Durham University

Department of Physics

Laboratory Project


This is where you get to run the show. As in the real world, you start with an idea of what physical phenomena you wish to investigate. From this you define which measurements are needed and the precision to which they are made. There may be many such measurements that will be combined into the final result. You decide how to distribute your time between them - taking into account the relative difficulty in making the measurements.

Level 3 Lab Project Front

Once you know this, you can start to plan your experiment(s) using the available equipment and time. If you haven't got the right equipment, talk to the demonstrators and technicians, we encourage you to look beyond what might be provided on the bench. However, note that lead times to acquire certain equipment can be weeks or months so make sure to be organised and find out what you need early on in the experiment.

At various times, the demonstrators will check that your plan makes sense so that you can achieve your goals by the time the term is over and write your report by the deadline. This will be done formally half way through the term. You will have a short meeting to discuss your progress so far and your plans for completion.

You will make extensive use of all the skills you have absorbed during the previous two years. You will need to show initiative in acquiring any new skills which may be required and in getting hold of extra information. You will notice that, compared with previous levels, there is relatively little information provided to you at the start of the project. This is deliberate. No longer are you following a recipe devised by someone else. You are in charge!

Laboratory organisation

The laboratory is divided into four sections as follows:

What you need to do


Students should attend three afternoons per week in either the Michaelmas or Epiphany Term. Regardless of the degree subject, you can choose whichever laboratory section you wish. Students are normally allocated their chosen section unless there is over-subscription in a particular area. If the Astrophysics section is over-subscribed, preference will be given to students who were originally registered for Physics and Astronomy. Honours degree students attend the laboratory course in either the Michaelmas or Epiphany Term, but, provided there is space in the laboratory, Natural Sciences and Ordinary Degree students may spread the course over two terms if there are difficulties with the timetable. Students are required to sign the attendance register promptly when they arrive for each of the laboratory sessions as this allows us to monitor the keeping of term as required by the Department and University. There is a safety talk at the beginning of each term and all students taking the Lab in that term MUST attend - failure to do so without good reason may impact your marks.


Each course consists of a single project and includes preparation, experimental work, data reduction and the production of a written report. Assessment is based on the technical performance in the laboratory and on the content and presentation of the final report.

Progress report

A formal progress meeting (the 'Progress Report'), formative in nature, is held between the Laboratory Section Leader and each student group midway through the Laboratory Project. This meeting is compulsory and involves the students making a brief oral report on their progress and future plans, supported by the contents of their 'Electronic Lab Book'. The aim of the meeting is to ensure that students are progressing at an appropriate rate and have a realistic plan for the completion of their project. The meeting does not replace the normal 'real-time' feedback supplied by demonstrators and staff, but gives an opportunity for reflection on aims and progress.

Final report

Each student writes a report on their Laboratory Project for summative assessment. The report must be submitted electronically by the appropriate deadline otherwise penalties for late submission will apply. Information to help with report writing may be found here. The final mark awarded for the module is a combination of the marks awarded for the report and an assessment of performance within the laboratory as detailed in the marking pro forma.

Laboratory access and safety

The laboratory is open during term time on four afternoons/week but each section is closed for one session/week (alternative arrangements apply for Astrophysics). Students in the Astrophysics section are required to attend evening sessions for observing when the weather is clear. This amounts typically to about three hours per week and is included in the laboratory contact hours. As the Durham weather is generally poor, students taking the Astrophysics section must be fully committed to observing when the weather is clear. This includes observing on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Students must adhere to the rules on safety and access

Highlights and publicity

Why not help us to celebrate your achievements by sending us stuff electronically that you are particularly proud of - with your permission to show it on a website. Good colourful graphics and clear figures with brief explanatory captions are especially welcome.

Further Information

Further details on procedures etc. may be obtained from the Laboratory Level Leader. For information specific to current projects (e.g. details of opening hours for a particular section this term) please consult DUO.