PHYS375 - Spring 2010, Prof. Hill
Experimental Physics III

Last Update 1/26/10


Third course in the three-semester introductory sequence. Methods and rationale of experimental physics. Experiments chosen from the areas of electromagnetic waves, optics and modern physics. In keeping with efforts to improve the department curriculum, this course is evolving into a hybrid Lecture/Labortory optics course. It will nominally consist of lectures on topics in optics, and a series of six labs. This is a 3 credit course.





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In addition to the text, you will need two notebooks to record your work in the lab and to analyze your results. While it is best to use a bound notebook , such as a Boorum Computation Book (11 3/4" by 9 1/4", 4x4 Quad., with bpundnumbered pages), these can be expensive ($30 ea). Cheaper alternatives are "Compositions" you can get at Kinkos for a few $ or a spiral notebook. The Compositions have the disadvantage of being smaller than a standard page, however. It is most important that the pages be bound; a loose-leaf notebook is not acceptable. You need two, because your will turn in one to be graded so you will need the other to keep notes. Your reports will be done in the notebooks as well



PHYS375  is a three (3) credit lecture and laboratory course that meets  four hours a week.  Its primary objective consists of (1) learning physics through  experimental investigation and (2) learning how to keep a scientific record of your investigation.  The topics of study are related to optics and the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with matter.  Specifically, you will study the nature of light -- its ray, wave and quantum  character.  This course wil help you to develop practical laboratroy skills associated with keeping a journal or lab notebook, designing a "good" experiment and handling experimental error or uncertainty that is inherent in all measurement. The course consists of about twelve lectures and six experiments (plus an introductory experiment). In most cases, you willhave two weeks to complete your experiment. You turn in your journal and a report for each of the six experiments. In addition, there will be six homework assignments that will be due approximately every other week.

This is one of the few opportunities in our undergraduate curriculum to learn some geometrical and wave optics. Exploit it and ask question frequently. Regular communication is essential in this course. Besides face-to-face discussions during the required attendance on your scheduled lab day, email is the next easiest way to stay in touch. You are expected to check your email and the course WEB page regularly for announcements and schedule changes.


The lectures are a required component of this class. This is an excellent opportunity to learn optics and to make connections to your other courses (electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, etc.) and deepen your understanding of physics. Please note, students who have not participated in the week's lecture will not be allowed into the lab!


Your final grade will be based on 100 points and determined according to the following scheme:

Lab Notebook and Reports

60 % 
20 % 
20 % 
100 % 


One emphasis in this course is how to keep a scientific record of your experiment and analysis. This is more than just a diary. It should include sufficient information for you to repeat your experiment exactly, without relying on your memory. Think of what information you will need to return five years from now to redo the experiment and you have only your notebook as a source. Thus, your notebook should be a record of what you did in the lab (including mistakes -- THUS, RECORD YOUR NOTES IN INK AND NEVER ERASE!), what instruments were used (along with their settings) and what your procedure was (how you acquired the data). This record must also consist of your raw data, estimates of uncertainties, the source of each uncertainty and how those estimates were made. Be sure to include sketches and sample data, plots, etc. If you have a camera in your cell phone you are encouraged to take a photo of your setup and include in your notebook. As mentioned above, you will need at least two notebooks. Before you leave the lab each session, you must have your notes approved by your instructor. At the beginning of the semester, you will spend part of the lecture period before going to the lab critiquing each other’s notebooks. These comments will help to determine your grade.

The second emphasis in the course is extracting quantitative information from measurement and presenting a coherent summary of measured values. Your report will include the data analysis (including plots, tables, etc.), the extraction of the actual quantities to be measured and the uncertainty analysis (i.e., propagation of errors, etc.). The report should also contain a discussion of ways to improve the measurement. When time permits, and the instrumentation is suitable, you should explore these ideas in the lab. Your report should focus on what you did and the conclusions you have drawn, not the theoretical background of the problem.

You will usually turn in a lab report along with the relevant notebook every other week. These will be graded according the following rubric:

Laboratory Journal Notes

50 pts 
Data analysis (in the lab report)
40 pts 
Discussion of uncertainties (in the lab report)
10 pts 
100 pts 

You have one week to turn in your lab report after completion in the lab. The reports will be due at the beginning of class. Any report submitted after the deadline will suffer automatic reductions: 50% if turned up to one week late, and 100% reduction thereafter. Please note, if your notebook is late, you will have to purchase more notebooks because you must turn in your notebook with your report! If you should miss any lab for any reason, you should contact the instructor as soon as possible to make arrangements for a makeup. All labs must be done to pass the course. A single missing lab will result in failing the course! A completed lab consists of doing the lab and turning in both the lab notebook and the report. Please note, if you have a report due that is more than one week late, you still must turn it to avoid failing the class!


Homework will be assigned on the weeks that lab reports are not due (six or seven assignments). This material is designed to complement the lecture and laboratory activities. Late homework will not be accepted, yielding a 0 for that assignment. Your lowest score will be dropped.


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