Physics 128, Advanced Experimental Physics, Winter 2017

In Physics 128L, you will work through a set of modern physics experiments. The main goal is to learn how to imagine, perform, and report experimental physics results.

Contacts - Professors, TAs and Staff.


Physics 128AL - Pay close attention; there are two Monday holidays:

Physics 128AL - ICAL link, HTML link

Physics 128BL - ICAL link, HTML link

Course Information and Material

  1. The primary information/text for the course - the lab writeups - here. You must do 4 labs from this list. You must interact with the TAs doing the first week so they assign the schedule for the labs you that you will do. You will be assigned lab partners... labs are done by pairs of students. Everyone cannot get their first choice, and the TAs will do their best to make a fair assignment by the end of the first week.

  2. Get a lab notebook - you will need an official lab book (or two) for the course. Use lab books available at the UCSB bookstore. This photo shows the possibilities. We recommend the one on the right, it is a 100-page lab book where each page has a carbon duplicate, for $20. The non-preferred option is to purchase two of the books on the left, which is twice the cost, but gets you three times the number of pages. Keeping a good lab notebook is a major skill you must learn in this course; carbons from your notebook must be turned in for grades. (if you purchase two non-carbon books, you will use the second while the first is being graded).

  3. Starting in the second experiment, you and your partner must:
    1. Prepare a 2 slide pre-lab presentation, and upload: 128AL here or 128BL here, by noon on the first lab day for a new experiment.
    2. Each partner will be chosen at random to give a <5 minute presentation during the first 45 minutes of the 4 workdays. Every person enroll must give a presentation for each experiment. You will receive a grade from 0 through 3 on the presenation.
    3. The background work for the 2 slide presentation must be entered in your lab notebook prior to the first dat of the lab. You will receive a grade from 0 through 2 on this work. You can correct your work and get some credit back when you turn in the lab notebook for grading.

  4. Learn to use data analysis software. Please use Wolfram's Mathematica. It is installed on all lab computers, many UCSB computer-cluster computers, and in the PSR. For your own computer, UCSB offers a student license. There is a pretty good tutorial, a little dated now, but good on the basics, here. Spreadsheets are extremely useful for preliminary work, but won't provide all the capabilities you need. We have a directory of useful Mathematica notebooks for Physics 128.

  5. Use one of two texts on error analysis: the first and the second. The core of experimental research is constant attention to the errors on the quantities you are measuring, and then on the propagation of errors to the parameters you are deducing from your experiment. Please try to note the error on every numerical quantity you recorded in your logbook. Often the error on independent variables or "instrument settings" is negligible, and need not be noted, but you do well to mentally imagine what the error is on those as well. The texts linked help greatly on propagating errors on your recorded quantities to the parameters you deduce from the experiment.

  6. Learn to use a scientific word processor to write-up the report that describes your work. Four reports will be required, and lab partners turn in one report, in addition to the turning in of lab notebooks. We strongly suggest that you use LaTeX on Overleaf, where accounts are free. We have an example report that you may use to learn the format and technical details. We've posted a brief summary to the formatting commands here. Once you have an Overleaf account, you can copy this example into your directory space. Please give yourself extra time to learn to use this word processor... it is not trivial, and most scientific reporting uses it. Reports must be brief and to the point. Longer analysis to support the brief lab report must be written in the lab notebook. The lab notebooks will also be used to assess if work was shared fairly between lab partners.

Grading and Flow

Over your four lab days available to complete your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th labs:
  1. On day 1, you and your partner will show up, having read the lab, done the pre-lab work in your lab notebook (each lab's pre-lab notebook work will be worth 6% of that lab's grade) and prepare, a short, 2 slide talk presenting the lab. Post the slides by noon of day 1, for 128AL here and for 128BL here. These slides should give the principle of the experiment, present some mock data for one of the key measurements, and present an error analysis for that measurement. Terseness is necessary, and going too long will lower your grade. Each partner must give an individual talk from the same slides, and every lab day a few students will be picked to give the presentation. Each presentation will be worth 9% of that lab's grade. Every group must prepare such a talk; a random subset will be picked to actually deliver it. You will be asked questions that will contribute to the grade.

    The talks and pre-lab work are total up, over the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th labs, to 15% of your overall course grade.

  2. On days 1-4, you will work independently on the labs, keeping all of your data/procedures/observations/comments in a professional-style lab notebook. The TAs, staff, and professor will circulate to help you. Attendance is required, firstly because your labmates expect you to work as a team, and secondly because we're paying attention.

    The notebook is worth 50% of your overall course grade. You must also record the work to analyze your data outside the laboratory, in preparation for your report, in your lab notebook. The grading breakdown for the logbooks is here.

  3. On roughly first day of the next block (because of the holidays this quarter, there is some variation recorded in the schedules above) you must hand in the previous block's notebook page carbons, plus your short report.

    The reports combined are worth 35% of your overall course grade. The grading breakdown for the report is here.


There are important safety issues in any lab work, of which you must be aware. Some examples of safety hazards are intense light sources (lasers and gas discharge tubes), electrical hazards (high voltage or current), radiation sources (radioactive substances or X-ray machines), extreme temperatures. I require that you start each experiment by doing an assessment of the safety issues. You will need to take steps to carry out your experiments safely; this is part of acting like a professional experimentalist. For example:

Important safety rules that everyone must follow are:

Last revision, 01/08/2017, Harry Nelson