PHYC 493L:Contemporary Phy Lab

Prof. F. Elohim Becerra
Office: P&A 19
Phone: 505 277-2673

Teaching Assistant
Xuefeng Li
Office: P&A

Description of the class and objectives

The Senior Physics Lab 493L is a laboratory course with experiments in nuclear physics and Atomic, Molecular and Optical (AMO) physics for advanced undergraduate students. Students will obtain expertise in laboratory techniques and equipment, data analysis, error analysis, and in writing formal reports in a scientific format. The course consists of some lectures with student presentations and two 3-hour lab session per week. Students will perform experiments for investigating different phenomena in nuclear physics and AMO, and experiments related to experimental techniques in optics and single-photon and coincidence detection.

Pre-requisites: Junior Laboratory (PHYC 307L) and Intermediate Quantum Mechanics I (PHYC 491)

Lectures: Monday, 11:00-11:50, P&A Room 184.

Lecture time will be used for some student presentations if necessary in topics related to the experiments performed and experimental techniques.

Lab Sessions: Monday and Wednesday, 8:00-10:50. P&A Room 116. Attendance is mandatory.

You must complete 3 experiments from the list below (one every 3.5 weeks), plus the machine shop module. The updated guides for the experiments to be followed are:

Each experiment will be scheduled for three and one half weeks (7 3-hour sessions) according to the Tentative Schedule. Students need to schedule the experiments in advance to ensure availability. There will be a calendar kept by the instructor and the TA.


There are many good references for error analysis, optics, atomic physics and nuclear physics. You will find references in specific lab guides. Other excellent resources are below:

Below are some very good references for statistics and modern physics.

Additional resources
Experiments in Modern Physics (Academic Press, 2nd Edition): Adrian C. Melissinos, Jim Napolitano.
Fundamentals of Photonics 2nd Edition: E. A. Saleh, Malvin Carl Teich.

Office hours. You may arrange a meeting with the instructor via email.
TA office hours: You may also arrange a meeting with the TA via email.


  1. Machine shop module with report 10% and final quiz 10%. Total 20%
  2. Lab Notebook 10%
  3. Formal Reports: 20% (3 in total)
  4. Oral presentation: 10%

Homework: None. You only need to learn, revisit and keep up with concepts and techniques requied for successful completion of the experiment, presentation and analysis of physics and data.

Lab Notebook: You will keep an electronic lab notebook where you will describe the experimental procedure and perform the data and error analysis.

Students are expected to bring a laptop to each class. On every module, each student will be responsible for maintaining a detailed electronic notebook file. Thus, in total, each student will have 4 different notebook files. We will use Google Docs to record all information; this will facilitate preparing the material for the formal lab reports and allow for easy collaboration amongst teams. Relevant information should be recorded as the experiment progresses. A useful description of the lab notebook procedure can be found here, and example here. More formal and detailed description of specific components can be found here Lab notebook Guidelines.

The instructor/TA will periodically look through the lab notebooks unannounced. You will be graded on completeness and clarity of information. Clarity and information about experimental setups and parameters are very important, and we encourage you to use shorthand, photos, screenshots, etc. to make the note-taking process less time consuming. Please create and share your Google doc with at the beginning of every module.

Formal Reports: You will write three formal reports from three experiments that you performed in the laboratory (plus one writeup for machine shop). The guidelines are here: Formal Report Guidelines..
Lab reports should be typed and submitted as a word or PDF document by email with the subject “Lab Report #” followed by the number of the lab report, for example 1"1". The file name should be your last name followed by the name of the experiment. Lab reports are individual (i.e. each person needs to submit their own).

Published physics papers such as in Physical Review Letters, Optics Letters, etc. provide a good guide for writing your lab report.

Machine shop Module (mechanical Practices in Experimental Science). Students will learn elementary machine shop skills and how to interpret drawings. Individual instruction is from the department's prototype machinists Anthony Gravagne and/or Robert Chavez, who will evaluate your work. A description of this module is here. Formal lab report for the machine shop will consist of a writeup with introduction, technical description of the apparatus and machines us ed during the module with diagrams, description and discussion of the work including diagrams, designs and drawings, and discussion of results and products. References are required. You will need to make a technical drawing during the machine shop work. Machinists instructors will provide informaiton about the components.
- The machine shop module will contain a quiz component at the end of the semester.

Note: For an overview of statistics and data and error analysis, and fit to a straight line see:

Statistical Treatment of Data

Fit straight line with unequal errors

Equations line fit

These resources will be very useful for performing fits to straight lines for calibrations in different experiments and for estimating measurement uncertainties and analyzing data.

IMPORTANT FOR FORMAL REPORTS AND LAB NOTEBOOK: Use your own words. Do not copy from your classmates or any other resource, including lab guides. This is considered Academic Dishonestiy. Instead, read, understand and write with your own words. Scientific papers are the product of your understanding and your own work, and not of other people's work.

Presentation: Each student will give a presentation at the end of the semester about an experiment (15 minutes+ 5 for questions). It should duscuss applications of the subject studied to science and/or technology. Some tips; more tips.

 Due Dates

Date Description
02/18 (M)
1st Formal Report (via email 5pm)
03/20 (W) 2 nd Formal Report (via email 5pm)
04/15 (M) 3 rd Formal Report (via email 5pm)
05/08 (W) 4 th Formal Report (via email 5pm)

Late work policy:
Late work within 3 days after the deadline is accepted for 75% credit.
Late work within 1 week after the deadline is accepted for 50% credit.
No credit is given after that.

Participation is important and unexcused absences will affect final grading.

Self-developed experiments: possible suggestions

  1. Interferometry for precise measurements of mechanical perturbations:
    - Mechanical analog to LIGO
  2. Injection locking of a diode laser
    - Narrowing the bandwidth of a laser
  3. Self heterodyne detection: measurement of laser linewidth
    - High resolution measurement of laser spectrum
  4. Zeeman splitting based on saturated absorption spectroscopy
  5. Field programable gate arrays
    - Programm and control FPGAs for timing and data collection

Additional resources

Class overview: Lecture 1

Fit straight line with unequal errors

Equations line fit

Statistical Treatment of Data

Advice for physics speaker

Program examples

Fit to a Lorentzian

Important Topics for review

  1. Statistical Distributions; hypothesis testing and parameter estimation
    - Overview of statistics and chi square discribution
  2. Monte Carlo Simulation
  3. Photodiodes and single photon detectors
    - Overview
  4. Diode lasers
    - Physical working principle, external cavity diode lasers and linewidth characterization
  5. . Interferometers
    - Different interferometric techniqhes and applications
  6. Spectrum analyzer and oscilloscopes
  7. Quantum optics and photon statistics
    - Entangled photons

Tentative Schedule

Lectures Date Subject Reading Assignment Due Notes
Week 1 01/14 (M) No lab session. Only introductory lecture Class overview     Sign in Sheet Mod 1
  01/16 (W) Module 1 (1)        
Week 2 01/21 (M) MLK day (No lab)        
  01/23 (W) Module 1 (2)        
Week 3 01/28 (M) Module 1 (3)        
  01/30 (W) Module 1 (4)        
Week 4 02/04 (M) Module1 (5)        
  02/06 (W) Module 1 (6)        
Week 5 02/11 (M) Module 1 (7)       Sign in Sheet Mod 2
  02/13 (W) Module 2 (1)        
Week 6 02/18 (M) Module 2 (2)   Formal Report 1 5 pm via email  
  02/20 (W) Module 2 (3)        
Week 7 02/25 (M) Module 2 (4)        
  02/27 (W) Module 2 (5)        
Week 8 03/04 (M) Module 2 (6)        
  03/06 (W) Module 2 (7)        
Week 9 03/11 (M) Spirn break        
  03/13 (W) Spirn break        
Week 10 03/18 (M) Module 3 (1)       Sign in Sheet Mod 3
  03/20 (W) Module 3 (2)   Formal Report 2 5 pm via email  
Week 11 03/25 (M) Module 3 (3)        
  03/27 (W) Module 3 (4)        
Week 12 04/01 (M) Module 3 (5)        
  04/03 (W) Module 3 (6)        
Week 13 04/08 (M) Module 3 (7)        
  04/10 (W) Module 4 (1)       Sign in Sheet Mod 4
Week 14 04/15 (M) Module 4 (2)   Formal Report 3 5 pm via email  
  04/17 (W) Module 4 (3)        
Week 15 04/22 (M) Module 4 (4) and Presentations        
  04/24 (W) Module 4 (5)        
Week 16 04/29 (M) Module 4 (6) and Presentations        
  04/31 (W) Module 4 (7)        
Week 17 05/06 (M) Machine shop quiz and Presentations        
  05/08 (W) "   Formal Report 4 5 pm via email