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PHYS 231 A: Introductory Experimental Physics

Meeting Time: 
T 11:30am - 12:50pm
PAA A118
Suzanne White Brahmia
Suzanne White Brahmia

Syllabus Description:

Quick Links:

This Canvas page explains everything about the course you need to know, so it is long. Here are some quick links that will help you come back and navigate, after you've read through this page once. 



Welcome to PHYS 231A, my name is Suzanne White Brahmia <> (pronouns she/her), and I will be your instructor.


This class has laboratory and lecture components. In the lecture component we will learn about the concepts of measurement, and the other quantities associated with thinking about and reporting measured quantities. In the laboratory component you get to design four experiments and put what you have learned in lecture into practice by writing experimental reports capable of convincing a colleague about the validity of your conclusions, which is a key part of the scientific method.

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Design a both a hypothesis testing and a hypothesis generating experiment.
  2. Conceptually understand the statistical underpinnings of uncertainty.
  3. Quantify uncertainty in measurement and modelling.
  4. Write a scientific report with valid conclusions and discussion of results.
  5. Prepare and deliver a scientific presentation.
  6. Function effectively on a professional team to produce deliverables.

Overview Calendar

All lab handouts, grading rubrics and other resources can be found here.

Week Lab Lab Activity Due before lab Due during lab Due Monday Text Reading (complete before lecture) Lecture
1 (6/21) Get set up for the course; Complete teamwork agreement, conduct E/M experiment


Complete 2 surveys:

1.Lab Logistics

2.Science Attitudes

Get Slack running  using the instructions here.

Teamwork Agreement, Intro/Methods section, lab notebook
Chap. 1 and 2 (after lecture in first week) Scientific inquiry, and errors in the physical sciences; Random errors in measurements
2 (6/28) Peer review and revise individual E/M analyses; begin writing group report Individual E/M data analysis Peer reviews of E/M analyses, lab notebook Online HW#1 Chap. 2 and 3 Data visualization and reduction; Uncertainties as probabilities

3   (7/5)

Cs Nuclear Decay Conduct Nuclear Decay testing expt and write report Electrons in Magnetic Field group report lab notebook Online HW#2 Chap. 3 Data visualization and reduction; Uncertainties as probabilities
4 (7/12) Peer review Nuclear Decay testing report Nuclear Decay testing report Peer review Nuclear Decay testing report Online HW#3 Chap. 5 (up to 5.3) Data visualization and reduction; Uncertainties as probabilities
5 (7/19) Intro to VR; conduct electric charge and qualitative minty particle experiments, form qualitative model, conduct quantitative minty Nuclear Decay testing report

Preliminary minty model; lab notebook


Online HW#4 Chap. 5 Best-fit linear model
6 (7/26) Peer review of Chg/Minty reports; Conduct Pocket Exploration hypothesis-generating experiment Chg/Minty group report Peer review of Chg/Minty reports; lab notebook Online HW#5 Chap. 4 Error propagation
7   (8/2) Peer review of Pocket Exploration reports; Select new Pocket for analysis, write & submit hypothesis-testing proposal with budget

Pocket Exploration group report; final draft of Chg/Minty group report

Peer review of Pocket Exploration reports

Online HW#6


Chap. 4 Error propagation
8   (8/9) Conduct Pocket Analysis hypothesis-testing experiment Address feedback on Pocket Analysis Grant Proposal Lab notebook Pocket Analysis testing proposal; final draft of Pocket Exploration report Final Exam
9 (8/16) Final presentations: Pocket Analysis group report (oral) Final presentations Final presentation slides and summary of proposal modifications Lecture time will be used for finalizing labs, if necessary



  • Reading assignments are from Measurements and their uncertainties a practical guide to modern error analysis by Ifan Hughes. The UW has a license for the ebook.


  • Lectures are from 12:00 noon to 1:00 PM on Tuesdays in PAA A223. Lecture homework (covering the prior week's topics) is due every Monday at midnight Pacific. 
  • Pre-lecture reading

  • Passively watching a long lecture is exhausting. In this course, lectures will involve collaborative activities designed for efficient learning. In order to benefit from the in-class activities, and to not let your group down, it is essential that students do the assigned reading  before lecture.
  • Lecture Homework

  • An important learning objective of this course is that you have both a computational and conceptual facility with core statistical methods and ideas for interpreting data. To reinforce the analysis methods discussed in lecture and the reading, there will be an assignment due each Monday.  These can be found under "Assignments" on the left menu. In order to pass this course, you will be expected to achieve a score of 95% or above on the homework, and you will be allowed to resubmit your work (with generous hints along the way) until you achieve this score. 


The laboratory activities will be completed in person in B042. 

We will use Slack in this course for collaborative work with your Lab Group, and we will help you become proficient in its use to catalyze effective teamwork . The first assignment for this course is:

Your TA will place you in a group and invite you to your section's Slack channel.

Lab meeting times

  • There is one lab section per week: Section AA, Tuesday 1:10PM-4:20PM  (TA: Jared Canright)


  • Labs and lab reports

  • The first lab will provide an opportunity for everyone to establish norms within your lab groups. You will work with these groups throughout the quarter.
  • Over the remainder of the quarter your group will complete four additional experiments. Working in subgroups of two or three students, you will submit a single lab report for the subgroup.  
  • With my permission you will be excused if you cannot attend a single lab due to sickness or other valid excuse. However, if you must miss both weeks of an experiment, you will need to join a group from another section with my approval.
  • Peer review

  • After the deadline for submitting the reports has passed, you will be assigned a random report from another group. You will leave constructive feedback and grade it using the same rubric the TA will use. The grades you give will not be used towards the grade for the report, but the group will be able to see how you graded it and they will be able to see your comments, although they will not see who graded it and left the comments. You will be given credit for leaving constructive feedback.
  • Oral Presentation

  • Your group will give an oral presentation on one of the experiments at the end of the quarter. More information will be provided soon.
  • Data Collection and Analysis

  • Your group should also set up a virtual space like a Google Doc or OneNote to share data, pictures etc. for all group members to access as you prepare your reports. It is important that you do enough analysis during the lab time to determine if you have the necessary data to complete your lab report before the lab session ends - often you'll want to adjust something and retake data once you've done a quick analysis.


  • We will have a final exam during class time on Tuesday November 30.
  • Note that there are no make-up exams.
  • Students with outside professional, service, or career commitments (i.e. military service, ROTC, professional conference presentation, NCAA sports, etc.) conflicting with the exam date must contact me early in the quarter to establish alternate examination procedures.
  • Students who are sick, or are in quarantine, must contact me before the exam. 
  • Exam scores for students who miss the exam without making prior arrangements will be zero.

Course Grade

  • The course grade will be based on the following:
    • Lab
      • Lab participation, 10% 
      • Lab reports, 40%
      • Lab presentation, 15%
    • Lecture Homework, 10%
    • Final Exam, 25%
  • Each student is required to participate in report preparation, and submit four completed lab reports during the course of the quarter to pass the class. 
  • You will lose 10% for every day that a lab report is late.

Office hours and getting help

If you cannot attend office hours but have a physics question you should post it on Slack

If you want to visit me and cannot attend scheduled office hours, email me <>, or Slack me to find a time we can meet.

Research Study Information

  • This course is part of a research project  examining student reasoning ability and attitudes about physics with the goal of  improving physics teaching.  By enrolling in this course you are automatically included in the study. Early in the quarter, students will have an opportunity to learn about the study and to remove themselves from the study if they wish. Your instructor will not know whether or not you participate. Later in the quarter, this link will become active and allow you to review the details of the study, contact a member of the research team, or remove yourself from the study.

Safe Campus

Religious Accommodation

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (

Mask and COVID Safety Policies

Although the lecture and lab have HEPA air filters and a good ventilation system, it is important for everyone to follow the safety guidance since you will be seated close to your classmates.

  • Everyone must be vaccinated against COVID or have an approved exemption no later than Oct 18. 
  • Masks are required both in lecture and in the lab.
  • No one is allowed to eat in lecture or in lab.
  • You are allowed to drink only if you can sanitize your hands both before and after touching your mask to remove it briefly.


If you are sick, please stay home. A recording of the lecture will become available after each lecture for students who cannot attend the lecture in-person via the Panopto link on the course Canvas site. We will accommodate you in the lab to participate using Zoom.

For more COVID related information, please visit

Getting Started

  1. Read the syllabus carefully and explore the rest of the Canvas page.
  2. Note that lab meetings start in the first week of classes after your first lecture. 
  3. Fill out the two surveys, if you have not done so already (found under the Modules tab to the left on Canvas.) You will find your weekly assignments listed there as they are posted.
  4. Use your UW email address to join our Slack workspace.
  5. On the Canvas page, click on the "Panopto Recordings" link in the
    left side navigation to activate your Panopto recording link.
  6. I will send future communications via Canvas Announcements as well as on Slack, so make sure to click on your settings in Canvas (top left picture of you),
    select “Notifications” then under “Announcements” select the checkmark to ensure you get them sent immediately, not later in the day or later in the week.

Catalog Description: 
Introduction to data acquisition and analysis using experiments which measure fundamental constants or properties of nature (Planck's constant, Boltzmann's constant, speed of light, charge of electron). Prerequisite: minimum 2.0 grade in PHYS 123. Offered: A.
GE Requirements: 
Natural Sciences (NSc)
Section Type: 
Last updated: 
April 19, 2021 - 10:01pm