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PHYS 231 A: Introductory Experimental Physics

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
Th 11:30am - 12:30pm
* *
Suzanne White Brahmia
Suzanne White Brahmia

Syllabus Description:

The recurring Zoom links:


Camera use policy: We understand that Zoom fatigue is real, and will not ask you to turn on camera more than necessary for effective collaboration. 

In lab: This environment should be considered like a remote workplace, and you are doing a job there. It is essential that your team be able to see you when you are having a discussion. We strongly encourage camera use in the lab. If this is a hardship for you, please contact me ASAP to make alternate arrangements. 

In lecture: Even though I prefer cameras on, I know how tiring that gets in a lecture. Feel free to leave your camera off if that is more comfortable for you. I would love to see your faces though, so please put a static picture of yourself up if you opt to leave your camera off. One day we'll be face to face again and I'd like to be able to say "Hi" in the hall.

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.

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 before 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, 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.

Overview Calendar

Week Lab Lab Activity Due before lab Due during lab Due Thursday Text Reading (complete before lecture) Lecture
1 (6/21)
Electrons in magnetic field
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 Scientific inquiry, and errors in the physical sciences
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 Online HW#1 Chap. 2 Random errors in measurements
3 (7/5)
VR: Charged and Minty Particles
Intro to VR; conduct electric charge and qualitative minty particle experiments Electrons in Magnetic Field group report Preliminary minty model Online HW#2 Chap. 5 (up to 5.3) Data visualization and reduction
4 (7/12) Refine minty model with quantitative measurements Coulomb's law testing report Online HW#3 Chap. 5 Data visualization and reduction
5 (7/19)
VR: Manifold Lab
Peer review of Minty reports; Pocket A hypothesis-generating experiment Minty hypothesis-generating group report Peer review of Minty report Online HW#4 Chap. 4 Error propagation
6 (7/26) Peer review, revision of Pocket A hypothesis-generating reports Pocket A Hypothesis-generating group report Peer review of Pocket A report Online HW#5 Chap. 4 Error propagation
7 (8/2) Select Pocket B, write & submit hypothesis-testing proposal with budget Revised Pocket A group report Initial Pocket B testing proposal Online HW#6 Chap. 3 Uncertainties as probabilities
8 (8/9) Conduct Pocket B hypothesis-testing experiment Revised Pocket B testing proposal Online HW#7 Review
9 (8/16) Final presentations Final presentations Final presentation slides No lecture



  • 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 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM on Thursdays. I will use that time to present lectures synchronously for 30 minutes, followed by 30 minutes of Q&A. Lecture homework (covering the prior week's topics) is due every Thursday at midnight Pacific. The lectures will be recorded and posted for students who cannot make it to lecture. 
  • Pre-lecture reading

  • Remote learning through lecture is exhausting for students. This course is designed with that mental fatigue in mind. Lecture 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 Thursday.  These can be found under "Assignments" on the left menu. There is no final exam in this course, but you will be expected to achieve a score of 95% or above on the homework, and will be allowed to resubmit your work until you achieve this score. 


The laboratory activities will be completed remotely via Zoom (links are available below)

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.

  • Labs and lab reports

  • The first lab will provide an opportunity for everyone to get used to the virtual nature of this course, and 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 One Note 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.


  • The course grade will be based on the following:
    • Lab
      • Lab participation, 5% 
      • Lab reports, 40%
      • Lab presentation, 10%
      • Peer reviewing lab reports, 5% 
    • Lecture Homework, 40%
  • 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 (

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: 
February 11, 2021 - 9:31pm