Physics 493L (Senior Lab) Homepage

Instructor: Dr. Michael P. Hasselbeck  
Office: Physics & Astronomy Rm. 157   Phone: 277-0590  Email:
To see me in my office, please make an appointment (call or email preferred).

Teaching Assistant: Chih-Feng Wang (CHTM)   Email:

Class meets: Monday and Wednesday 2:00 -- 5:00 pm; P&A Rm 116

Textbook: None.

Final exam: None.

Introductory lecture slides are here.

Overview: Senior Lab is organized around modules that are expected to last about 3 weeks (6 class meetings). The modules are more complicated than 100--300 level undergraduate labs. You will find less specific instruction; independent problem-solving is expected. This is an excellent environment in which to develop laboratory skills.

Students should work in teams of 2, but the team members will be rotated at the conclusion of each module, i.e. every 3 weeks. Students are required to complete a minimum of 3 modules from the list below PLUS the mandatory machine shop module (4 modules total) by the end of the semester.


1) Mechanical Practices in Experimental Science (Required). 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. This module will be performed in two separate periods of 3 weeks (milling) and 1--2 weeks (lathe). There will also be a multiple-choice, written quiz at the end of the semester. A description of this module is here.

2) Nuclear Physics. Instructions    

UCS 30 multi-channel analyzer manual

This 1962 video shows how muon (mu-meson) decay can be used to demonstrate time dilation in special relativity. Although not exactly the same experiment performed in this module, it illustrates the experimental difficulties physicists dealt with more than a half-century ago when trying to measure muon decay.

3) Wavemeter. Instructions     This experiment is shared with Optics Lab.

4) Diffraction of Single Photons. Instructions

5) Doppler Velocimetry. Instructions     This experiment is shared with Optics Lab.

6) Lock-in Amplifier. Instructions     This is a brand-new experiment for Spring 2016.

7) Cryostat. Instructions     This is a brand-new experiment for Spring 2016.

8) Independent Project. Students can propose an experiment of their own interest and develop it over the course of the semester. A limited budget is available to purchase components and materials.

Lab Notebook

All students are required to maintain a lab notebook. Relevant information should be recorded as the experiment progresses, following the procedure described here.


Developing technical writing skills is an important component of this course. An accomplished scientist must be adept at properly explaining and documenting his/her work following established conventions. There are many brilliant physicists who have been hampered in their professional careers because of an inability to do this well.

Each student on the team is responsible for producing a separate report no later than 2 weeks after the completion of the module (Module 1 excluded). No late reports will be accepted. The writeup should follow the format of a formal technical document that you would see in a physics journal. There should be an abstract that concisely summarizes what you have done. An Introduction orients the reader to the work with background material. There should be a section that clearly describes the experiment with diagrams and details. This is followed by sections for Results (graphs and/or tables are almost mandatory), Analysis/Discussion, and a short Conclusion. References are listed last.

Use a template from a research journal of your choice (eg. APS, OSA). Search online or simply look in the hallways of our physics building for plenty of examples. There is no page requirement, but be sure to write clearly and concisely. The 2-week deadline is in place for two reasons: i) it's best to work on the report while details are fresh in your mind and ii) you should begin organizing your ideas and thoughts for the writeup while the experiment is in progress.

I strongly prefer .pdf files because technical documents generated by word processors rarely render as intended on different computers. If you insist on using Microsoft Word, I will do my best to read your .docx file, but I won't be happy about it.


Each module will be graded 50 percent on the quality of the work and 50 percent on the clarity and professionalism of the writeup (Module 1 excluded). That means an on-time, quality writeup is very important for the grading. The instructors will often be working directly with the student teams and will have plenty of opportunity to assess your progress. Be sure to engage them in discussion and ask plenty of questions. Students must attend each lab session unless explicitly excused by the instructor. Participation is important and unexcused absences will affect the first component of grading.