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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 link for lecture is here.


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

  • In order to participate in the in-class activities it is important that students do the assigned reading before lecture.
    Week Work that is due this week Text Reading Lab Lecture

    1      (week of 6/21)

    During lab: Teamwork Agreement,  Into/Methods section, submit lab notebook

    Chap. 1 Electrons in magnetic field Scientific inquiry, and errors in the physical sciences
    2      (week of 6/28)

    Before lab: Individual data analysis 

    During lab: Peer Review

    Thursday: Online HW#1 

    Chap. 2 Random errors in measurements
    3      (week of 7/5)

    Before lab: Electrons in Mag field group report

    During lab: Preliminary Minty model

    Thursday: Online HW#2

    Chap. 5 (up to 5.3)

    VR: Charged and Minty Particles

    Data visualization and reduction
    4      (week of 7/12)

    Before lab: Coulombs law testing report due

    Thursday: Online HW#3

    Chap. 5 Data visualization and reduction
    5       (week of 7/19)

    Before lab: Minty Hypothesis-developing group report

    Thursday: Online HW#4

    Chap. 4

    VR: Exotic Matter

    Error propagation
    6       (week of 7/26)

    During lab: Peer Review Minty group report, write/submit Pocket A Hypothesis-developing group report

    Thursday: Online HW#5

    Chap. 4 Error propagation
    7       (week of 8/2)

    During lab: Peer Review Pocket A group report, write/submit proposal

    Thursday: Online HW#6

    Chap. 3 Uncertainties as probabilities
    8       (week of 8/9)

    Before lab: Revised proposal due

    Thursday: Online HW#7

    9       (week of 8/16) Final presentation slides due in lab Final presentations Review


  • We will cover most of 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. 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. 


  • Laboratory sections are in PAB B176(on the main floor of the physics building). There will be 3-4 students (one student from each group) and a TA present during each lab session. The remaining students will connect with the in-class lab partner via Zoom.

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

    • to complete a survey that will help us match you with peers to form Lab Groups.
    • get Slack running on your device using the description and instructions here.
    • Your TA will place you in a learning pod and invite you to your learning pod Slack channel at the start of the second week of the quarter.


  • There are seven lab sections per week.



  • Labs and lab reports

  • The first lab (in Week 2) 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. The equipment for each lab is fixed, but your group will ask a scientific question and design an experiment with the given equipment to answer the question. You will have two weeks to complete each experiment. Working in  groups of three students, you will submit a single lab report for the group to be submitted online one week after you completed each experiment.  
  • 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 lab reports has passed, you will be assigned a random lab 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 you select. You will be expected to use the feedback to improve your report, and use presentation software to give a talk about it. Here is a description of the expectations and the rubric that will be used to grade your presentation. 
  • 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 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.


Instructions for the final exam:

  1. The exam will start at 11:30 on Tuesday Dec 1.
  2. You will access your exam on Canvas, and download it to your device to avoid internet issues while taking the exam.
    • The exam will be delivered as a Canvas Quiz with a randomized link to your version of the exam.
    • Print the exam and write on it (preferred).
    • If you don’t have access to a printer, you can show your work and clearly indicate your answers on separate sheet of paper(s) so long as your exam is clearly numbered.
  1. The exam will end at 12:45
  2. Upload a photocopy or scan of your completed exam to Canvas.
    • You will upload your completed exam to the associated Canvas assignment.
    • Please upload .pdf format. (You may scan it with a scanner or a free smartphone app, like CamScanner, to create a .pdf version.)
    • Please use this naming convention: test#_yourlastname.pdf
    • Please check that the .pdf file is legible before you submit it so that you can get credit for your work.
    • If you have any questions or difficulties with the file upload, Suzanne will be on Zoom throughout the exam.
  • Note that there are no make-up exams. So, 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. Exam scores for students who miss the exam without making prior arrangements will be zero.

Content focus of the final exam

  1. Prior final exams and equation sheet are posted on Canvas in Files>Exam>Practice folder. We did not cover Chapters 6 or 8 and they will not appear on the exam, though they may have been included in prior exams. Ask if you’re unsure.
  2. HW problems, solutions, and spreadsheet calculations are posted on Canvas covering Chapters 1 through 5. All problems are fair game (unless it states so in the solutions)
  3. All questions asked in lecture
  4. Linearization was central this quarter, so show understanding of how to linearize data and the meaning of the uncertainty on the slope and intercept of the linear fit.
  5. Show qualitative and quantitative understanding of uncertainty estimates, calculations, error propagation and goodness of linear fit
  6. Show overall understanding of the ISLE cycle.


  • The course grade will be based on the following:
    • Lab
      • Lab participation, 6% 
      • Lab reports, 36%
      • Lab presentation, 12%
      • Peer reviewing lab reports, 3% 
    • Lecture Homework, 8%
    • Final exam, 35%
  • 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

Zoom link:

If you cannot attend office hours but have a physics question you should post it on the discussion board under "Discussions" on the menu on the left.

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


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 World (NW)
Section Type: 
Last updated: 
February 11, 2021 - 9:31pm