Students carry out three experimental projects selected from those available representing condensed matter, atomic, nuclear, and particle physics. Included are pulsed nuclear magnetic resonance, microwave spectroscopy, optical pumping, Raman scattering, scattering of laser light, nitrogen vacancies in diamond, neutron activation of radioactive isotopes, Compton scattering, relativistic mass of the electron, recoil free gamma-ray resonance, lifetime of the muon, studies of superfluid helium, positron annihilation, superconductivity, the quantum Hall effect, properties of semiconductors. The facilities of the laboratory include several computer controlled experiments as well as computers for analysis.
In the most general terms, the goal of Physics 191/247 is to engage you in the practice and discussion of experimental scientific research. After this course, you will have a diverse set of experimental skills and knowledge that will allow you to think more critically about the physical world. Experimental physics requires studying and measuring the world around us in a quantitative way. We model these observations and measurements and develop theories that can explain the observations and make new predictions. In the best of worlds, theory and experiment complement each other, sometimes one leading and the other lagging, but it is experiment that has the final word. Note that experimentation is not the same as “confirming a theory.” Experiment reveals the true physics of nature to within uncertainties and may invite the development of new theory (experiment cannot confirm theory, only fail to disprove it). Although many of the projects in this course involve classic experiments supported by well-established theory, you should treat your work as an independent attempt to probe some physical phenomenon, observe new phenomena, and test predictions. You must decide appropriate boundaries for the precision and accuracy of your measurements, and you must determine the sources and extent of uncertainties or error in your analysis.
Upon completion of Physics 191/247 you will be able to:
- Develop adequate physics background knowledge for carrying out novel experiments
- Establish and communicate the purpose of an experiment
- Operate and troubleshoot complex physical apparatus
- Devise a procedure for achieving the goals of an experiment
- Evaluate the effect of experimental errors and assumptions
- Explain, follow, and ensure lab safety
- Detail and analyze observations and make predictions about a variety of physical processes
By the end of the semester, you will have engaged in the process of scientific inquiry and provided lucid descriptions and interpretations of your results. Great advances have been achieved in our understanding of nature enabled by the development of advanced and sensitive instrumentation. Much of this is general purpose and not specific to one experiment, so that it can be applied to explore new ideas. Thus you will familiarize yourselves with modern instrumentation such as oscilloscopes, lock-in amplifiers, lasers, and other computer-interfaced instruments. You will also learn a variety of experimental techniques, such as achieving low temperatures with cryogenic fluids, optical pumping, particle counters, resonance, etc.