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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. 

This is a picture of Suzanne White Brahmia.

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. The homework each week will help you master concepts discussed in the lecture. 

In the laboratory component, you get to design four experiments and put what you have learned in the 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.

In this class everyone is welcome, regardless of other identities you hold in addition to that of a physics student. The norm in this class is to strive for treating each other respectfully. Please read and abide by the Code of Conduct.

Mode of operation:

  • This class is planned to be conducted in person unless the University announces otherwise.  You are expected to participate in class to fully benefit from course activities and meet the course’s learning objectives.  You should register for this class only if you are able to participate in person.  
  • To protect your fellow students, faculty, and staff, if you feel ill or exhibit possible COVID symptoms, you should not come to class.  For more COVID-related information, please visit
  • When absent, it is your responsibility to inform me, your TA, and your group members in advance (or as close to the class period as possible in the case of an unexpected absence), and to request appropriate make-up work as per policies established in the syllabus.

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

    1. Design both a hypothesis testing and a hypothesis-generating experiment.
    2. Conceptually understand the statistical underpinnings of uncertainty.
    3. Quantify uncertainty in measurement and modeling.
    4. Write a scientific report with valid conclusions and a 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.



Due Monday

Reading (complete before lecture) Lecture



day before lab

Lab Lab Activity Due during lab
1 (9/27)   No Lecture


No lab
No lab
2 (10/2)

Complete 2 surveys:

1. Lab Logistics

2. Math Reasoning Survey

Chap. 1 and 2 Scientific inquiry, and errors in the physical sciences; Random errors in measurements


Electrons in magnetic field
Lab 1A: Complete teamwork agreement, conduct E/M experiment Teamwork Agreement, Intro/Methods section, lab notebook
3 (10/9) Online HW #1 Chap. 2 and 5.1 Data visualization and reduction Individual E/M data analysis Lab 1B: Peer review and revise individual E/M analyses; begin writing group report
4 (10/16) Online HW #2 Chap. 5.1-5.3 Data visualization and reduction Electrons in Magnetic Field group report Cs Nuclear Decay Lab 2A: Conduct Nuclear Decay testing expt and write the report Lab notebook
5 (10/23) Online HW #3 Chap. 3 Uncertainties as probabilities: Poisson distribution Nuclear Decay testing report Lab 2B: Peer review Nuclear Decay testing report Peer review Nuclear Decay testing report
6 (10/30) Online HW #4 Chap. 5 Best-fit linear model Final Nuclear Decay testing report
VR: Particle Interactions
Lab 3: Intro to VR; develop quantitative models of particle interactions

Lab notebook

7 (11/6) Online HW #5 Chap. 4 Error propagation Particle Interactions group report
VR: Manifold Lab
Lab 4A: Conduct Pocket Exploration hypothesis-generating experiment Lab notebook
8 (11/13) Online HW #6 Chap. 4 Error propagation

Pocket Exploration group report; final draft of Particle Interactions group report

Lab 4B: Peer review of Pocket Exploration reports; Select new Pocket for analysis, write & submit hypothesis-testing proposal with budget Peer review of Pocket Exploration reports
9 (11/20)

Two things Due Monday 

Pocket Analysis testing proposal; and final draft of Pocket Exploration report

Review Thanksgiving! No lab
Thanksgiving! No lab



Final Exam Address feedback on Pocket Analysis Grant Proposal Lab 4C: Conduct Pocket Analysis hypothesis-testing experiment Lab notebook
11 (12/4) No Lecture
Final presentations: Pocket Analysis group report (oral)
Final presentations Final presentation slides and summary of proposal modifications



  • 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 PM to 12:50 PM on Tuesdays in PAA  A118. 
  • Lecture homework (covering the prior week's topics) is due every Monday at midnight Pacific. The lectures will be recorded and posted for students who cannot make it to the lecture.
  • 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 not let your group down, it is essential that students do the assigned reading before the 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 the lecture and the reading, there will be an assignment due each Tuesday.  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. 

To catalyze effective teamwork, the first assignment for this course is:

Your responses will help your TA place you in a group before the first lab.

Lab meeting time

  • There are three lab section meeting times per week; you are registered for one:
    • Section AA, Tuesday 1:30 PM-4:20 PM (TA: Jared Abramson <>) 
    • Section AB, Wednesday 1:30 PM-4:20 PM (TA: Jared Abramson <>)
    • Section AC, Thursday 1:30 PM-4:20 PM (TA: Teresa Lo <>)


  • 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 three or four 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 excuses. However, if you must miss the entirety of an experiment, you will need to make special arrangements to make it up 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.
  • 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 on the presentation assignment page.
  • 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 28th.
  • 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 & notebook, 40%
      • Lab presentation, 15%
    • Lecture homework, 10% (You must receive a score of 95% or above across all lecture homework assignments to pass; you may resubmit your work to reach this score.)
    • 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. If you expect that a lab assignment will be late, contact your TA as soon as possible to make arrangements.

Office hours and getting help

If you cannot attend office hours but have a physics question you should email me, email your TA, or post it on the course discussion board.

If you want to visit one of us and cannot attend scheduled office hours, send an email and we will try to find an alternate time. 


Safe Campus

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. Please click on this link to review the details of the study, contact a member of the research team, or remove yourself from the study.

Religious Accommodation

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for the 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 accommodation, is available at the Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (

COVID Safety Policies

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

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 second week of classes.
  3. Complete 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. On the Canvas page, click on the "Panopto Recordings" link in the
    left side navigation to activate your Panopto recording link.
  5. I will send 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 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: 
July 1, 2023 - 2:55am