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Durham University

Department of Physics

PHYS3681 Laboratory Skills and Electronics 3 (2012/13)

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 is given below, together with book lists and a link to the current library catalogue entries.  For an explanation of the library's categorisation system see

Content and Teaching Methods

'Bridge' Project

Dr A. Hindmarch and others

One full week in June of the previous academic year.

Syllabus: A team-based project providing a transition from Level 1 to Level 3 laboratory work.  Students will work in teams on an extended project lasting one week, which will develop their problem-solving, teamwork and presentation skills. (Suitable alternative arrangements will be made for any students who are unable, for good reason, to undertake the bridge project in June.)Each project will be in the form of a problem and the team will direct their research under the guidance of a member of staff. There is no "right way" to solve the problem and it is the team's responsibility plan and carry out an approach in order to solve it. These projects will cover a wide range of physics problems, including astronomy and applications of physics, and you will be given the opportunity to select a project that interests you. Project titles and supervisors will be made available on DUO in April and each student will be asked to sign up for a project on a first come-first served basis in the first week of the Easter Term.

Each student will work in a team of 4 to 6 people to investigate a problem through research for 35 hours (1 week). The project will be directed by your team (with guidance from a staff member) who will act as a supervisor and meet with the team for up to one hour per day. The team will have access to existing departmental teaching laboratory equipment and will be asked to create a webpage (wiki) about their investigation. Each member of the team will be will be expected to keep a good laboratory notebook with their results and experimental methods and asked to keep an online diary (blog) about their personal contribution to the project. The project will be assessed by an informal discussion using the webpage (wiki) and through monitoring the blogs and lab books.

Introduction to Programming

Dr N.A. Dipper

6 lectures and 9 workshops in Michaelmas Term


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

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.  The final lecture will take the form of an invigilated test.

Skills Labs

Dr I.G. Hughes

6 three-hour sessions in Michaelmas Term


Additional: Measurements and their Uncertainties, I.G. Hughes and T.P.A. Hase (OUP)

Syllabus: An introduction to experimental physics at Level 3. This course has typically 30 minutes of instruction and two and a half 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.

Electronics Lectures

Dr A. Hindmarch

6 lectures in Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms


Additional: Electronics: A Systems Approach, N. Storey (Addison-Wesley, 2nd Ed.)
Additional: The Art of Electronics, P. Horowitz and W. Hill (CUP)
Additional: Microelectronic Circuits and Devices, M.N. Horenstein (Prentice Hall)

Syllabus: Part A: Analogue Electronics. Components: introduction to electrical circuit theory transients, networks, AC theory, passive filters, diodes, transistors. Systems: noise, measurements, amplifiers. Part B: Digital Electronics: components.

Electronics Labs

Dr C.D. Saunter

6 three-hour sessions in Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms

Textbooks: As for Electronics Lectures above.

Syllabus: Practical classes mirroring the lecture content.  The final session will take the form of an invigilated practical electronics test.


Long Experiments

Dr G.H. Cross and others

6 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.

Laboratory Information

Lab Locations:  205/216/218/220/226/228

Computer Classroom: 140

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, 14:00-17:00
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 Reece Stockport.
Requirements: A compulsory briefings takes place in week 1 in the Michaelmas Term. Attendance at the lab sessions is compulsory - you must sign the attendance sheet for each session (this is your own responsibility). All students are required to keep a lab notebook. Assessment and deadlines will be published in the departmental list.