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PX271 Physics Skills

Organiser: Martin Lees

Weighting: 30 CATS

This module develops experimental skills in a range of areas and includes the design and testing of a functional electronic circuit, The module also introduces the concepts involved in controlling an experiment using a microcomputer. The module explores information retrieval and evaluation, and the oral and written presentation of scientific material.


To provide an opportunity to develop experimental skills, (including data collection and data and error analysis), by carrying out a number of practical experiments using a range of laboratory apparatus, and the construction and testing of a functioning electronic circuit.

To introduce the principles of computer interfacing to laboratory equipment, its control, and data acquisition using suitable programs.

To provide experience in searching for sources of information from the scientific literature using computer data bases, in accessing and retrieving this information in both electronic and printed form, and in critically evaluating the information obtained.

To cultivate the skill of transferring scientific information on a particular topic in as clear and concise way as possible, both orally in the form of a scientific presentation, and in written form.


At the end of the module you should be able to:

  • use many pieces of standard laboratory equipment including oscilloscopes, and telescopes. You should also be able to read manuals and follow detailed instructions when using less standard pieces of laboratory equipment (e.g. NMR and gamma ray spectrometers, x-ray sets).
  • carry out a scientific investigation, to critically analyse your data and the methods used and to compare your findings with theory and with published experimental data.
  • retrieve information on a particular topic in physics from the scientific literature (including printed materials and computer databases), and to make sense of these different sources of information.
  • use PC's with standard and specialised computer software for data acquisition, analysis, and presentation.
  • communicate your ideas verbally and in writing and to use word processing (e.g. Word, Tex) and presentation (PowerPoint) software packages.
  • demonstrate organisational skills including planning and time management on experiments and group working.


  1. Each student is expected to complete a series of exercises on data analysis and the estimation and propagation of errors. Each student (working with a partner) is expected to complete one experiment from each of three groups of experiments; each group of experiments providing experience of a different area of Physics.
  2. Each student (working with a partner) is required to complete an electronics laboratory, building and testing a functioning electronic circuit.
  3. Each student (working with a partner) will work through an introduction to programming using LabVIEW, which ensures they have the knowledge to process and display data and communicate with experiments through a data-acquisition card within a PC. Students will then carry out an experiment using LabVIEW to control the experiment and analyse the data output.
  4. Each student (working with a group of 3 or 4 other students) is allocated a topic in Physics to review. The group selects about 5 references on which their work will be based. The group writes one summary of the science associated with their topic including a critique of the 5 sources. Each student in the group gives a 5 minute talk as part of a 25 minute presentation on the chosen topic. The group prepare a set of web pages on the chosen topic. In addition, each student writes a one (A3) page fact sheet on the topic.

Commitment: Laboratory sessions as required.

Recommended Texts: None.

This module has its own website.

Leads from: PX110 Physics Laboratory

Leads to: PX319 Physics Project or PX428 Physics Laboratory