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, and interpreting our observations quantitatively to constrain theoretical frameworks. In this course we will work through all aspects of this process. We will use more complex laboratory equipment than you may be used to from introductory labs, and with a more serious focus on quantitative analysis in the presence of errors and on written communication of results. The tools and techniques we will use in this course are foundational to a wide variety of endeavors in science and engineering.

Course Objectives

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, 276 Loomis) 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, 6103 ESB) 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.

Topics Covered

A. Instrumentation

B. Data Analysis Software

C. Data Analysis Techniques

D. Measurements

Accessing the Origin Templates

The course has built up a collection of Origin templates to help get you started with plotting and data analysis for each of the labs. These are hosted on the campus file sharing system. Some general access instructions for your home directory on the shared system are here.