PHYS 401 :: Physics Illinois :: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Course Description


Physics 401 is a one semester course intended to give students an introduction to basic laboratory techniques in experimental physics in the context of classical mechanics and electromagnetism.

In experimental physics we learn about the universe by asking it questions in a controlled way (experiment), and interpreting our observations quantitatively to constrain theoretical frameworks (analysis). In this course we will work through all aspects of this process at a level beyond that of your introductory courses:

The tools and techniques we will use in this course are foundational to a wide variety of endeavors in science and engineering.

Course Objectives and Prerequisites

Through their work in this course, students will:

Note: The topics in this course depend upon an intermediate-level knowledge of both classical mechanics (Phys325) and E&M (Phys435). We now require 325 as a prerequisite and 435 as a corequisite for enrollment. The lab manual given with each lab is intended to present the necessary theoretical background to understand the experiment. If this is not sufficient, students are expected to learn the necessary material on their own using standard textbooks.

Course Components

The course consists of a one-hour lecture and a four-hour laboratory period each week.

  1. LECTURE (Mon 3:30-4:20pm) is where we will discuss the concepts and history behind the week's experiment, outline the setup and equipment, discuss possible experimental challenges, and give tips for analysis and presentation.
  2. LABORATORY (Tue/Wed/Thu, 4-hour blocks) is where you will work in pairs to carry out the experiments, record the results in your lab notebook, and carry out preliminary data analysis (so that you know if you need to fix anything!). You attend one lab section each week (at your registered time), and your TA will be there to provide guidances as needed. Some laboratories are completed in a single session, others require more than one week.
  3. LAB REPORTS are where you describe your experimental work to the world. You introduce relevant background, describe your experimental methods, and discuss your main results and findings. Reports must be well-organized and clearly written, and are due one week after the lab is performed (one week after the final meeting of a multi-week lab).

Adapting to COVID-19

Teaching and learning during a global pandemic is challenging, particularly for a laboratory course. The ongoing pandemic has necessitated changes to the way we manage our course.

Above all, I hope that all of us in Physics 401 -- students, faculty, and TAs -- can remember to show patience and kindness with one another. We're all muddling through this strange new era, and working to teach and learn physics in new ways. Some of us find ourselves working in unfamiliar contexts, and with unfamiliar constraints (my kids may burst in once in a while!).

Please don't hesitate to ask questions of Professor Filippini and the other course staff! I want to know if there are things that are not working or could be improved. My apologies in advance if the course procedures are in a little less final than normal for the first couple of weeks.

Course Topics

A. Instrumentation

B. Data Analysis Software

C. Data Analysis Techniques

D. Measurement Techniques

Course Grading

The primary graded course components are the laboratory reports for each activity. Due to the nature of this course, we cannot offer free "drops" of any lab report.

Course grading will proceed in compliance with University policy, as given in Article 3, Part 1 of the Student Code.

Your final grade for Physics 401 will be based upon your total score on all of the components of the course. The best possible score is 1060 points. Note that, due to the nature of this course, we cannot offer "free drops" of any activities. Tentative point assignments are as follows:

Course Component Maximum Points
Labs 900
RLC Transients 50
Synchronous Detection 100
Pulses in Transmission Lines 100
Millikan Oil Drop 125
Torsional Oscillator 125
Hall Probe 100
AC Measurement of Magnetic Susceptibility 300
Written Activities 100
Fourier Techniques 50
Error Analysis 50
Lecture 60
T O T A L 1060