practice report (5%); a first full technical report (10%); and a final technical report (25%).

      • The account you write for each experiment in the lab book will tell us how you're getting on with understanding and designing experimental methodologies, making insightful observations, interpreting the data, and solving problems that might arise, as well as how you're planning and managing your time.
      • The analysis and conclusions you write in the lab book after the experiment will let us see your progress in learning how to quantify uncertainty and draw rigorous physical conclusions from the data, as well as presenting your conclusions to other scientists.
      • The lab reports will let us see all of these things synthesised together, in a high-quality, professional-standard report of the kind industrial and academic scientists regularly produce.

      • INTRODUCTORY LECTURES AND TEST

        There are four introductory lectures in Week 1:

        • Tuesday 2-3pm (Engineering 3.24): Introduction to PLab
        • Tuesday 3-4pm (Engineering 3.24): Writing log books
        • Friday 2-3pm (Engineering 3.25): Errors and uncertainty
        • Friday 3-4pm (Engineering 3.25): Using Origin

        You must attend these lectures or view them on Qreview, as they contain lots of important info about the module and how to do well in it. The notes and slides from the introductory lectures will also be uploaded here by the end of Week 1.

      • EXPERIMENTS AND TIMETABLE

        See below for the experiment timetable and lab group assignments. You'll do one of six experiments each week, and have been assigned to a particular group. Please don't swap groups! These have been carefully balanced to make sure you will have done the right experiment in time for each of the three lab reports.

        The lab scripts for the experiments are also linked below. Please download and read them before you start your experiment each week!

        Note: On the timetable, Laser 1 = Helium-Neon laser, while Laser 2 = Michelson interferometer or Zeeman effect (your choice).

      • LAB REPORTS

        Over the course of this module, you will write and hand-in three lab reports:

        1. A practice lab report (5% of final grade) based on a concise 2-page report template.
        2. A second lab report (15% of final grade) of 4-5 pages on a pre-assigned experiment.
        3. A final lab report (25% of final grade) of 4-5 pages on your choice of experiment.

        The aim of the first report is to give you a bit of practice in synthesising your experimental results into a good, concise technical report. There will be a writing workshop in Week 4 where you can learn about good report-writing techniques and what the elements of a good report are. The report itself will be based on a 2-page template where some of the sections have already been filled in. The rest will be based on the results of the experiment you perform in Week 3.

        For the second report, you're on your own! This will be a full technical report, 4-5 pages in length, written from scratch on an experiment that you will be assigned (either your Week 5 or Week 6 experiment)). We'll be available to give you feedback during the lab sessions, but the writing and structure of the report will be decided by you. You'll get feedback on your second report before the final report needs to be written, so you can see which areas to improve on. 

        The final report is much the same as the second report, except this time you'll have a choice of which experiment to report on, and will be expected to produce something of a high professional standard. This is the final assessment of the module, so you'll have a bit more time to complete this than the previous reports.

        Lab report hand-in dates

        Draft deadline Final submission deadline
        Practice lab report
        Week 4 (Tue 11th Feb at 1pm) Week 4 (Fri 14th Feb at 4pm)
        Second lab report
        Week 8 (Mon 9th Mar at 4pm) Week 8 (Fri 13th Mar at 4pm)
        Final lab report Week 11 (Fri 3rd Apr at 4pm) Week 12 (Thu 9th Apr at 4pm)

        • Example report File
          903.5KB
      • Laboratory Logbook

        Laboratory logbooks are one of the most important parts of all experimental science and keeping a proper logbook is an essential skill. Logbooks should contain detailed notes of all your activities in the lab along with their times and dates.

        LOOKING AFTER YOUR LOGBOOK

        • Hardback logbooks will be provided for you during the first lab session. Write your name and e-mail address on the front cover when you receive it. You must hand in your logbook by the deadline each week. If you miss the deadline, a 10% deduction in marks is applied to your grade if you hand in within 24 hours (and email Dr Bull to let him know; this bit is compulsory!). If received more than 24 hours late, the grade will be capped at 50%.
        • Please take extra care not to lose your lab book. You need it to complete your lab reports, and there's really no way around it if it does get lost. If you do lose it, inform Dr Bull immediately.
        • NEVER write on pieces of loose paper. ALL of your results, calculations, reminders and scribbles must go into the logbook. You'll find yourself losing a lot of marks otherwise...
        • Always use ink in your logbook. If you make a mistake cross it out with a single line so that it is still legible. What you regard as a mistake now might turn out to have been an important observation later. Tearing out pages or covering up writing (e.g. by sticking a graph over it) is really bad practise, and you'll lose marks for it.
        • Number each page as you go along; this is very useful when you need to refer back to something.
        • Start a new page for every experiment, but do not leave blank pages. If you have to add to work at a later date, make a note at the end of the old work and at the beginning of the new. e.g. "Continued on page 18" and "Continued from page 9".

        WHAT TO WRITE

        It's largely down to you to decide exactly what to write in your logbook, but in general you want to make sure that you include enough detail so that you or any other trained physicist can reproduce your experiment, including any anomalies or things that went wrong. The settings you used on the apparatus are just one part of this; you should also note the behaviour of the experiment as conditions or settings change, and explain how you modify your method to get better measurements, or to handle issues that crop up.

        Detail is important, but so is conciseness; it's much better to write many concise points about everything that happened than waffling on at length about just one or two things. Important events or observations merit more detailed notes, but there will be lots of things that happen during the course which you may not think are important but which later turn out to be vital. So, there is an argument for keeping a note of everything, no matter how trivial you may think it is.

        One example is the settings on a voltmeter or oscilloscope. Without a note of what the settings were it is often not possible to tell, at a later date, exactly what some of the data in your logbook means. The key thing is that the logbook must contain enough information for you to write a report on the work you did and more importantly it should be possible for someone else to use you logbook to write up the experiment. It must also be legible!

        Finally, make sure you're aware of what does and doesn't count as plagiarism. All of the work in your logbook should be your own, especially the notes and writing. When a particular graph or table has been produced in collaboration with your lab partner, make sure to credit them appropriately. Copying text etc. from your lab partner or anyone else without proper quoting and attribution is plagiarism, which is a form of scientific misconduct. Making up data is also a form of scientific misconduct. We have zero tolerance for scientific misconduct in the lab, so make sure you ask a lecturer or demonstrator if you're unsure whether something is or isn't allowed.

        For more details on how to write a good logbook, see the intro lecture slides (lecture 2 in particular).

        MARKING OF LOGBOOKS

        Marks will be awarded for a number of factors, all of which are stated on the mark sheet.

        Make sure you have read and understood the lab script well before the experiment, and have formulated a sensible plan for how you're going to conduct the experiment and manage your time.

        Missing a lab session will result in a mark of zero (unless you can provide a satisfactory explanation in good time, e.g. with an Extenuating Circumstances form).

        LOGBOOK EXAMPLES

        Below are examples of what is considered to be a good practice and what to avoid when filling in your logbook.

      • LAB BOOK MARK SCHEME

      • Health and Safety Information