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 require 325 as a prerequisite and 435 as a corequisite for enrollment. The lab manual ("writeup") supplied with each lab activity 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.The lectures will provide information necessary to successfully complete the labs, as well as discuss applications of course material to current physics experiments and technology.
  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 generally due one week after the lab is performed (one week after the final meeting of a multi-week lab), unless otherwise noted.

Course Topics

A. Instrumentation

B. Data Analysis Software

C. Data Analysis Techniques

D. Measurement Techniques

Course Grading

Course grading will proceed in compliance with University policy, as given in Article 3, Part 1 of the Student Code. More information on standards and procedures is given on the Class Policy page.

Your final grade for Physics 401 will be based upon your total score on all of the components of the course. The central component of this course is the laboratory reports, so these consitute the bulk of your grade. Note that, due to the nature of this course, we cannot offer "free drops" of any activities. We do however make an allowance for two late reports by treating the course point total as 1150 (rather than 1160). Tentative point assignments are as follows:

Course Component Maximum Points
Lab Reports 1000
RLC Transients 100
Synchronous Detection 100
Pulses in Transmission Lines 100
Millikan Oil Drop (2 weeks) 150
Torsional Oscillator (2 weeks) 150
Microwaves (1 week) 100
AC Measurement of Magnetic Susceptibility (3 weeks) 300
Supporting assignments 100
Counting statistics lab 70
Problem set: Error propagation 30
Lectures 60
Late assignment allowance -10
T O T A L 1150