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PHYS 431 A: Modern Physics Laboratory

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:10pm - 4:50pm
PAB B248
Marjorie Olmstead 2022 Headshot
Marjorie Olmstead

Syllabus Description:

Physics 431 Summer 2018
Modern Physics Laboratory:  Condensed Matter Physics

Tuesday and Thursday:  1:10 – 4:30 pm.     Room PAB B248.




Lab Supervisor

Marjorie Olmstead


David Pengra


PAB B433












Teaching Assistant:  Paul Nguyen, Nikola Whallon, Sam Kowash


Lab Manual:        

No text is required for this course.  A list of the available experiments with links to the write-ups, reference material and discussion questions is at Physics 431 Experiment List
These write-ups give an overview of the experiments along with a description of experimental procedures. It is important that you read the write-up before coming to the lab to attempt the experiments, some of which can be somewhat difficult. This will make your time in the lab both more productive and more enjoyable.  Note many labs have additional questions on the course website in addition to those in the formal lab write-up.  You are responsible for answering these questions.
Additional material related to many of the experiments can be found in individual binders that are located in one of the wall cabinets in B248. You may sign one out for the duration of the experiment that you are doing.  You should read the Useful Information page before starting your first lab.


All students interested in learning are welcome in this laboratory, regardless of their personal identities or career goals.  Students are expected to treat each other with respect and to value everyone's contributions.  Students in this class range from students who have just completed the sophomore level classes to those who will graduate in August.  Everyone brings a variety of experiences both in and out of the classroom that can contribute to the learning of those around them.  Often, students who struggle with highly mathematical classes with high-stakes tests can thrive in the laboratory environment, and students who excel on memorization and mathematical manipulation can struggle getting an oscilloscope to trigger properly.  Effort in this class can bridge these gaps, and will be rewarded with increased skills and understanding.

The modern physics labs in the 43x series are intended to provide a bridge between the introductory labs, which are mostly "canned" in the sense that there is a fixed sequence of activities to perform and a fairly rigid analysis to carry out, and the kind of "open ended" research that you would do in a real experiment, where you don't really know what will happen or how you should interpret the results. In addition, the physics itself is more complicated than in the intro labs. As a result, most of the experiments in this course require significantly more time for data analysis and uncertainty assessment than for data taking itself.

The experiments in 431 focus mainly on the physics of condensed matter, and much of this physics is not covered in other undergraduate classes at UW.  You may need to find additional information or have conversations with you peers and instructors to learn the physics.  Remember that just because you have data doesn't mean you yet have information, and that just because you have analyzed the data to extract the slope of a line doesn't mean you fully understand what that slope represents and why the relationship is linear.

Basic requirements

Required work:

  1. Complete, that means carry out, write up, and turn in reports on five experiments. Three of these experiments should be from List 2, and two from List 1 (see below).
  2. Extend one of the experiments as a group, and give a short group presentation on it. To extend an experiment means that you explore an experiment beyond what is required by the standard instructions.
  3. Attend the presentations given by the other members of the class and complete a short questionnaire concerning them.

Each of these requirements is discussed further below.



  1. No eating or drinking in the lab.  Washington State Law forbids the consumption of food or drink in these labs because they are officially "radiation laboratories:" there are radioactive substances in the lab.  There are also toxins.
  2. No sandals.  Closed-toed shoes are required at all times in the lab.  There are wires and heavy equipment that are dangerous for bare feet.
  3. Wear a lab coat if you are wearing shorts and working with liquid nitrogen.
  4. Read the instructions BEFORE you turn on the equipment. 
  5. No students may work in the lab without the presence of lab staff. Occasional exceptions may be granted for students who have sufficient training and are working with straightforward equipment.


  • Experimental groups must be two or three persons. Discussing your results with a partner is an essential part of doing physics, but with four persons or more, there is not enough to do to keep everyone busy.
  • Each student must write his or her own report. Students will work together on experiment operation, data collection and preliminary analysis, and this will be turned in (and graded) as a group.  Students are encouraged to discuss their final analysis and results with each other (and with other students and the instructors) but must independently generate their own final reports.
  • Be considerate of your lab partners.  This means making sure everyone is involved in each portion of the experiment, letting your lab partners know if you will be late or out sick, waiting for everyone to be ready to move forward, and listening to each other.  Working on a team is an essential part of doing physics, and trust is the most important element of a collaboration.
  • No one may start an experiment during week 8 or 9 of the term.
  • You may not start Lab N+1 until your group has reviewed their Collaborative Notebook for Lab N with one of the instructors.  This is to ensure you have all the necessary information and understanding to complete your reports.
  • Lab reports are due on the date listed on the Lab Schedule.  The penalty for a late report will be 20% per workday (M-F).
    These dates were calculated for the
    Nth lab you perform as the EARLIEST of:
      • Two weeks after you start Lab N.
      • The day you start Lab N+2
      • The N+3 Friday of Summer Quarter.
  • You may choose one lab report this quarter to re-write for a higher grade. It is due within 1 week of when it is graded, or on Friday, August 10, whichever is sooner. Note that means you likely will not be able to rewrite your last lab or two, since they won't be turned in and graded in time to get a re-write in by the deadline.  Note that the Collaborative Notebook portion may not be rewritten, but you may add corrections and additions to the Collaborative portion in your personal section.

Online Notebooks, Analysis and Reports

There are no formal written reports in the usual sense. Graded material will consist of (1) collaborative online notebooks, (2) personalized online data analysis, assessment, answers to exercises and discussion questions, summary abstract and error discussion. 

The online notebooks will be created in Microsoft OneNote.  There should be a link to the OneNote Class Notebook for the course on Canvas.  You should be automatically added to the Class Notebook when you log in with your UW Microsoft account (linked through your UW NetID).  The OneNote application will contain both your collaborative notebook, which will be shared by the other members of your group, and your own personal final analysis and assessment, which will be visible only to yourself (and the teachers/TAs).  

When you have chosen your experiments and partners, the instructors will create the collaborative space for you.

Your reports will consist of the notes and drawings you make in lab (either drawn on paper and uploaded as a photo or document), computer or oscilloscope printouts/screenshots (depending on the lab), spreadsheets or coding results, and typed written material.

More information concerning the online notebooks is found on the Online Lab Notebooks page. 

1. Online collaborative notebooks (grading rubric):

This section is common to everyone in your lab group, and will be graded as a group.  It will contain raw data, laboratory notes and observations, diagrams and photos of apparatus, graphs created from preliminary analysis, and plans for final analysis.    

2. Online personal notebooks (grading rubric):

This section is submitted and graded individually.  It contains four sections:  (1) Final data analysis, including uncertainty calculations, and extending the preliminary analysis to all samples and data sets; (2) The answers to exercises and discussion questions included both in the lab writeup and on the web link for the experiment;  (3) Comparison of results both with each other and with expectations; (4) Summary abstract and error discussion.  You will find pages for each of these in your One Note area - please use them.


The currently available experiments in the 431 labs are broken into two groups. Typically, List 1 experiments typically take two lab periods (1 to 1.5 for data acquisition, 0.5 to 1 for data analysis/writeup), and List 2 experiments take three (1.5 to 2 for data acquisition, and 1 to 1.5 for data analysis/writeup).   Thus, the 5 main experiments will take about 13 lab days out of the 18 in summer quarter; this leaves 1 afternoon for the first day oscilloscope exercise, 2 for your lab extension, and 2 for student presentation preparation and delivery.  You should also count on a few non-class hours for each lab to write up your summary abstract and answers to the physics questions.  You are not required to do your analysis in the lab period, but most students find it easier to have their lab partners and instructors nearby to screen their ideas. 

List 1 List 2
Fundamental Constants from Noise Surface Plasmon Resonance
Hall Effect Mössbauer Effect
Electron Diffraction Continuous NMR
Pulsed NMR

Extended Experiment and Presentation

Experiment Extension:

The "extended" experiment allows your group to dig deeper into an experiment you found interesting and explore it more deeply. For example, you might study other samples, investigate a different parameter space, carry out a computer simulation to compare against your measurement, track down a systematic error and see if you can correct for it or eliminate it, or use the apparatus to make a wholly new kind of measurement.

The Presentation

Each group will make a presentation to the class during the last week of classes describing their extension. All members of the group should contribute to the presentation.  Presentations should be 15 minutes, plus about 5 minutes for questions, similar to at a scientific meeting.  A list of the evaluation criteria is found at Presentation Evaluation

Observing Presentations

All students are required to observe the presentations by other students in the class and to fill out a peer evaluation of these similar to Presentation Evaluation.


Collaborative Notebooks

The collaborative notebook portions will be worth 35 points and the same grade will be assigned to all students in the group.  The notebooks will be graded ASAP after the due date.  There is nothing to "submit:" whatever is in the notebooks will be graded. There are no extensions to these due dates unless a special arrangement is made before the due date.  Comments from the instructors may appear before the due date as reminders for things to fix or clarify by the members of the group, but no grade will be assigned until after the due date has passed.

Personal Notebooks

The personal notebooks will be worth 65 points, and graded individually, following a rubric.  

(1) 20 pts: Final data analysis, including uncertainty calculations, and extending the preliminary analysis to all samples and data sets;

(2) 10 pts: The answers to exercises and discussion questions included both in the lab writeup and on the web link for the experiment, and comments on how these relate to your results; 

(3) 10 pts: Discussion of how results compare both with each other and with expectations;

(4) 15 pts: Summary abstract;

(5) 10 pts: Error discussion.

Due dates

Because one of the most important learning goals of this course is to learn how to collect, analyze and present experimental work, and because this learning can only happen when the student completes all parts of the experiment, does all the analysis, finishes all interpretation and writes it up, and then has that report graded, commented on and returned to the student in a timely manner,

Late reports will accrue a 20% reduction in grade per school day.  After 5 school days it will be assigned a grade of 0, no exceptions.

There are only two ways to avoid a penalty for late work:

  1. The work is late because of illness, family emergency, etc., that causes you to be unable to do any school work.
  2. You contact the instructor prior to the due date and request an extension.

If one of these is accepted by the instructor, another due date will be negotiated for the missing work.  Missing the renegotiated due date will be subject to the same penalty as described above.

Grade Calculation

Labs and Presentations are graded on a scale where 50% of the points = 2.0, and 90% of the points = 4.0.

Grade deductions

As noted above, failure to meet a due date results in a grade reduction being assigned for that work. If you accrue more than two zeros on the experiment reports, you will automatically fail the course.

Writing ("W") Option

If you need a writing or "W" option class to satisfy graduation requirements, you may obtain one in this class.  The W option is separate from the other parts of the course.  To earn it you must do three things:

  1. Notify me of your intent and sign a writing option contract by the end of week 3 of the course (06 July).  The contract spells out the requirements of W option courses, and the specific requirements for this course.
  2. Complete a draft of your paper, which is typically 10-15 pages of text (double-spaced, 12 pt font) by the end of week 6 (27 July).
  3. Complete the final version of the paper by Tuesday, 14 August.

No W option will be awarded on any other basis than the above, as specified in the writing option contract.

Academic Honesty Issues

Students working together are encouraged to discuss their analysis and results with each other (and with other students) but must independently generate their own written reports. In other words, even though you may have the same data as your group members, the discussion, analysis and calculations should be your own.

When you quote a result that is not in many texts, you need to give a citation, whether you obtain the results from the Internet, a book, or a friend. Best of all is to show how you got the result. For example, the definition of "reduced mass" is widely available, but how you would use a spectroscopy experiment to deduce the mass ratio of deuterium to hydrogen is something that would need to be explained. If you copy something from the Internet, give the complete link for the source. If you copy from a book, give the author(s), title, and year published. Another example is that the way in which you estimate your uncertainties must always be clearly shown.

Plagiarism is an offense punishable by expulsion from the university. If you don't know the meaning of the word plagiarism you might wish to look at the publication Student Academic Responsibility.

Please note that any action taken against a student by the instructor because of academic dishonesty will be reported in full to the university authorities according to their rules and guidelines.


Any student who wishes to request academic accommodations should contact Prof. Olmstead during the first week of classes so that she can make appropriate arrangements.       

If you have already established accommodations from Disability Resources for Students, DRS usually emails the instructor with details, but you should check to make sure the correct information was transferred and arrange your accommodations with Prof. Olmstead. There are no exams in this class.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS.  It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

If you are a student athlete or musician, and need accommodations for your practice and play or performance schedule, please contact Prof. Olmstead within the first week of classes, and bring a letter from your coach or conductor.

If you have other essential conflicts (e.g., presenting at a research conference, job interview, etc.), please make arrangements with Prof. Olmstead well before the expected conflict.  She can help you coordinate with your lab group to divide work load evenly over the quarter, even if it is uneven on a particular lab experiment.

Safe  Campus

Preventing violence is a shared responsibility in which everyone at the UW plays a part. The SafeCampus website provides information on counseling and safety resources, University policies, and violence reporting requirements that help us maintain a safe personal, work, and learning environment.  For advice and resources, or to report a threat or concerning behavior, call 206-685-SAFE (7233).

Title IX

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities which receive Federal financial assistance. Sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence or sexual assault, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX. Retaliation against those who raise complaints or participate in the complaint investigation and resolution process is also prohibited. The following person has been designated to coordinate the University’s compliance with Title IX :

Valery Richardson, Title IX/ADA Coordinator

Box 354996

Phone: (206) 616-9713


Catalog Description: 
Measurement in modern atomic, molecular, and solid-state physics. Prerequisite: PHYS 225; PHYS 334. Offered: WS.
GE Requirements: 
Natural Sciences (NSc)
Section Type: 
Last updated: 
October 17, 2018 - 9:41pm