Intermediate Physics Lab

PHYS 390 - Winter 2008
Last Updated: 28 January, 2008 16:00

This page is for second-year physics students (concurrent with PHYS 352)
Blackboard Website

Instructor  Dr. Dean Livelybrooks

Willamette 225, 346-5855

Office Hours: U10:00, H14:00

Dashiel (Dash) Vitullo
Scott Ernst
Class M13:00 or M14:00 (your choice), Willamette 17

W1400-1600, H1100-1300, H1300-1500, F1300-1500, RM 17 Willamette

Textbook An Introduction to Error Analysis, Second Edition -Taylor
Copies are on reserve at the Science Library.


Intermediate Physics Lab is taught as a companion to the Foundation in Physics II sequence (PHYS 351-3). While this course is designed to support the material presented in PHYS352, this lab course is a separate class with separate goals. Winter quarter will cover a variety of topics, including data analysis of a simple pendulum using Matlab, classic spectroscopy, and statistical physics with the measurement of absolute zero. We will also continue to study how errors are treated in physical measurements, and will put this to practice in the absolute zero lab.

Students in PHYS390 are encouraged to work independently. The lab room (Willamette 17) can be accessed at any time with a key-code obtained from the Physics office. Use your lab sessions to get ideas and support from the TAs and other students, but feel free to come in at any time and work on your own.

Course Learning Goals




Lab assignment

HW Assignment


 1 (Jan 7)
No labs

Simple Pendulum- Data Analysis

addendum: Leakage and Windowing and how to fix with Matlab

Meeting Optional

email me your desired lab section

 2 (Jan 14)

Mathematical Description of the Simple Pendulum, Comparing Data and Modeling

Taylor: 7.4, 7.5, 7.6, 7.7
HW #1 Due

Weds. 1/23 at Noon

 3 (Jan 21)
No Class!
 4 (Jan 28)
Help Sessions (start at 1:30)
Lab #1 Due

Mon. 2/4 at Noon

 5 (Feb 4)
Taylor: 8.5, 8.9, 8.10, 8.25
HW #2 Due

Weds. 2/13 at Noon

 6 (Feb 11)
No Class!
 7 (Feb 18)
Help Sessions
Lab #2 Due

Monday 2/25 at Noon

 8 (Feb 25)
Absolute Zero
Absolute Zero
 9 (Mar 3)
No Class!
 10 (Mar 10)
Help Sessions
Lab #3 notebooks and writeup due

Friday 3/14 at 5PM

This syllabus is tentative, and is subject to change as the quarter progresses. Please check the website for the latest information.


Course grades will be based on the completion of the three lab modules plus the homework. The first two lab modules are worth 25%. The third module, which includes a lab writeup, is worth 35%, while the homework assignments account for the remaining 15%. All lab modules will be graded based on your lab notebooks as described below. Information on the lab writeup is also provided below. One of the fundamental goals of this course is to develop the experimental method, and much greater emphasis will be placed on the concepts, methodology, and presentation of the lab results than on the results themselves. Grades for each assignment will be posted to the Blackboard website as soon as they are available.

Lab Information

Each lab has a handout, which contains formal instructions (such as they are) for completing the lab assignment. Remember that part of the goal of this course it to encourage creative thinking and problem solving. You should take this information as a guide for what we are looking for, not as definitive instructions for how to complete the labs. Feel free to try out your own ideas, particularly in consultation with a TA.

Lab Notebooks

As an experimentalist, you should see your lab notebook primarily as a resource for yourself. Your only hope of understanding what you did in an experiment is to have a clear, legible, and understandable record written down in a lab notebook.

Lab notebooks should constitute an honest record of:

Even though you are working in groups, each person is responsible, and will be graded on, the content of their own lab book. Data will certainly be shared amongst the lab partners, and you should work together on developing the analysis method, but the description and analysis narrative should be unique to each student.

See this page for more details on producing a clear lab notebook and specific instructions on what should be included.

Your notebooks will be due on Monday after each lab module (except for the final lab, when it is due on Friday, 16-March), graded, and returned in time for your next scheduled lab session. Please do not be late. It is better for a report to be incomplete than to turn it in late. Late notebooks will receive an automatic 15% deduction, with potentially larger deductions for exceedingly late work.

Lab Reports

You will only be required to write one formal lab writeup this quarter, beyond what normally would be found in your lab notebook. This writeup will be for the Absolute Zero lab, and is due the Friday of the last week of term (16-March), along with your notebooks. This page has more details on what is expected in this report.


Two homework assignments have been assigned out of Taylor to help you better understand error analysis and the role of uncertainties in experiment. The homework is really there to familiarize yourself with the information contained in this book, and does not test everything you should know about the subject. You should treat Taylor as a kind of reference, and at least skim through all of the material in a chapter even if you don't need that information to complete a given homework assignment.

A Final Word

The challenge of experimentation is to remain both organized and on task on one hand, and to be creatively playing with science on the other. The Intermediate Physics Labs are intended to be both challenging and fun, and have been designed to provide you with further insight into the material you will be/have been studying in the Foundations of Physics II course. As budding experimentalists, you are now are colleagues. Please let us know what you think!

Copyright © Dean Livelybrooks (with permission from ET) MMVIII
All Rights Reserved