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Department of Physics

PHYS2551 Laboratory Skills and Practice (2010/11)

Details of the module's prerequisites, learning outcomes, assessment and contact hours are given in the official module description in the Faculty Handbook - follow the link above.  A detailed description of the module's content, together with book lists, is given below.  For an explanation of the library's categorisation system see

Content and Teaching Methods

Introduction to Programming

Dr N.A. Dipper

5 lectures and 9 workshops in Michaelmas Term

Syllabus: Computer programming and programming languages. Representations of numbers. Introduction to numerical computation. Programming in Python: variables, expressions, types, control flow, functions, arrays, input/output, objects and methods.

Students will be expected to work at their own pace through a set of exercises, followed by some short assessed work and finishing with a short assessed programming project. Tuition will be given through the  lectures and through extensive printed notes intended for self-study. Each student will attend a weekly demonstrator session. Students will use the Python facilities provided on University ITS facilities.  It is the responsibility of individual students to ensure that they are registered with the IT Service to access the network.


Beginning Python - From Novice to Professional, Magnus Lie Hetland, Apress, R
Python in a Nutshell, Alex Martelli (O'Reilly), B

Skills Labs

Dr S.M. Rayner and others

8 three-hour sessions in Michaelmas Term

Syllabus: An introduction to experimental physics at Level 2. This course has typically one hour of instruction and two hours of practical work per session. Students work in teams. The course emphasises the skills necessary for experimental physics. The main topics are experimental design, data/error analysis,  cryogenics and an introduction to the Labview software used to control and log data from measurement devices. Recording and reporting results are also covered with training in the writing of both short and long reports and in oral presentations.


Practical Physics, G.L. Squires (CUP, 4th Ed.), R

Long Experiments

Dr G.H. Cross and others

8 three-hour sessions in Epiphany Term

Syllabus: Long experiments in the physics laboratory, chosen from a list of titles.  Students usually work in pairs but in some cases, individually.


Personal tutors

5 hours in Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms

Students are assigned to a member of staff who acts as their tutor for the year. Two hours of tutorials will be held in the Michaelmas Term and three hours of tutorials in the Epiphany Term. The primary focus of the tutorials will be on the Essay and Presentation (see below). In addition the tutorials can be used for general discussions on physics. Specific support for each lecture course and the associated weekly problems will be provided in the Examples Classes for that course, where students will have access to the course lecturers in a small group setting. Another aim of the tutorials is to provide personal contact and interaction with a member of staff, who will be a potential source of pastoral advice and support in the event of difficulties with the course, or other problems that may arise.
Essay and Presentation: Students undertake an essay project in physics, with a submission deadline in the first week of the Epiphany Term. The essays should be approximately 2000 words in length, and should be word-processed and printed single-sided on A4 paper. The subject matter is to be chosen with the advice of the tutor. The aim should be to pick a topic which has a high physics content, which is accessible to the student and can be readily researched, and which can be discussed satisfactorily within the word count limit. The technical level should be appropriate to a readership which is the student's peer group.
A talk is presented by each student following submission of the essay. This is delivered to the whole tutorial group, and is usually presented with the aid of overhead transparencies or PowerPoint slides. In the latter case, students must inform their tutor of the intention to make a computer-based presentation and then make their own arrangements with the Audio-Visual Section for the provision of the necessary equipment. The talks should last for 15 minutes followed by 2 minutes of questions and comments from the audience. Students should discuss with their tutor the qualities expected in the essay and talk but an indication of these is given in the mark proforma used for assessment. Students will be provided with a copy of the proforma for their information at the beginning of the Epiphany Term.
The marked essays, along with the completed proformas (giving the marks awarded for the essay and talk), will be returned to students before the end of the Epiphany Term.

Laboratory Information

Lab Locations:
Computer Classroom: 140
Skills: 228/205

Long experiments: 228/226/220/218/205

Lab technicians: 224

Drop point for assignments: 224

Lab opening times:
Michaelmas Term: week 2 onwards
Epiphany Term: all term
Laboratories: Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, 14:15-17:15
Computer classroom: 09:00-18:00 except during other classes
Safety first! We want you to enjoy the lab classes in an environment that is safe for you and others. Please be attentive in the safety briefings at the start of each term. Please feel free to ask for safety advice from staff, demonstrators and lab technicians at any time.
Lab staff: Each lab activity is supported by a member of staff, by postgraduate demonstrators and by the lab technicians, Ian Manfren and John Summerill.
Requirements: Compulsory briefings take place in weeks 1 and 9 in the Michaelmas Term. Attendance at the lab sessions is compulsory - you must sign in for each session. All students are required to keep a lab notebook. Assessment and deadlines will be published in the departmental list.