PY 452, Advanced Physics Laboratory,

M,W 1:30-3:15: Meetings: Riddick 451 , Lab: Riddick 210, 212 (other times)


            Hans Hallen, 258F Riddick Hall, 515-6314, electronic mail:

            D. Aspnes, 100B RB II, 515-4261,

            R. Golub, 160A Riddick, 513-0357,

            D. Haase, 160E Riddick, 513-7023,

            R. Riehn, 258B Riddick, 513-0841,

            J. Rowe, 157 Partners III, 515-3225,

            P. Stiles, 440 Riddick, 515-3416,

            A. Young, 160C Riddick, 513-4596,

            with TAs Zhen-Gang Wang, and Andreas Sandin,

Office Hours , Lab Hours:     

            Office hours by appointment and usually MW 1:00-1:30.

            There will be two types of lab hours (phone in lab: 515-1842):

                        • The lab (course) time. You are required to be here at these times.

                        • Other times (use these to ensure adequate results; partner required for safety).

Course Prerequisite:  Senior standing

Texts:  All texts listed here and others are available in the PY452 library near the door of Riddick 210.

            They may be used in the lab room or signed out for short (< 1 day) periods.

            Building Scientific Apparatus, 4th Edition by John H. Moore, Christopher C. Davis, Michael A. Coplan, and Sandra C. Greer, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2009, ISBN 978-0521878586, List $80.

            Data Reduction and Error Analysis for the Physical Sciences, 3rd Edition, by P.R. Bevington and D.K. Robinson, McGraw Hill, New York, 2002, ISBN 978-0071199261, List $52.92.

            Other reference texts.

Catalog Description:  

Introduction to laboratory electronics and instrumentation. Experiments in mechanics; electromagnetism; electronics; optics; and atomic, nuclear, plasma and solid state physics. Senior Physics students only

Student Learning Outcomes:   

By the end of the course, the students will be able to:

         • Analyze experimental data with proper error propagation,

         • Read measurements into a computer using industry standard software,

         • Design simple operational amplifier-based electronic circuits and predict behavior,

         • Search, read and review current literature,

         • Report experimental results in the form of a formal scientific journal article and short oral presentations, and

         • Complete order of magnitude calculations to understand an experiment, estimate signal levels and dependencies, and identify/avoid experimental artifacts.


Physics is an experimental science.  Most of the physics theories you have studied began as empirical models to describe experimental results.  Theories are not fully accepted until they are tested by experiment.  This course is designed to give you the opportunity to experience the techniques, error analysis, experimental design, and tools that are used in experimental physics laboratories.  Its format is therefore more like an independent study course than a lecture course.  It is your responsibility to manage your time throughout the semester to see that the projects are finished.  You will have to complete some written and laboratory assignments, and experimental projects.  These are designed so that you will gain familiarity with lab safety, data analysis, use of computers in the lab, electronics, the experimental methods of physics, and the presentation of scientific results. 


Equipment Rules:  Equipment is stored throughout the lab in labeled cabinets.  For the sake of others, it should be kept where it belongs most of the time.  You may leave equipment on the tables while you are actively (that means every day) doing a project, but you must leave it in a state where it will not pose a hazard to other people and leave a note stating who you are and what may or may not be borrowed.  Please comply with the notes of other groups.  As soon as is reasonable, put the equipment back where it belongs.  All tools should be put away immediately after use.  It is too easy to make the lab room into a mess, so treat it as your own and keep it tidy.

Statements: Assignments will not be accepted after the final deadline date in the chart below.  Incomplete grades will be given if most of the assignments are finished and sufficient preliminary work on the others has been completed. Absences should be discussed with the instructor, prior to the absence if possible. See the university Attendance Regulation (REG02.20.3) for definitions of excused absences. The Honor Pledge and Code of Student Conduct apply. 

See ‘groups’ below for policy of joint work. Reasonable accommodations will be made for students with verifiable disabilities. In order to take advantage of available accommodations, students must register with Disability Services Office ( located at 1900 Student Health Center, Campus Box 7509, 515-7653. For information on NC State's policy on working with students with disabilities, please see the Academic Accommodations for Students with Disabilities Regulation at

Statement on laboratory safety or risk assumption: The PY452 laboratory has several risks that make it less safe than other classrooms.  The first meeting is devoted to a general description of physics laboratory safety, and some particular hazards in our lab.  You are expected to understand the risks and immediately isolate, report and correct (if appropriate) any danger discovered.


Assignments, Requirements, and Grading

This course is graded as S/U.  Besides specific requirements imposed for a specific experiment, you are expected to complete the numbered requirements below.  As each student performs a different experiment, it is the student’s responsibility to manage time. The points listed after each assignment is the maximum available for that assignment, and the points total 110, but grades are assigned on a standard 100 point scale using the lesser of your point total or 100 points. 

1. Assigned problem emphasizing concepts of data analysis and error propagation. (individual reports to TA, 10 points)

2. Data acquisition exercise using the LabView program.  Demonstrate the program operation to an instructor or TA, and answer oral questions. (5 points)

3. Electronics lab exercise from the electronics assignment. (individual reports to TA, 10 points)

4. Signal Processing exercise from the signal processing assignment. (individual reports to TA, 10 points)

5. Completion of three major experimental projects. You will be responsible for all aspects of the experimental project including equipment set-up. When you start an experiment, you will be given a written description and oral introduction by the faculty member in charge of that experiment. That professor and a TA will be available as resources to help, but you will need to find them and ask questions. A list of projects is at the end of the syllabus (group reports, hand in to faculty member responsible for that lab).

(a) Topic choice will be assigned based upon questionnaire and equipment availability.

(b) A literature search should be completed for each project as noted below. (2 points each expt.)

(c) It is the responsibility of each person to ensure that they meet one- or group- on-one with the faculty responsible for their project for a minimum of 10-15 minutes each week. (1 points each expt.)

(d) A formal written report similar to those found in the Physical Review should be submitted by the dates indicated below.  (15 points each expt.)

(e) Throughout the semester, you are required to make ‘back of the envelope’ type calculations whenever possible, to verify experimental design, to check acquired values, and to estimate the signal and expected noise sources. The optimization process is the most instructive part of the laboratory experience, and is aided by such calculations using your physics knowledge base.  These calculations and sentient parameter variations are your best tools to ensure that the data is artifact-free. (2 points each expt.)

6. Preparation and presentation of a 10-12 minute talk on one of the projects, giving a motivation for the project and the important results.  You may wish to practice your talk before this; instructors will be available to give advice and comments. (group presentation, 15 points)


It is expected that you will spend an average of six hours per week completing assignments, conducting literature research, setting up an experiment, taking data, carrying out calculations, or writing.  In addition, you are strongly encouraged to attend research colloquia or seminars in the NC State Physics Department. 


Schedule:         Deadlines are for 1st version, final deadlines are for revised versions.  You may revise as many times as you like (we will return with comments in a timely manner) before the final deadline.


January 11

Lab Safety talk, ( questionnaire due)


January 13

data (error) analysis talk (questionnaire final deadline)


January 20

LabView talk (error analysis problem and LabView due)


January 25

Electronics talk (Final deadline for LabView and error anal. problems)


January 27

Signal Processing talk (Electronics due)


February 1

Talk Talk (Signal Processing due, Final deadline for electronics)


February 3

Project 1 start (Final deadline for signal processing)


March 3

Project 2 start (Project 1 all parts due)


April 7

Project 3 start (Project 1 all parts final deadline, Project 2 all parts due)


April 28

Project 2 all parts final deadline, Project 3 all parts due


May 5 (1-4 pm)

Project 3 final deadline, oral reports of one experimental project.

Lab Safety: Lab safety should always be considered before beginning any experiment.  A safety overview is given at the first meeting and should be supplemented with materials in the PY452 library, the University library, or discussions with the instructors.  The ‘buddy system’ (at least two people in the lab during equipment operation) is required.

Groups: For reasons of safety (buddy system) and to provide a venue for collaborative learning, the class will be divided into groups of approximately two people each.  The groups will be assigned by the instructors based upon the questionnaire results.  Students are individually responsible for completion of all exercises, and are expected to collaborate and discuss problems and results with all members of the class in addition to the instructors. 

Experiments Offered

High Temperature Superconductivity (Haase)

            The experiment uses a commercial ceramic superconducting pellet that has silver electrodes in a 4-point configuration.  This sample will be cooled and electrical measurements used to measure the superconducting transition temperature.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (Golub)

            A measurement of the time constants related to the motion of the nuclear magnetic moments of hydrogen in a magnetic field.  The experiment involves the use of magnetic fields and computer-aided data acquisition.  The technique is used in condensed matter physics, chemistry, biophysics, and is the basis of Magnetic Resonance Imaging in medicine.

Muon Lifetime (Rowe)

            A determination of the mean lifetime of cosmic ray muons.  The muons are stopped in a plastic scintillator viewed by a photomultiplier tube and subsequently decay via the weak interaction.  The time difference between the scintillation associated with the stopping and the scintillation associated with the decay is measured via electronics and a fast oscilloscope.  You can also measure the Poisson distribution, describing the (random) times of arrival of the muons.

Acoustical Resonances of Closed and Open Tubes (Stiles)

            Resonances of various tubes will be measured by moving a microphone along its length.  The spatial variations of the resonance are measured as a function of tube type. 

Speed of Sound and Box Resonances (Stiles)

            Resonance frequencies of sound in a box will be measured with the aid of computer data acquisition as a function of the length of the box.  Mode types will be identified, and fitting will yield an accurate measure f the speed of sound.

Atmospheric Optics and the Sun (Hallen)

            The optical spectra of sunlight at the Earth's surface will be measured with a single grating spectrometer, photomultiplier tube, and computer aided data acquisition.  The Sun's black body radiation will be analyzed as will the spectral features due to the passage of the light through the sun and atmosphere.

Reflection from a Metallic Film (Aspnes)

            Thin films fabricated in a vacuum coating apparatus and ellipsometry are used to measure the complex index of refraction as a function of wavelength.  A tungsten lamp, monochrometer, and a rotating analyzer ellipsometer are used.

Surface Plasmons (Hallen)

            A very thin film of Aluminum is evaporated onto a glass prism in a vacuum coating apparatus.  Polarization/incident angle sensitive methods will be used to measure the absorption due to this oscillation of the surface electrons in the metal.

Doppler Free Saturated Absorption Spectroscopy (Young)

            Diode lasers (780 nm and 795 nm) will be used to carry out laser spectroscopy of Rubidium atoms.  Doppler broadened optical absorption lines will be obtained and the technique of saturated absorption spectroscopy will be used to study and perform various measurements on lines with resolution beyond the Doppler limit.

Scanning Tunneling Microscopy (Riehn)

            Various surfaces will be imaged with atomic resolution.  Graphite (HOPG) will be cleaved and imaged.  A gold film will be deposited onto a substrate in a vacuum coating apparatus.  Surface modification with the STM may be undertaken. 

Brownian Motion (Riehn)

            The motion of single microspheres is tracked using a fluorescence microscope. Particle trajectories will be analyzed, and the size of the spheres will be determined from statistical measures of the particle trajectories. It may be possible to investigate the motion of bacteria, and determine whether bacteria diffuse or move in “smart” ways.

Electronics (various)

            The theoretical calculations of the electronics exercises are measured, as are other common circuits.