PHYC 493L: Contemporary Physics Lab

Prof. Tara Drake
Offices: PAIS 2234 and CHTM 118B

Teaching Assistant
Xuefeng Li

Course Overview:

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.

Senior Lab is organized around several lengthy experiments, each lasting approximately 3.5 weeks. The complexity of the experiments has been increased substantially from Junior Lab, with a greater emphasis placed on developing independent problem-solving and laboratory skills.

Here are the introductory slides from the first day of class.


Monday, 8:00-11:50 a.m., and Wednesday, 8:00-10:50 am PAIS, Lab 1417.

Experimental Modules

Class Participation

Students will work in teams of 2 (or 3 when necessary) to complete each experiment. Rotation of teammates at the completion of each experiment is encouraged (and may be changed to compulsory, depending on how the first experiments go). Students are expected to share responsibilities in an equitable fashion, and each student is expected to develop a complete, independent understanding of the work.

Students must attend each lab session unless explicitly excused by the instructor. Participation is important, especially when all work is done in groups, and unexcused absences will affect your class participation grade. Before approaching instructor, please negotiate with your teammate(s) how work will be shared.

Lab Notebooks

Students are expected to bring a laptop to each class. At the beginning of every experiment, each team will begin a Google Doc to serve the joint lab notebook for that experiment, and share it with and

The lab notebook should be detailed, clear, complete, and updated every class. You will be graded on the completeness and clarity of your notes--using your lab notebook, a third party should be able to reproduce your work. One the other hand, style and format is less important. Including photos and screenshots is highly encouraged.

The instructors will periodically look at your lab notebook; this will count towards your class participation grade.

Lab Reports

Each student on a team is responsible for producing a separate report no later than at the beginning of class one week after the module finishes. The writeup should follow the format of a formal technical document that you would see in a physics journal. This document explains the expectations for each report. Here are the slides presented in class on lab reports.

Oral Presentation

In teams of 2 or 3, students will give a 20-minute Oral Presentation based on an in-class experiment. This will be followed by questions (about 10 minutes) from students, TA and instructor.


  • Strengthen your communication and presentation skills
  • Think how to present your results to a broad audience
  • Learn how to respond to questions and defend your ideas

Topics and teams must be proposed to instructor in advance (tbd). Practice talks with instructor are highly encouraged.


The final grade will be based on the homework assignments, one midterm exam and a final exam. The contribution to the final grade is as follows:

  1. Class Participation (incl. Lab Notebooks): 10%
  2. Lab Reports: 60% (20% each)
  3. Machine Shop Module: 20% (10% test + 10% report)
  4. Oral Presentation: 10%

 Due Dates

Date Description
02/19 (W)
1st Formal Report (by class time)
03/23 (M) 2nd Formal Report
04/15 (W) 3rd Formal Report (via email 5pm)
05/11 (M) 4th Formal Report (via email 5pm)

Tentative Schedule

  Date Subject Assignment Due Task
Week1 01/22 (W) Begin Module 1      
Week 2 01/27 (M) Module 1 (2)      
  01/29 (W) Module 1 (3)      
Week 3 02/03 (M) Module 1 (4)      
  02/05 (W) Module 1 (5)      
Week 4 02/10 (M) Module 1 (6)      
  02/12 (W) Module 1 (7)      
Week 5 02/17 (M) Begin Module 2     Share New Google Doc Lab Notebook
  02/19 (W) Module 2 (2) Lab Report 1 due by class at 8am  
Week 6 02/24 (M) Module 2 (3)      
  02/26 (W) Module 2 (4)      
Week 7 03/02 (M) Module 2 (5)      
  03/04 (W) Module 2 (6)      
Week 8 03/09 (M) Module 2 (7)      
  03/11 (W) Begin Module 3     Share New Google Doc Lab Notebook
Week 9 Spring break      
Week 10 03/23 (M) Module 3 (2) Lab Report 2 due by class at 8am  
  03/25 (W) Module 3 (3)      
Week 11 03/30 (M) Module 3 (4)      
  04/01 (W) Module 3 (5)      
Week 12 04/06 (M) Module 3 (6)      
  04/08 (W) Module 3 (7)      
Week 13 04/13 (M) Begin Module 4     Share New Google Doc Lab Notebook
  04/15 (W) Module 4 (2) Lab Report 3 due by class at 8am  
Week 14 04/20 (M) Module 4 (3)      
  04/22 (W) Module 4 (4)      
Week 15 04/27 (M) Module 4 (5)      
  04/29 (W) Module 4 (6)      
Week 16 05/04 (M) Module 4 (7)      
  05/06 (W) Oral Presentations      
Finals week 05/11 (M)   Lab Report 4 due by 8am  
  05/13 (W) Keep finals slot available      
  05/15 (F) Keep finals slot available      

University Policies:

In an effort to meet obligations under Title IX, UNM faculty, Teaching Assistants, and Graduate Assistants are considered “responsible employees” by the Department of Education (see pg 15 - This designation requires that any report of gender discrimination which includes sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and sexual violence made to a faculty member, TA, or GA must be reported to the Title IX Coordinator at the Office of Equal Opportunity ( For more information on the campus policy regarding sexual misconduct, see:

In accordance with University Policy 2310 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), academic accommodations may be made for any student who notifies the instructor of the need for an accommodation. It is imperative that you take the initiative to bring such needs to the instructor’s attention, as he/she are not legally permitted to inquire. Students who may require assistance in emergency evacuations should contact the instructor as to the most appropriate procedures to follow. Contact Accessibility Resource Center at 277-3506 for additional information.

Each student is expected to maintain the highest standards of honesty and integrity in academic and professional matters. The University reserves the right to take disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal, against any student who is found guilty of academic dishonesty or otherwise fails to meet the standards. Any student judged to have engaged in academic dishonesty in course work may receive a reduced or failing grade for the work in question and/or for the course. Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, dishonesty in quizzes, tests, or assignments; claiming credit for work not done or done by others; hindering the academic work of other students; misrepresenting academic or professional qualifications within or without the University; and nondisclosure or misrepresentation in filling out applications or other University records.

All students are welcome in this class regardless of citizenship, residency, or immigration status. The instructor will respect your privacy if you choose to disclose your status. UNM as an institution has made a core commitment to the success of all our students, including members of our undocumented community. The Administration's welcome is found on this website.