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PH317 - Experimental Physics (3 credits) - is one of two WIC (Writing Intensive Curriculum) courses in Physics (the other is PH403 - Thesis). PH317 offers an in-depth experience with a few experiments, coupled strongly to the writing experience, just like the thesis option. We expect to offer the course in standard in-person mode in W2022 with enrollment limited to 12 students. The course was offered in hybrid mode W2021, and as W2020 as PH317X. Future courses may feature different experiments.
Experiment 1: We measure the air exchange rate in the Weniger labs using dry ice and a carbon dioxide sensor. It's certainly relevant to COVID practices and is an interesting test of exponential decay models.
Experiment 2: We measure x-ray emission from metals and x-ray absorption by metals. We uncover some fascinating quantum mechanics of multi-electron atoms and we learn how this technique is applied in modern chemical analysis of solids. It is also an ideal situation to apply some basic statistics to quantify the uncertainty in the measurements. Understanding the underlying physics of the apparatus is a key part of making sense of the entire experiment. Writing about the physics, the apparatus, the analysis and communicating with graphs and pictures takes place all through the experiment. You keep an electronic lab notebook (OneNote) and present your results and analysis weekly to your peers. We spend 3-4 weeks on the experiment, so you can refine data, retake it, analyse carefully, just as we do in a research lab. Those who have time to explore independently can design an experiment to investigate x-ray diffraction.
Experiment 3: We measure the diffusive motion of micron-sized polystyrene spheres in water. We find evidence for atoms! We learn to quantify this random motion. We learn how this technique is important in modern biophysics. We use advanced microscopes and learn the basics of image analysis, a highly sought-after skill. We again have an ideal situation to apply some basic stasistics. Writing about the physics, the apparatus, the analysis and communicating with graphs and pictures takes place all through the experiment. You keep an electronic lab notebook (OneNote) and present your results and analysis weekly to your peers. We spend 3-4 weeks on the experiment, so you can refine data, retake it, analyse carefully, just as we do in a research lab. Those who have time to explore independently can investigate the motion in another fluid (pond scum?) or design an extension of the basic experiment.
WIC: The goal of this WIC course is for you to write as a professional experimental physicist would, just as in PH403. You write technical reports for the experiments, and review your peers' work. The time devoted to each experiment allows for revision and rewriting.
Please check the schedule of classes for scheduling information. Departmental permission is needed for enrollment - contact Janet Tate (PH317 instructor). Priority for enrollment goes to graduating seniors who have not enrolled in PH403, but they must make their intentions known early. Second priority goes to juniors who do not intend to enroll in PH403. For these students, the PH401requirements will be waived and elective physics courses substituted. This prioritization allows the department to allocate resources equitably (in this case faculty time). Third priority goes to juniors who wish to take PH401/403 in addition and to seniors who are currently enrolled or who have completed PH401/403. Once Dr. Tate has approved enrollment, the Physics Office will set registration privileges for you.
COVID-19: How do we do run a course in experimental physics in this cornonavirus pandemic situation? This is a course in experimental physics, and the equipment simply cannot be duplicated or even approximated at home. Part of the course is learning experimental technique, and you also learn about lab management and safety. But in fact most of "experimental" physics involves intensive data analysis, research into existing literature, writing, revising, thinking and discussion, all of which are done outside the physical laboratory. So we adapt to the pandemic as we do in the research lab ....
Some of the original goals of the course, such as using research-grade equipment on campus, have been set aside under pandemic conditions. Nonetheless, there will be room for innovation and working on your own projects within each experiment.
Please contact Janet Tate (PH317 instructor) or David McIntyre (head undergraduate advisor) with questions or for further information.
Last update 01/17/2022