Physics 5061

Experimental Methods

Spring 2009

Monday-Wednesday 1:00-1:50 MWAH 279

Lab Wednesday 9:00-11:50 MWAH 379

Instructor: Alec Habig

Office: MWAH 384

Office Hours: 11:00-12:00 M

13:00-14:00 F (or by appointment)

Telephone: 726-7214



Readings will also be assigned from several different textbooks, available from the library and/or the instructor. These books include:

Bevington's book turned out to be one of the books on my shelf I most refer to in the course of my research, so would recommend it as a book you will probably keep throughout your career.

Course Objectives: This course is about experimental physics in a broad sense. While the details and specific tools used vary widely across the many sub-fields of physics, there are a number of different techniques and topics which are common to all. These will be discussed in lecture, investigated in homework assignments, and practiced in the laboratory. The lab projects in this course are more complicated than in previous courses, and will span several weeks each.

The topics to be covered include the following:

Grading: Course grades will be determined based on the following four areas, with their respective weights:

Letter grades will be assigned based upon the weighted average on a non-competitive curve. In order to keep the students informed as to their progress, a letter grade will be assigned after the mid-term exam and guesstimated upon request.

Homework: Homework assignments are important. Hearing or reading about something does not make it sink in. In order to really learn about a topic, you need to practice it. Homework is this practice as applied to the concepts and theory, thus the comparatively large weight in the grade. Labs (see below) apply these concepts to reality. In addition to really helping one learn things, the homework helps the instructor see what areas need more or different explanation.

When writing out your homework solutions, include not only the schematics and equations which lead to the answer, but elaborate on the reasoning that led you to the steps in your answer. Think of the good and bad examples your various physics texts have presented you with. Write your homework problems like the good ones, and remember how frustrating those “the remainder is an exercise left to the reader” passages have been.

Late homework grades depreciate at a rate of 25% per 24 hours.

Labs: The lab section will officially meet each week on Wednesday for three hours, from 9:00am till 11:50pm. Since this is a small class and some of the students have a time conflict with that period, other lab time will be arranged, and keys to the labs will be issued to students so work can be done at more convenient times.

Please read over the lab in advance. Doing so allows you more time in the lab to practice getting things to actually work instead of floundering about aimlessly. And as mentioned above, it is the practice that lets you learn the material.

Just as for the homework, a penalty of 25% will be deducted for each day the lab notebook is late. The final lab notebook will not be accepted late.

The lab notebook should be a bound notebook, and your life will be much easier if it is ruled like graph paper. While doing the lab, write down what you are doing and what happens on the right hand page. If you have a figure or graph, draw or paste it in on the left hand page. Number such figures so you can refer to them in your commentary. After the lab and before you hand it in, go back to the notebook, elaborate, and clarify.

The goal of the lab notebook is for someone who has not done the experiment before (or you, ten years later, when you're in a real research situation and want to re-remember how to build a notch filter) to be able to pick it up, walk into the lab, and duplicate your work.

Note on disabilities: Individuals who have any disability, either permanent or temporary, which might affect their ability to perform in this class are encouraged to inform the instructor at the start of the quarter. Adaptation of methods, materials, or testing may be made as possible to provide for equitable participation.

Important Dates:

Midterm Exam, mid-march sometime

Final Exam, Monday May 11, 08:00-09:55

Spring Break, no class on March 16, 18, and 20