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Durham University

Department of Physics

PHYS1101 Discovery Skills in Physics (2018/19)

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

Introduction & Safety

Dr K. Weatherill

1 lecture in Michaelmas Term

Introduction to the need for physics-based skills training including data collection, record keeping, data handling and scientific presentation in reports and oral presentations. Introduction to the integrated approach to skills development through training and practice from Level 1 onwards in Physics at Durham. Practical details of the laboratory arrangements will be discussed. Important safety information will be given. Attendance is compulsory.

Record Keeping Lecture

Dr C. Testrow

1 lecture in Michaelmas Term

How to keep a comprehensive laboratory notebook and to manage data kept in spreadsheets. How to keep records of a practical experiment including data tables, diagrams/graphs, discussing the results and writing reflective comments.

Measurements and Their Uncertainties Lectures

Dr S.A. Wrathmall

6 lectures in Michaelmas Term

Syllabus: Identifying and estimating uncertainties, reporting results, probability distributions, estimating the error on single and multivariable functions, rejecting data, plotting graphs, residuals, line fitting, Poisson statistics, correlations, effective data visualisation.

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

Spreadsheets and Data Management Lecture

Dr C. Testrow

1 lecture in Michaelmas Term

Syllabus: Good practice when handling datasets within a spreadsheet program. This includes how to set out and manipulate a dataset, plot graphs, and perform calculations.

Introduction to Programming

Dr A. Peach

1 lecture and 9 workshops in Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms

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.


Additional: Beginning Python - From Novice to Professional, Magnus Lie Hetland (Apress)

Additional: Python in a Nutshell, Alex Martelli (O'Reilly)

Report Writing Skills Lectures

2 lectures in Michaelmas Term

Dr C. Testrow

2 lectures in Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms

Syllabus: An introduction to the structure and presentation of a report in a professional scientific style. A description of the key components of a good laboratory report.

Scientific Presentation Skills Lecture

Dr K. Weatherill

1 lecture in Epiphany Term

Syllabus: Good scientific presentation technique. Planning and overall considerations when preparing a scientific presentation. Practical advice on structuring a presentation. Practical advice on the preparation of visual content.

Library and Employability Session

Syllabus: An information session run by staff from the University Library and the Careers, Employability and Enterprise Centre outlining the services they offer and giving practical advice on the career opportunities open to students after graduation.

Information Literacy Session

Syllabus: A session led by staff from the University Library focusing on helping students to identify, find and evaluate relevant sources of information and on other skills relevant to a research-led degree.

Skills Experiments

Dr A. Peach and others

9 three-hour sessions in Michaelmas Term

Syllabus: First half of term: Safety in the laboratory. Introduction to instrumentation: oscilloscopes, function generators, circuits. Verifying physical laws, measurement technique, statistics of measurement, dimensional analysis, graph plotting. Applications of material from the errors lectures. Electronic document preparation. Information literacy, including introduction to sources of reference material. The fifth session is devoted to practical tuition on the use of a spreadsheet application interspersed with a short one-on-one tutorial with formative feedback given on laboratory record-keeping and aspects of explaining and presenting a data analysis exercise.

Second half of term: Introductory experiments in physics (one per week) using structured scripts, with students working in pairs. One of the sessions takes the form of an Enterprise Seminar.


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

Discovery Experiments

Dr G.P. Swift and others

9 three-hour sessions in Epiphany Term

Syllabus: Full experiments in physics (one lab session per week), with students working in pairs on an experimental investigation lasting two weeks, with a chance to develop experiments and investigate a range of associated phenomena. Two experiments are written up in the form of a formatively and summatively-assessed report. The records kept in laboratory notebooks this term are also summatively assessed. One session is devoted to receiving on-to-one oral feedback from the marker of the formatively-assessed report. One session is devoted to presenting the results from the final experiment undertaken.


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

Oral Presentation

Dr S. Wrathmall

One-hour session in Epiphany Term

Syllabus: Each student will give an individual oral presentation.

Laboratory Information

Students are required to attend one 3-hour laboratory session every week starting in week 2. The laboratory sessions are 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and Wednesday 9 a.m. to 12 noon. Students must sign the attendance list at the start of each session. At the introductory lecture you will hear a talk detailing the management of the laboratories and safety issues. A list showing laboratory days and group assignments will be published before the end of teaching week 1. Each student will be given his/her own lab notebook in October. Laboratory scripts will be provided in hardcopy and on DUO, and background material is available on the online Physics Laboratory Guide

Problem exercises

See For this module the problem exercises relate only to the Errors Lectures.

Advance notice

All students who will be taking the Level 2 physics laboratory module (PHYS2641 Laboratory Skills and Electronics) in 2018/19 must ensure that they are available to undertake a week-long project following the end of the examination period in June 2019. Subject to confirmation, these projects will take place in weeks 26 and 27 (10th - 21st June 2019) and will contribute to the summative assessment for the Level 2 module. Further details will be announced.