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Unit information: Physics Laboratory in 2021/22

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing, student choice and timetabling constraints.

Unit name Physics Laboratory
Unit code PHYS10004
Credit points 10
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Springell
Open unit status Not open

Normally A-level Physics and A-level Mathematics or equivalent.


Core Physics I: Mechanics and Matter Core Physics II: Oscillations, Waves and Fields

School/department School of Physics
Faculty Faculty of Science


The aim of the unit is to introduce students to basic laboratory skills and techniques used by physicists. These include:

  • A practical introduction to the use of basic laboratory equipment including meters, oscilloscopes, signal generators and optical devices.
  • To introduce methods for quantitatively describing and assessing the uncertainties in experimental measurements. This will include the statistical basis for the mean, standard deviation and standard error of a measurements, the treatment of random and systematic errors, the combination of uncertainties in measurements to provide a quantitative assessment of the uncertainty in a quoted result.
  • To develop the skill of accurately recording experimental setups and procedures in a laboratory notebook.
  • To introduce data analysis and plotting using advanced computer packages and in particular for the fitting of data to a straight line and the calculation of the associated errors in gradient and intercept.
  • To develop skills in accurately recording experimental measurements in a laboratory notebook and by reference to data recorded on an electronic file.
  • To introduce students to the methods of reviewing literature and referring to other work through correct referencing and to be aware of issues of copyright.

To receive credit for this unit, students must make a reasonable attempt at every aspect of the teaching and assessment, including pre- and post- laboratory work, practical experiments, formal reports and any workshop activities. Failure to do so many result in credit being withheld, even if the overall mark is above the pass mark for the unit.

Supplementary or resit assessment of this unit is only possible through engagement in the following academic year.

Intended learning outcomes

Students should be able to:

use basic laboratory equipment safely and with confidence, carry out a basic experiment investigating a new (to the student) physics principle, make an estimate of the random and systematic errors in an experimental measurement, combine the uncertainties in experimental measurements in order to obtain a quantitative evaluation of the uncertainty in the final result, carry out a basic literature review before commencing an experiment, plan and execute an experiment, noting and minimising the effects of possible sources of error in the measurements, understand the safety requirements of an experimental procedure, know how to record experimental setups and procedures in a laboratory notebook and how to accurately record measurements, use a computer for quantitative data analysis and for the formal presentation of graphical data, present a basic formal report of their results in the form expected for publication in a scientific journal and to understand the relevance of each section (abstract, references etc.) understand the need to correctly reference other people’s work (i.e. not to plagiarise material) and to understand the basic requirements of copyright.

Teaching details

  • Asynchronous online materials, including narrated presentations and worked examples on error analysis and report writing, together with guided independent activities to develop and test understanding
  • Independept practical activities
  • Supervised laboratory sessions; students who either begin or continue their studies in an online mode should note that it is likely they may be required to complete practical work or alternative activities in person, either during the academic year 2020/21 or subsequently, in order to meet the intended learning outcomes for the unit, prepare them for subsequent units or to satisfy any accreditation requirements.

Assessment Details

Students will carry out their experiments under the guidance of an experienced post-graduate demonstrator who will question and challenge a student's understanding of the experiment and the apparatus. Formative assessment with verbal and written feedback from the demonstrator is given for the early experiments. Informative feedback is given on each summatively assessed component in notebooks and the formal report. 75% of the summative assessment of the unit comprises the formal assessment of practical experiments and includes assessment of pre-laboratory work, execution of the experiment and analysis of the data to produce final results. 25% of the assessment comprises the marks assigned to the formal experimental report that is marked by a graduate student and moderated by an academic staff demonstrator.

Reading and References

Tipler and Mosca - Physics for scientists and Engineers - Freeman Worth 2008