Code for opening G061: 4739 6384

Prof. A. Silversmith

Physics 390 Spring 2016

Welcome to Physics 390, Research Seminar.  The aim of this course is to learn about different aspects of doing research in physics. 

·       A major part of your energy this semester will be spent on three experiments - mastering the theoretical background, performing the lab work, and presenting results - in the form of scientific papers and oral presentations.

·       You will do a peer review of another student’s writing.

·       You will use databases to search for relevant background material.

·       You will read current journal articles and lead group discussions about what you have “journal club” meetings

·       You will decide on a thesis project for next year!

We will do three projects this semester.  Each has its own set of goals.

            1) Millikan oil drop experiment.  The class will collaborate on data acquisition and analysis for this experiment.  We will concentrate on statistical analysis and uncertainties.  Data acquisition will require patience and care! The theory behind this experiment is fairly straightforward, so you can concentrate fully on analyzing data and on learning to write in the style required for a scientific journal.

2) Rare Earth Spectroscopy. A group of projects that involves analysis of absorption and fluorescence spectra, as well as time-resolved measurements.  Major goals of the project are engagement with current physics literature, and hands-on work with optics.

            3) Pulsed nuclear magnetic resonance. In this project you will pull together theoretical ideas from quantum physics, thermal physics, and nuclear physics.  The theory behind the experiment is the most demanding of all our projects, and the theory section of your paper will be longer than in the other papers. Different students will choose different experimental directions.         

Grading: This course will have no exams and no quizzes. Papers for the first two projects will be 10 -15 written pages plus figures, tables, and appendices. The third experiment will be weighted more than the first two and the paper will be longer – roughly the equivalent of two papers.

Grading scheme for individual experiments:

20%- Timeliness and quality of the data; independence of approach to lab work.

10%- Contributions to group discussion.

70%- Paper. The paper grade will be determined ~like this:

15%Timeliness of both the rough draft and the final paper. -5%/day late on either.

70% paper

15% revised paper

The content will be evaluated for correct physics and completeness. The writing will be evaluated as well for clarity, style, and presentation.

Course Grade:

In addition to the 3 experiments, you will each do one oral presentation, one peer-review, and lead one “journal club” meeting. Finally, grades for your lab notebook, for your “initiative/independence” will be added in. Your course grade is depends on a large number of factors:

3 experiments with papers   ≈ 70% (~20, 20, and 30 on 3 projects) of total grade

Initiative/independence in lab, notebook, oral presentation, peer review, journal club ≈30% of total grade    

Purchase a lab notebook today! A loose-leaf notebook will be fine, as will a combination of bound composition notebook plus folder for handouts. Every time you go into the lab, every time you sit down to analyze some data, you should write everything in your notebook. Every graph you produce should be printed and taped into your notebook. You will bring it to all classes and take it into lab with you. When you meet with me to discuss your analysis or your rough draft, we will probably refer to your notebook. Absolutely no data or calculations written on loose bits of scrap paper. And no pages stuck into the notebook and not attached.

Additional comments

While writing, you will be given the same help that is available in the real world. You will write your reports and then you will revise them after getting feedback from others on your work (your classmates and/or me). We will spend time discussing the writing process from beginning to end and there will be ample opportunity for revision and consultation on each paper.

You will receive similar help with your oral presentation.  You will prepare a formal presentation, get feedback from the class after a practice talk, then give your talk a second time.

There will be no final exam; the last report will be due during finals week.

In order to use time as fruitfully as possible, we will be overlapping experiments. The final presenting and writing stage of one experiment will overlap with the early data acquisition and theory development stage of the next experiment.

In addition to time spent discussing the reports, we will spend class time discussing the design and operation of the experiments as well as methods of analysis.  This is NOT a lecture course, this is a lab seminar and you are expected to direct discussion.  The more you all get involved, the better this course will go.


A first order approximation:


1                                              Millikan                                  



4                                              1st paper due              

5                                              Spectroscopy




9                                              2nd paper due

10                                            NMR





15.                                           3rd paper due


Physics 390