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Durham University

Department of Physics

Skills Labs


The Skills Laboratory takes place over the Michaelmas term. Please refer to DUO > Course Documents > Skills for dates, groups and scripts. Most of the sessions are run in small experimental groups and culminate in a 3 minute presentation by a member from each group. The Laboratory takes place over 6 sessions with the following topics:

  • Sessions 1 & 2 - X2 analysis

    The χ2 analysis laboratory takes place over two sessions. In the first session students will revisit the simple statistics required for analysing experimental data and perform hypothesis testing. Student teams investigate the dependence of the period of a pendulum with its amplitude and use the Chi-squared statistic to investigate how well various models describe their data.

    In the second session the process of finding the best fit parameters of a model to a data set, along with their associated errors, will be described. The following experimental datasets are provided for analysis as Excel spreadsheets:

      • Data from a level 1 experiment in radioactive decay.
      • A set of measurements of the vertical displacement of a damped oscillator as a function of time.

    Models for the data sets are suggested. Each student will analyse the data, provide a best estimate for the model parameters and use Chi-squared to state how well (or badly) the model fits the data. The Excel spreadsheets and the Solver add-in are used.

  • Sessions 3 - Python

    In this session we introduce measurement automation using Python, and begin also to use Jupyter notebooks for data analysis using the chi-squared method.

The behaviour of water drops is determined by viscosity

  • Sessions 4 & 5 - Viscosity of water

    Equipment is provided for the teams to design an experiment, based on Poiseuille's method, to measure the viscosity of water. Consideration must be given to how to measure each experimental parameter such that the overall experimental errors are minimised, in the time given.

    Dominant errors in experimental methodology are reviewed. All students author a report in the style of an experimental paper.

  • Sessions 6 - Cryogenics

    In the final Skills session we learn about the safe dispensing of liquid nitrogen, apply calibrations to thermometry data, and gain further practice at data analysis.

    There are specific risks associated with handling of cryogenic liquids. Please be aware of the procedures and personal protective equipment (PPE) required when in the vicinity of liquid cryogens, which are outlined here, here and on DUO.